SOUTHAMPTON footballing legend Franny Benali was seconds away from a 40mph head on crash today during his first cycle on his seven-day Iron Man distance triathlon race across England.

The 50-year-old ex Saint, who played more than 300 games for the club, was less than 40 miles into the cycling leg of his first day when the collision almost occurred as a driver shot a red light.

Franny, who began his challenge in Trafford Park, Manchester, at 5.30am this morning, was riding with his cycling coach and support cyclist when the incident happened.

Franny’s cycling coach Andrew Hartley, 44, who lives in Southampton, said: “I’ve never had a near miss like it in all my years of cycling.

"I was riding just in front of Franny as we approached a major set of traffic lights which were green when a car shot across the front of us having jumped the red light.

“I literally had to make a 50/50 call to go left or right.

"It was an unbelievably hairy moment – we could have been killed.

“Franny’s back wheel locked up but he swung a left just behind me.

"Thankfully the driver saw us at that moment and slammed on her brakes or we would have been across the bonnet of her car.

"We were very lucky.”

Franny’s epic endurance event is his third charity challenge in a bid to raise £1m for Cancer Research UK.

Today he has already completed a 2.4m swim, finished a 112 mile cycle ride and will now tackle a 26.2m marathon this evening.

He is attempting to consume a massive 10,000 calories a day – starting his day with salmon and pancakes, tubs of natural yoghurt, bananas, cake as well as an array of special drinks and glucose gels while on the move.

Franny– who last week told the Daily Echo he will fuel up on baby food – is aiming to complete seven Ironman-distance triathlons in as many days, starting in Manchester today.

Benali, who expects to spend up to 18 hours a day completing a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile cycle and a 26.2-mile run, explained: “I’ve been used to eating on the bike but this will be different with the days being an awful lot longer .

“It’s also about getting the timing right. I could be finishing after 10pm and don’t want to be having to sit down to a big meal after a marathon before falling straight into bed.

“It’s a tricky one to get right and hopefully it won’t be an issue but there have been similar challenges that have failed because the athlete hasn’t consumed enough calories.”

After starting in Manchester, Benali will continue his challenge in Nottingham, Leicester, Bristol, Berkshire and Farnham, before finishing in Southampton next Sunday with the swim at David Lloyd followed by the Southampton Marathon and the bike ride, which concludes at the Civic Centre.

To track Franny’s progress, visit

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Star gets gruelling charity challenge underway