The signing of Neil Franklin in February 1951 was almost certainly the biggest coup Hull City AFC had ever pulled off. The early Harold Needler era heralded the arrival of the likes of Raich Carter, Wilf Mannion and Stan Mortensen, whilst we have seen players as accomplished as Billy Bremner, Emlyn Hughes and Jay-Jay Okocha turn out in amber and black since then. As much as those distinguished arrivals caught the imagination, all were approaching the autumn of their careers. That was not the case with Neil Franklin, who had just turned 29 and was still almost universally regarded as the best centre-half in England – if not Europe.
He arrived as damage goods, but if he weren’t, he would never have considered a move to a team in the Second Division. Born in the Potteries, Franklin came through the youth ranks of a Stoke City side that was the envy of the nation at the time. An accomplished centre-forward and inside-forward at schoolboy level, Franklin had been moved to centre-half at the Victoria Ground, but he never forgot his footballing principles. Although he was an excellent athlete and a fierce competitor, it was Franklin’s ability on the ball and insistence on playing out from the back that made him so unusual during the 1940’s.
The start of his career would be curtailed by the conflict of World War Two, which began when he was 17, and the Football League didn’t make a full return until he was 24. He started the war in Stoke City’s third team and ended it as England’s first choice centre-half, a role which he made his own for more than half a decade. Accounting for wartime fixtures, Franklin made 39 consecutive appearances for England prior to the 1950 World Cup, which was a record at the time. Whilst the likes of Matthews, Finney and Mortensen dipped in and out of the team, Franklin was a constant presence. He was the glue which held the England side together, and starting a game without him seemed unthinkable.
In the end, the only reason Franklin was ever dropped by England was upon his own request. In the buildup to the 1950 World Cup, he told selectors he would be unavailable as his wife was due to give birth whilst the team would be playing in Brazil. This was the truth, and the FA obliged, but at the end of the 1949-50 season, Franklin headed for South America anyway. His destination wasn’t Rio de Janeiro, but Bogota, Colombia, whose rogue league had begun hoovering up talent ever since their breakaway from FIFA. Huge sign-on fees had been dangled in front of players, and Franklin was the first and the most high-profile of five Brits to up sticks in search of El Dorado.
Unbeknownst to Franklin, Colombia was in the midst of a bloody civil war, and so many of the promises made to him never materialised. He returned to Britain after just two months due to concerns over the nationality of his child should he or she have been born in Colombia. Upon return, Franklin was banned by the FA, shunned by the England selectors and transfer listed by Stoke City. Hull City had a world record £30,000 bid turned down for the centre-half before his misbegotten move to Bogota, and they came back in with a £20,000 bid upon his return. Stoke wanted £25,000 and eventually the two teams agreed to meet in the middle, with the fee making Franklin not quite the most expensive footballer in the world.
Franklin’s five years with Hull City would sadly be blighted by a recurring knee injury which required multiple serious operations. Of the 214 league games which took place during his time at Boothferry Park, Franklin was only available for 95 of them. In the games he played, his class still shone through. Following his departure, Franklin went on to play for Crewe Alexandra, Stockport County and Macclesfield Town. Injuries may have thwarted Franklin’s time in East Yorkshire, but he is still considered by many to be the finest defender the club has ever had, and in terms of quality if not longevity, he was still widely regarded as England’s greatest defender by those who saw him in action.
Following retirement, Franklin managed briefly in Cyprus with APOEL, before returning to England take charge of Colchester United, where he yo-yoed between the Third and Fourth Divisions. He turned his back on football after his time in Essex, becoming a licensee at several public houses, mostly in the Potteries. He died in Stoke-on-Trent in February 1996 at the age of 74.
This biography was penned by Alfie Potts-Harmer, who has written a splendid biography of Neil Franklin called “England’s Greatest Defender – The Untold Story of Neil Franklin”. The book can be purchased at https://englandsgreatestdefender.com/. Many thanks Alfie.
Date/Place of Birth: 24 January 1922, Stoke-on-Trent
Hull City First Game: 3 February 1951, Blackburn Rovers H (Division Two), 29 years, 10 days old
Hull City Final Game: 26 November 1955, Rotherham United H (Division Two), 33 years, 306 days old
Stoke City (1939-1950), Independiente Santa Fe (1950), Hull City (1951-1956), Crewe Alexandra (1956-1957), Stockport County (1957-1958), Macclesfield Town (1960-1961)
Hull City Record
Career: 96 apps, 0 goalsNeil Franklin