Giant striker Kevin Francis, alongside diminutive forward Rodney Rowe, joined Hull City during the festive period at the end of 2000 and left the club five months later in May 2001. Yet in those five months Francis became a cult hero, a totem for the club’s nascent rebirth and an important figure in the Tigers’ first foray into the post-season play-offs lottery. Big Kev was, and remains, a fondly remembered Hull City player for those who watched him in action and a fair few who, by dint of age or being elsewhere, didn’t.
Francis made his debut in early January 2001, a 0-0 draw at chilly Macclesfield. Thus City hadn’t won for a month, not since David Brightwell smote a free kick past the Scunthorpe goalie at Glanford Park, and the Tigers languished in mid-table as manager Brian Little grappled with the dual challenges of high expectations from fans and absolutely no money from the boardroom. During the coming weeks the Tigers’ financial collapse continued – players were not paid, a number of those players fled to other clubs (principally Darlington) and the locked gates at Boothferry Park briefly jeopardised the ability for Little’s side to fulfil its fixtures. Only in the latter stages of the season did signs of recovery appear with the emergence of new owner Adam Pearson. Amid that backdrop of turmoil, the team on the pitch puffed out its collective chest and galvanised around a remarkable six feet seven inch figure up front called Kevin Francis – make no mistake, that squad was full of heroes but the flagpole around which they coalesced was a rather gangly, semi-mobile centre forward who was a nightmare to defend against and still recalled where the back of the net was.
Francis scored his first goal for City at the end of January at Kidderminster, as City blasted into a 2-0 lead with fifteen minutes played only to be pegged back to a 2-2 draw. During February 2001 City played five and won five, Kevin contributing goals in a 1-0 victory at Cheltenham, a 2-0 win at Shrewsbury and a 2-1 defeat of Mansfield Town. Elevated to eighth in the table, two defeats in early March preceded a run of 11 undefeated fixtures that saw the Tigers power into the top six and qualify for the play-offs. While Big Kev scored only once more, in a breathless 3-1 win over high flying Chesterfield that demonstrated the Tigers were indeed promotion contenders, he was the focal point for Little’s attacking football style that swept aside a fair few opponents. Entering into the play-offs, a nervy first leg was settled by a late John Eyre goal before Leyton Orient took control in the second leg thanks to the wicked ministrations of Adam Lockwood’s left foot. A year’s contract was mentioned then withdrawn by owner Adam Pearson, thus Kevin Francis’ brief time at Hull City drew to a close – a short but memorable spell in black and amber that the big man was evidently grateful for many years later.
Kevin Derek Michael Francis was born in the Mossley area of Birmingham to parents who both hailed from St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean. Having not come through the typical senior club youth team route Kevin played local football in his early 20s for Mile Oak Rovers, a team located in a suburb of Tamworth, where Francis’ unconventional style drew the attention of Derby County manager Arthur Cox, who signed him in February 1989. Francis spent two years at the Baseball Ground and made 17 senior appearances, mostly from the bench, scoring only once in a January 1990 FA Cup tie against Port Vale. The Rams were perhaps therefore grateful when Division Four side Stockport County paid £45,000 for Francis in February 2001. It proved to be incredible business for the Hatters.
After a slow start Francis came into the Stockport first team during the last two months of the 2000/01 season and scored five goals, including a brace in a final day 5-0 defeat of Scunthorpe United at confirmed promotion to Division Three. For the next three seasons Francis dominated the Third Division as Stockport challenged at the top end of the table, twice falling short in Wembley play-off finals and twice winning the Autoglass Trophy. Francis netted 26 times in the 1991/92 season, including Trophy hattricks against Carlisle and Hartlepool that helped propel the Hatters to the Final and defeat Burnley, Francis scoring in both legs. Kevin also scored in the play-off final that Stockport lost 1-2 to Peterborough United. Francis performed even better in the 1992/93 season, scoring 39 times as Stockport again qualified for the play-offs, only to lose the semi-final to Port Vale with Kevin sidelined by injury – a few days later Stockport played Port Vale again in the Autoglass Trophy final at Wembley and while Francis returned and scored, the Valiants again prevailed 2-1. Although the season ended in disappointment, it was Francis’ goals that played a key role in coming so close to success – between a mid-January draw against Bradford and a late March hattrick against Plymouth, Kevin scored 16 goals in seventeen starts.
The 1993/94 season followed a similar pattern – Francis scored 34 goals including a hattrick against Hartlepool while Stockport lost the play-off final to Burnley – and Kevin was the subject of much speculation and interest from clubs at a higher level including Wimbledon, arch deployers of a giant centre-forward. However after 13 goals in 21 matches at the start of the 1994/95 season it was Barry Fry’s Birmingham City who paid £800,000 to bring Kevin Francis to his hometown club, having scored a remarkable 117 goals in 198 appearances for Stockport County. At St Andrews Francis was an immediate success, scoring nine goals in eighteen matches as Birmingham won the League Division 2 title and promotion to the second tier. However over the next three seasons Francis struggled to achieve the same form he had shown at Edgeley Park, playing mostly as impact substitute as the Blues consolidated in League Division One – though he was prominent when the Blues reached the League Cup semi-final against Leeds United in 1996, scoring in two previous rounds and the semi-final first leg. He left Birmingham City for Oxford United in February 1998 having scored 21 times in 94 appearances, of which 49 were from the bench.
Oxford United were struggling at the lower reaches of League Division One and Francis scored seven times in 15 starts to help the club pull clear of relegation. However injury meant he was a secondary figure the following season as the U’s slipped to relegation and after only five appearances during the 1999/00 season, taking his Oxford total to 42 appearances and 8 goals, he returned to Stockport County in March 2000, making a further four appearances for the Hatters. Francis was released in the summer of 2000 and began the 2000/01 season at Rochdale-based lower league side Castleton Gabriels before he was snapped up by Exeter City in November 2000. In two months he scored once in nine appearances for the Grecians before he transferred to Hull City in December 2000.
Francis left City in May 2001 and for the next four years he played non-league football for three Midlands sides – Hednesford, Redditch and Studley – while training to become a HGV driver. In 2005 Kevin emigrated with his family to Canada, working initially as a lorry driver then joining the Canadian Police Force in Calgary. His daughter Stacey Francis remained in the UK and became a professional netball player who won international honours for England, earning 73 caps and representing her country at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
In 1998 Kevin Francis won two international caps for Saint Kitts and Nevis, the country where his parents were born.
Nationality: Saint Kitts and Nevis
Date/Place of Birth: 6 December 1967, Birmingham
Hull City First Game: 6 January 2001, Macclesfield Town H (League Division 3), 33 years, 31 days old
Hull City Final Game: 16 May 2001, Leyton Orient A (League Division 3 Play-Off Semi Final Second Leg), 33 years, 161 days old
Mile Oak Rovers (1988-1989), Derby County (1989-1991), Stockport County (1991-1995), Birmingham City (1995-1998), Oxford United (1998-2000), Stockport County (2000), Castleton Gabriels (2000), Exeter City (2000), Hull City (2000-2001), Hednesford Town (2001-2003), Redditch United (2003-2005), Studley (2005)
Hull City Record
Career: 24 apps, 5 goalsKevin Francis
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