HE breezed into Layer Road in the swinging Sixties with a reputation of being the finest centre-half England had ever produced.

But as a new book reveals, Neil Franklin's eventful spell as manager of Colchester United was not quite as illustrious as his playing days.

'England's Greatest Defender - the untold story of Neil Franklin', written by Alfie Potts Harmer, lifts the lid on the former U's boss, who managed them for four years between 1963 and 1968.

Indeed, Colchester were the only club Franklin ever managed, aside from a brief stint at Cypriot club APOEL.

He had his ups and downs during his time at the U's - with the departure of star trio Bobby Hunt, Martyn King and Peter Wright during his tenure significant moments in the club's history.

Just three months into his new job, Franklin sold prolific striker and home-grown hero Hunt to Northampton Town for a fee of at least £15,000 - but believed to be nearer £20,000.

Hunt had been regularly banging in the goals, having joined Colchester as an apprentice before making his debut in March, 1960 as a 17-year-old.

Linking up superbly with strike partner Martyn King, he had scored 23 goals in 38 games in the 1963-64 season at the time of his exit.

It had followed on from Hunt's equally prolific campaign the year before when he hit the net 38 times, a U's club record that still stands today.

The striker's departure in March, 1964 left Colchester fans understandably disappointed - but U's legend Hunt has told the Gazette this week that it was not all down to Franklin.

"They got an offer that was good money and they let me go," recalled Colchester-born Hunt, who scored 90 goals in 162 league and cup appearances for the U's.

"I think the club got around £20,000 for me which at that time, was a lot of money.

"I'd had a good time of it and I think a lot of people didn't want me to go but I went to benefit myself.

"I don't know if he wanted me to go or not but it was something I felt I needed to do, at the time.

"I was very young then and had only just gone full-time, so I was playing for a living.

"There were one or two things going on at Colchester at the time and he was always very good with me.

"Looking back, in a way I should have waited and I shouldn't have left when I did - it was a bit of a rushed decision."

Franklin had been a football superstar in the 1940s and 1950s, so much so that icons such as Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and Gordon Banks all named him as the greatest-ever centre-half England have ever produced.

He was capped 27 times by England and set a record for consecutive appearances for the Three Lions.

But Franklin left Britain for Bogota in 1950, just months before England were set to make their World Cup debut in Brazil.

After his playing days were over, Franklin was appointed Colchester manager in December 5, 1963 following Benny Fenton's decision to join Orient.

He took over a U's side sitting tenth in the Third Division and playing at the highest level in their history.

"I always got on well with him - he was a good manager and a really nice man," added Hunt.

"He spent a lot of time working with the players but especially the defenders, having been a defender himself.

"He didn't really talk much but I enjoyed working with him."

Franklin did enjoy some success during his time at Layer Road, guiding Colchester back to Division Three in the 1965-66 season.

But following the U's relegation at the end of the 1967-68 season, he was sacked on May 13, 1968 and it proved to be his last job in football management.

'England's Greatest Defender - the untold story of Neil Franklin' is a fascinating account of the man who has been dubbed 'the best footballer you've never heard of'.

It is of particular interest to U's fans with a fairly large chunk of this detailed book dedicated to his time in North Essex, where he also met and married his second wife.

'England's Greatest Defender - the untold story of Neil Franklin' is written by Alfie Potts Harmer and is published by Red Door.