SIMON Francis last night admitted he blew his big chance of representing Sheffield United in the Premier League after being seduced by football’s glamorous lifestyle.
Francis was touted as one of the most promising talents in the English game when he arrived at Bramall Lane in 2004.
But, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s meeting between his former club and new employers Bournemouth, the defender told The Star that his love of partying contributed to his failure to realise that potential.
“I look back on what happened when I was at Sheffield United with quite a lot of regret,” Francis said.
“I was a young lad at the time and I thought, because I’d joined such a big club, I’d pretty much made it.
“Because of that, I relaxed a bit and didn’t look after myself as I should.
“I moved back to Nottingham where all my family and friends were and ended up getting into the whole ‘going out thing’ too much.
“I wasn’t really concentrating on being a footballer.
“Now I wish I’d done things differently, but it happened and I’ve moved on.”
Francis was still a teenager when Neil Warnock exploited Bradford City’s precarious financial situation to spirit him away from Valley Parade.
But, despite being regarded as one of football’s bright young things, the full-back made only 12 league appearances before joining Southend two years later.
Rather than wallow in self-pity as his old team mates celebrated promotion to the top flight, Francis embarked on a period of brutal self-assessment.
Having repaired his reputation with a series of eye-catching performances at Roots Hall, he moved to Bournemouth last year via a brief spell with Charlton Athletic.
“If I hadn’t been completely frank with myself then I might not have been able to make a good go of things, he said
“Injuries hampered me as well – I had a few at really unfortunate times – but overall I was to blame.
“I won’t be the first young footballer to make those mistakes and I won’t be the last but, now I’m older and more experienced, I try and tell the lads coming through the ranks about what happened and give them good advice.
“It’s up to them whether they take it or not.
“When I came to Sheffield United I wasn’t as wise as I thought I was and so that’s why I try and give a bit of guidance.
“Looking back, the move probably came at a good time for me because it meant I moved away from everyone, got my head down and just concentrated completely on my football.”
The Francis of today is far removed from the starry-eyed youngster who found the bright lights of his hometown’s renowned social scene so irresistible.
“I’ve got a family now, I’m a dad and that also improves your focus,” he said. “You’re not just doing things for yourself anymore.
“Like anyone else, I want to look after them and try to do as well as I can so I can make as much money for them as possible.
With United second in the League One table and Bournemouth 12th, Paul Groves’ side start tomorrow’s contest as underdogs, but Francis warned: “This division is so unpredictable it’s untrue.
“When you’re at one of the smaller clubs so to speak, the team talks take care of themselves. Everyone wants to impress on the bigger stages.
“Listen, the league table doesn’t lie. The top clubs are up there because they deserve to be. But you can never tell what’s going to happen.”
Francis, who signed a permanent contract with Bournemouth in January, was still on loan when United triumphed at The Seward Stadium four months ago.
“Even though I didn’t make as good a ‘go’ of it as I’d have liked or should have, Sheffield United are still a club I look back on with so much affection,” he said.