SAINTS Legend Francis Benali has received one of the city of Southampton’s biggest honours.

The former footballer, who has raised thousands of pounds for charity since retiring from professional football, has been granted the Freedom of the City of Southampton.

The ex-Bellemoor School pupil, who has lived in the city all his life, was awarded the honour for his services to charity after successfully completing two massive marathon treks in aid of charity.

The dad-of-two ran to all 20 of the UK’s Premier League clubs for Benali’s Big Run in 2014 and repeated the challenge with this year’s Big Race, bringing the total raised for Cancer Research to just under £400,000.

Francis was was presented a ceremonial scroll in the council chamber by Mayor Cllr Cathie McEwing in front of his proud friends and family yesterday.

Francis told the chamber he is “extremely honoured” and said: “As a boy in this amazing city, who would have thought that 40 years later I would be standing here with my family receiving this honour.

"There were many occasions that I have worn the name of the city on my football shirt but it is also very much ingrained in my heart.

“I hope that I can continue to inspire people, whether it is older people or youngsters who need guidance.

“This couldn’t be done without family – my immediate family, the football family and the city as a family.”

Mayor Cathie McEwing said: “Francis you are a legend in this city and in the country. Well done for all the work that you have done and the support that you have given to charity.”

The title of Freeman, given in the form of a charter, is ceremonial and offers certain privileges.

Former Saints manager Lawrie McMenemy and players Ted Bates and Matt Le Tissier are previous recipients, as are the Territorial Army, General Kitchener and former Prime minister David Lloyd George.

Afterwards, Francis told the Echo that he intended to continue to rest and “let the dust settle” after his epic run, but said he is due to take up a series of new smaller challenges in the future.