When you think of Friday nights at Headingley many a legend comes to mind.
Rob Burrow, Danny Mcguire, Kevin Sinfield, Keith Senior, Ali Lauiti’iti, Ryan Hall and the list goes on. Even outside that Golden Generation, many men made their mark on Friday nights. The likes of Iestyn Harris and Barrie McDermott where among the first to make Friday night a carnival of rugby league delights at Headingley when Leeds moved their home games from the traditional time of Sundays at 3pm – the time many Super League clubs still stick to when not on TV – to Friday nights helping cement one of the greatest atmospheres in rugby league.
Last night though saw the sad passing of one of the original Friday Night Headingley stars Norman Francis.
Norman a burly strong winger started his career at Hunslet in the 1982/83 season playing 1 game. He moved to Leeds where between the years of 1985 and 1990 he played 44 games for the first team scoring 11 tries and was a popular figure in the dressing room too.
It is though his performances for Leeds’ A team (the equivalent for the modern reserves) which he will be also fondly remembered for which turned him into something of a cult hero to Leeds fans.
The Leeds reserves played regularly on a Friday night and those who attended the games will remember some stellar performances from Norman on the wing as those events cultivated their own cult following and their own special atmosphere, the perfect landscape for some of Francis’ mesmeric tries.
Many a time he scored some spectacular long range tries in front of circa 1000 fans who adopted him as their own.
Norman was one of the original Friday night stars and his rampaging runs will always be remembered by those die-hard Leeds fans who consumed everything in blue and amber turning the Friday night A Team games into something special.
His performances alongside other stars such as Leeds legend John Holmes who still holds the club appearance record at 622 as well as Paul Gill made Friday nights great nights for Leeds fans especially in tough seasons for the club as the title constantly alluded them building up to that 32-year wait McGuire and co ended in 2004.
Those tough years were made a bit easier for Leeds fans when Francis and co were lighting up Headingley on a Friday night with what can be best described as free rugby.
Norman would eventually leave Leeds for Oldham where he will be remembered for his amazing performance against the mighty Widnes which was highlighted on Scrum Down, the best place to absorb the week’s rugby league action on TV, due to his mesmeric runs which will be remembered by fans still to this day.
Norman then left for Bramley and would retire in 1996.
Nonetheless, it will be for his time at Leeds where he will be best remembered, especially for those amazing runs that often led to the try line making Friday nights at Headingley an event long before the days of Sinfield.
Another star to sadly pass away in 2022. We send our condolences, prayers and thoughts to his family at this time.