England

Francis Benali completes stadium running and cycling challenge

Francis Benali completes challenge
Image caption Francis Benali ran a marathon and cycled 75 miles (120km) each day

A former footballer has succeeded in his attempt to run and cycle to every Premier League and Championship stadium in two weeks.

Francis Benali, who made more than 300 appearances for Southampton FC, set off from Bournemouth on 2 October, raising money for Cancer Research UK.

The 47-year-old ran a marathon and cycled 75 miles (120km) each day.

He arrived at Southampton's St Mary's Stadium, the site of a home match against Burnley, at about 15:40 BST.

Streets of the city were lined with cheering fans along the last leg of the route, which included a stop at the Ageas Bowl.

He ran into the stadium at half time and received a standing ovation from the crowd, many of whom were wearing cut out Francis Benali masks.

He told them he completed the challenge "with a lot of love and support and backing" and described it as a "life-changing experience".

Image copyright ALLSPORT/Getty Images
Image caption Benali ran into the stadium at Half Time where he received a standing ovation
Image caption Southampton's streets were were lined with cheering fans along the last leg of the route

"There have been many times when it was a case of literally managing to put one foot in front of another or rotating the pedals one more slow turn," he said.

He said he had faced injuries, bruising and blisters as well as wet, windy weather, traffic and hills.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Thousands of Benali masks were handed out at the stadium

The 1,000-mile (1,600 km) route linking 44 football clubs, took him into south Wales, the Midlands and the North-West, before crossing the country and returning via East Anglia and London.

Cancer Research UK tweeted: "Congratulations to the amazing Franny Benali on the completion of an incredible challenge! £350,000 raised and counting..."

Other former footballers at the club have cheered on Benali's efforts on Twitter.

Matt Le Tissier said: "Words fail me when it comes to describing the mental strength and selflessness of Franny Benali.

"Alan Shearer said: "Incredible stamina and commitment from Franny Benali, doing so much for so many."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Benali (right) is still a favourite with Southampton FC fans

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