A look back on Roy Francis’ rugby league legacy that changed professional sport for good

They say for all the glamour that the public sees on Instagram and other social media platforms, the life of a professional sportsman is, in actual fact, quite dull.

They can thank late rugby league legend Roy Francis for that.

You see, during the first half of the early 20th century, whilst most sports didn’t pay contracted players nearly as handsomely as they do now, practice regimes and off-field activities did lack real professionalism.

Before Francis brought his revolutionary ideas to the table, most rugby league training sessions were made up of laps around the practice field and the odd game of touch rugby. Once that ended for the day, players were free to do what they liked. Indeed, you may catch the odd player in the pub later that evening enjoying a pint and a cigarette. It was a bit of a rockstar lifestyle until Francis arrived at Hull FC in 1949. 

It was a landmark appointment for many reasons but most significantly because Francis became the first black coach of any professional sports team in the United Kingdom. With Francis’ arrival came the introduction of video analysis and personalised fitness programmes. Not satisfied with the fitness levels of his team still, Francis went one step further and hired a sprinting coach so that he could squeeze every last drop of performance out of his players on match day. 

Whilst this was all going on at Hull, the rest of the rugby league carried on with antiquated training methods. It won’t come as any surprise to then learn that Francis was able to take Hull to their first championship in two decades after clinching the league title in 1956. Further success would follow just two years later as the Welshman was able to guide the East Yorkshire side to the league title once more.  

Francis would swap the east of Yorkshire for the west after he moved to Leeds in 1963 in a switch that proved that he really did have the Midas touch. A sensational Challenge Cup final triumph in 1968 was backed up by yet another league title in 1974. 

It is indeed a testament to the winning mentality that Francis brought to Leeds that all these years later in 2020, the Rhinos are still able to win the Challenge Cup as they did after beating the Salford Red Devils

Granted, they may be at long odds of 10/1 to win the Grand Final in rugby league Space Casino betting, but the West Yorkshire side never goes too long without winning a trophy of some sort, as was proved at Wembley against Salford. The groundwork for this legacy was laid by Francis all those years back.

In fact, a huge amount of professional sports coaches around the world have adopted Francis methods. Look at Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa, a man considered the godfather of all football analysis thanks to the painstaking video examination he does on his opponents. Or what about rugby union World Cup-winning coach Rassie Erasmus and the emphasis he puts on fitness and the role sprinting plays in it? All of these ideas were born from the brain of the legendary rugby league coach. 

So yes, professional athletes around the world can thank Roy Francis for a dull life off the field but, without this visionary Welshman, they would be getting paid a fraction of what they are on now. Professionalism increased the level of performance and brought in the sponsors which today lavish the players with financial incentives. 

At this stage, you may even ask where the sporting world would be without Roy Francis or if it would have evolved at the same speed had it not been for the work he did in it? Indeed, the sporting world owes a great amount of thanks to this rugby league icon.

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