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Colin Bell MBE was born on February 26th 1946, is from Hesleden, County Durham, originally, but most Manchester City fans won’t countenance the idea that he’s from anywhere but the Kippax. When your club names a stand after you and your supporters nickname you ‘Nijinsky’ you know you’ve worked as hard as you could.
Before moving to Manchester City for £47,500 in March 1966, Bell had been made captain of Bury, before the age of twenty. He scored the first of his hundred and fifty two goals for Manchester City on his debut in the 2-1 win over Derby County. City were promoted to Division One at the end of the season Bell joined.
In 1966-67, Bell’s first full season at the club, he made fifty appearances, scoring fourteen goals from the inside-right position. The following season brought Manchester City’s league title - the club’s second - with Bell an instrumental part of the squad and City winning 4-3 at Newcastle on the final day of the season to be crowned champions. During that season Bell had won his first England cap, impressing on his debut in the 3-1 win over Sweden at Wembley, where he scored the majority of his nine international goals.
Bell had established himself in the England starting line-up, scoring against both Holland and Brazil and being selected for the squad for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, in which he appeared as a substitute in the Quarter Final defeat to West Germany.
He was named England captain in 1972 against Northern Ireland and became a permanent fixture in the side when Joe Mercer, whose Manchester City side Bell had joined from Bury, replaced Alf Ramsey as England caretaker manager in 1974.
Bell’s England performances that stand out for many were the wins over Austria, in which he scored, Czechoslovakia and West Germany in 1973, 1974 and 1975 respectively. For the game against the Germans Bell was part of a team that included Mick Channon, Kevin Keegan, Malcolm MacDonald and Alan Ball under recently-appointed manager Don Revie. Bell finished as the league's top scorer with eighteen goals in 1974-75.
Bell’s total of forty eight England caps was a record for a Manchester City player at the time.
The injury to his knee ligaments which Bell suffered, when at his peak and aged only twenty nine, in a League Cup match at Maine Road against Manchester United in November 1975, effectively ended the career of a man who was confident of being able to play at the top level until he was thirty five. He had set himself personal targets, which included making 750 first team appearances for Manchester City and winning a hundred caps for his country.
Bell’s description of his appearance as a substitute for Manchester City in 1977 captures the relationship between player and club as well as any:
‘The second I came out of the tunnel and into view the crowd rose to their feet and made more noise than I've ever heard in my life, I’m not an emotional person but I got a big lump in my throat hearing that ovation. It felt like it went on forever but I'm told it was about four minutes before the cheering stopped.’
He tested his idea of being able to play well into his thirties in 1980, when he joined North American Soccer League club San Jose Earthquakes, but played only five games before returning to England, realising that his playing career was over.
Bell worked with the Manchester City youth team on his return and subsequently became an ambassador of the club. The main stand of the club’s new ground, the City of Manchester Stadium, was christened ‘The Colin Bell Stand’ in 2004, the only one named after a City player.
In 2005 Colin Bell became Colin Bell MBE for the charity work he has carried out since retiring from the game.
The quality of the player is best left to those who played against him at club level and with him for England, including Sir Bobby Charlton, who summed Bell up with the line, ‘Unquestionably a great player', Alan Mullery, that Bell would 'Be a star in any era of football and would fit into any team', Kevin Keegan, that Bell 'Had it all' and Tom Finney, that 'Colin Bell was as good as anything I've ever seen'.