With City now dining at the top table within English and European football, it is easy to forget previous generations of blues that brought success to the club and few have had a more significant impact on the English game than Colin Bell.
During City’s golden period during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Bell was instrumental in City’s midfield and with nearly 50 caps for England, he was one of the most important players for both club and country in that era.
Greater Manchester has always been a footballing hotbed and Bell’s progression from lower league footballer to regular England starter was seamless. Having cut his teeth at Bury, where he became captain as a teenager, many of England’s biggest clubs were interested in signing Bell.
Manchester City’s larger than life assistant manager Malcolm Allison was a huge fan of Bell and misled other clubs by telling them he didn’t rate the midfielder – to put them off the scent. The plan worked and Bell signed for City for £45,000 in 1966 and instantly became a legend at the club. He was instrumental in getting City promoted back to the first division in 1967 as Joe Mercer and Allison began to assemble one of the greatest teams to grace English football.
As one of the biggest sides in English football, Manchester City have always enjoyed successful sides and whilst the current crop of blues will always be remembered as one of the great teams, the squad that featured Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee in the late 60’s will be held in equally high esteem.
Bell scored 14 goals as City won the league for the second time in their history in 1968, before going on to help the blues win the FA Cup in 1969 and the League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup in 1970. City’s place in English football remained unperturbed through the early 1970’s, blew the league title in 1972 and won the League Cup again in 1976–making it one of the most successful periods in the club’s history.
Colin the king
Bell’s career was tragically shut down at the age of 29 as Manchester United’s Martin Buchan’s dangerous challenge put him out of the game for almost 2 years. With traditional grit and spirit, Bell attempted to return to the first team fold at City and then in America with the San Jose Earthquakes. Sadly, the damage was done, and he was forced to retire from the game at the age of 33.
He remained a central figure at Manchester City and was involved in coaching the youth team before going on to be an ambassador for the club, a role he kept until his passing. When City moved to the Etihad Stadium in 2004, the fans voted for the West Stand to be named the Colin Bell Stand – the ultimate accolade for any blue and his name still rings around the Etihad today.
In the age of celebrity footballers, Colin Bell is and was a timely reminder of how great players always let their football to the talking.