Francis O'Donnell, one of 15 children, was born in Buckhaven, Scotland, on 31st August, 1913. Hugh and his brother Hugh O'Donnell, played local football for Wellesley Juniors before joining Celtic in 1930. Over the next five years he scored 50 goals in 75 games for his club.
Francis made his debut alongside his brother at Huddersfield Town on the opening day of the 1935-36 season. However, he had to share the position with Jimmy Maxwell who ended up top scorer with 17 goals. That season, Preston finished 7th in the league.
Francis O'Donnell was a regular member of the Preston North End side in 1936-37. Preston had a disappointing league campaign, finishing in 14th place. Francis O'Donnell was top scorer with 27 goals. Eleven of these came from cup competitions. For example, he scored in every round of the FA Cup, including a hat trick in the 4th round against Exeter City and a double against West Bromwich Albion in the semi-final. O'Donnell also scored in the first-half of the cup final against Sunderland. However, with Raich Carter in top form, Sunderland responded by scoring three in reply.
At the beginning of the next season, Preston North End made two important signings. In September, 1937, Preston purchased the high scoring George Mutch, from Manchester United for £5,000. The following month, Robert Beattie a skillful inside forward, arrived from Kilmarnock for a fee of £2,500. They joined fellow Scotsmen, Francis O'Donnell, Hugh O'Donnell, Jimmy Dougal, Andrew Beattie, Jimmy Maxwell, Tom Smith, and Bill Shankly in the side.
This Scottish dominated side finished 3rd in the First Division of the Football League with 49 points. Only Arsenal (52) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (51) obtained more points. Once again Preston had another good cup run. They beat West Ham United (3-0), Leicester City (2-0), Arsenal (1-0), Brentford (3-0), and Aston Villa, 2-1 in the semi-final.
In the 1938 FA Cup Final Preston played Huddersfield Town. This was the first time that a whole match was shown live on television. Even so, far more people watched the game in the stadium as only around 10,000 people at the time owned television sets. No goals were scored during the first 90 minutes and so extra-time was played. In the last minute of extra-time, Bill Shankly put George Mutch through on goal. Alf Young, Huddersfield's centre-half, brought him down from behind and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Mutch was injured in the tackle but after receiving treatment he got up and scored via the crossbar. It was the only goal in the game.
On 9th April, 1938 O'Donnell played for Scotland against England at Wembley. Also in the Scottish team were Preston colleagues, Bill Shankly, George Mutch, Andrew Beattie and Tom Smith. Scotland won 1-0 with Mutch scoring the only goal of the game.
At the end of the season, Francis O'Donnell and his brother Hugh O'Donnell were transferred to Blackpool. During his time at Preston North End he scored 48 goals in 101 games. In the 1937-38 season he scored 17 goals in 30 games.
After the war O'Donnell joined Nottingham Forest. However, he retired from the game after only 11 games.
Francis O'Donnell died aged 40 on 4th September, 1952.