HE is the former Saints player who has raised £1m for charity by pushing his body to the limit - and beyond.

Francis Benali took part in a series of gruelling physical challenges in an exhausting but ultimately successful attempt to raise vital cash for Cancer Research UK.

Now Francis - known as Franny - has been made an MBE for services to cancer patients.

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He told the Daily Echo: "I was told a while back. My initial reaction was one of shock but once I'd digested the contents of the letter I was quite overwhelmed and extremely proud to be getting such a tremendous honour.

"Naturally it's the sort of news you want to share and it's been difficult keeping it to myself."

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Asked if he had recovered from his five-year quest to raise £1m he said: "There don't seem to be any issues - at the moment I'm being kept ticking over with a bit of fitness work."

It was in 2014 that he decided to test himself by taking part in a series of exhausting physical and mental challenges.

Despite being told by medical experts that his plan was physically impossible, he vowed to complete the task he had set himself and set off on Benali’s Big Run, which took him to all 20 Premier League grounds in just three weeks.

It was the equivalent of completing nearly two marathons a day and attracted huge support.

As he passed Cancer Research UK shops across the country he was cheered on by cancer patients and survivors.

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After 21 days on the road, he sprinted into St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton at half-time on a match day and was given a standing ovation.

With £100,000 already in the bag to set out to raise the rest of the cash and held a gala dinner to celebrate the success of the run, taking total raised to £265,000.

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Next on the list was Benali’s Big Race, which involved revisiting all Premier League grounds as well as stopping off at all the Championship grounds. His trip to the 44 clubs involved cycling at least 70 miles a day for a fortnight.

Despite suffering several injuries he refused to give up and was once again received a hero's welcome.

In April this year he undertook a third Ultra Endurance challenge and reached his £1m target.

The superfit 50-year-old completed his mission to help the charity by taking part in seven Ironman events, which involved swimming, cycling and running a total of 140 miles each day.

Earlier this month Southampton-born Franny was asked about the gruelling triathlons as he prepared to switch on the Christmas lights in Commercial Road, Totton.

He told the crowd: "It was pretty brutal. It beat me up good and proper."