FORMER Premier League footballer Francis Benali started his epic seven-day IronMan-distance triathlon challenge in Stretford and dedicated that leg of his formidable journey to the late Tommy Stott.

The 50-year-old former Southampton player kicked off his “IronFran” challenge in Stretford – swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles on a bike and then running a 26.2mile marathon every day for a week – in a bid to smash his £1m fundraising goal for Cancer Research UK.

Helping him to push through the pain barrier as he launched the challenge at the David Lloyd gym at Barton Embankment was the memory of local legend, Tommy Stott.

Franny swam at David Lloyd wearing a cap emblazoned with Tommy’s name, before making his way to Nottingham by bike and on foot.

Tommy Stott, from Timperley, was diagnosed with stage three oesophageal cancer in 2013. The 66-year-old had worked as a chef in a long career which saw him catering at Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton. He used to cook for David Beckham and the Class of 92’ at Manchester United.

The father-of-three underwent chemotherapy and surgery. He initially made a good recovery and raised thousands of pounds for Cancer Research UK by completing three Great Manchester 10ks, including one in his wheelchair.

In 2016, his cancer sadly returned and he died in September 2017. He is remembered by wife Yvonne, daughter Dawn, sons Jonathan and William. And grand-children Amy, Eva and Phoebe.

Son Jonathan, aged 40, said: “Dad would have been incredibly proud to know his name was on Franny’s swimming cap. What an honour for the family. We all still miss my dad enormously. He was such a strong and inspirational character.”

When Franny left Trafford by bike he was accompanied for the first leg of the journey by Stretford scientist Duncan Smith.

Father-of-three Dr Duncan Smith, aged 46, has worked in cancer research for more than 15 years and is now head of the biological mass spectrometry unit at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, part of The University of Manchester. Mass Spectrometry involves analysing proteins, the molecules that carry out the most important jobs in our cells. Analysing the size, structure and shape of proteins helps researchers to understand how cells work when they are healthy, what goes wrong in cancer cells and how those changes can be targeted by specific treatments.

Duncan said: “I think what Franny is doing is absolutely incredible and totally bonkers of course. One Iron Man distance event is a lifetimes achievement for most people, to do seven on the bounce is beyond capability! But, I know if there is one superhuman who will be able to do this it’s Franny.

“For people like me who are interested in patient delivery I know what he is doing will bring forward the day when more people survive cancer.”

IronFran is the third and final challenge for Franny as he hopes to smash his £1m fundraising goal for Cancer Research UK.

He’s thought to be the oldest man in the UK to take on such a gruelling challenge which will see him once again journey across England with the aim of raising vital funds for immunotherapy research.

Franny said: “Having a focus every day is hugely important to me so when I got into that pool in Stretford, I could think of nobody better than Tommy as my inspiration. “