There were some amazing footballers in the 60’s and 70’s. Iconic players like Best, Eusebio, Pele were gracing pitches all over the world but there is one who, outside of his own club, doesn’t get the universal recognition he deserves.
Colin Bell was born shortly after the Second World War and spent his early years playing for Bury. The club knew from an early stage that he was a brilliant talent and he soon became the clubs captain, leading them from the middle of the park, he scored 25 times in three seasons, averaging a goal every three games. An average he would maintain for the rest of his career.
Bell’s performances started to draw attention from some of the bigger clubs in England and Manchester City’s assistant manager was particularly keen, in a attempt to ward away other clubs he started to put the word out that Bell couldn’t head the ball, couldn’t pass it and was generally hopeless. It worked and the Sky Blues managed to sign him for £45,000 in 1966.
City were in the Second Division at the time and the young midfielder made an immediate impact, scoring four goals in 11 games to help them to promotion. As for any team making their way up the pyramid it was a difficult season for City but Bell was born to play at that level, he bagged twelve goals and the side managed to stay in the division. It was just the beginning for Bell and the newly promoted side.
City made a number of key signings in Francis Lee and Mike Sumerbee who along with the now usual contribution from Bell helped the Citizens to the League title. It was a hard fought campaign but a win on the last day was required to clinch the title.
A trip to Newcastle United stood between City and history and with the game deadlocked at 2-2 at half time it seemed as though they might fall at the final hurdle but once again,Bell was on hand to turn the game. Two assists in the second half helped the away side to an unassailable lead and first league title in 31 years.
Bell’s starring roll in the Championship season led to deserved call up for the England national team, a real honour considering England were world champions at the time. He made his debut aged 22 against Sweden and from his favourite midfield role, helped them to a 3-1 victory. He managed to hold his place in the side for the next game against West Germany, a narrow defeat, but he would have to wait a little while before he became a regular for England.
Perhaps it was just as well, because back at City, Bell was really coming in to his own and, though they didn’t defend their league title, they did win the FA Cup, beating Leicester City in the final. The next season the were back among the medals when the won the League Cup and incredibly, the Cup Winners Cup.
With success coming regularly at club level it was no surprise that he was also becoming a regular for England for whom he continued his impressive goal scoring with a winner against the Dutch and a goal against Brazil who would soon go on to become World Champions.
Over the next few years City began to fall back down the table and as a team performed rather unspectacularly but Bell was always a key man for the side, their slide would have been much more pronounced were it not for the energetic midfielder. Throughout his time at the club he managed double figures in goals every season.
Trophy-wise it was a barren period for Bell but on the field he was going through a real purple patch. In 1975 he notched 15 goals in the league and four goals in three internationals against Czechoslovakia, West Germany and Scotland which led him to be described as “the most finished article in the modern game.”
Colin Bell had the world at his feet but it was about to come crashing down. In the derby against Manchester United he found himself on the receiving end of a crunching tackle from Martin Buchan which severely damaged his knee. Worse still, the injury was misdiagnosed and on his return he splintered cartilage which ruled him out for a further 18 months.
Throughout his career, the defining characteristic of Bell’s play, (apart from his goals), was his energy and athleticism. Even his nickname, “Nijinsky”, was in tribute to this as he was named after the famous racehorse of the same name. His injury changed him as a player and he never really recovered and he called time on his career in 1979 aged just 29.
Away from the team he continued to work at Manchester City where he was a youth coach and later an ambassador for the club. As a winner of one league title, two league cups, an FA Cup and a European Cup Winners Cup he was one of the clubs most successful players ever and when the club left Maine Road, a stand at their new home, the City of Manchester Stadium was named in his honour.
A brilliant and consistent player for both club and country throughout a career that was cruelly cut short Colin Bell was a true City Legend.