Colin Bell was one of the greatest ever players to wear the sky blue of City. Signed by Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison in 1966, bell was to form the nucleus of the successful City side of the late 60’s and early 70’s and was part of the famous trio that included Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee.
Colin Bell’s career began when he signed for Bury in 1963. At the time, The Shakers were in the old second division and fighting a constant struggle against relegation. Bell went straight into the first team and managed to keep his place, managing to score on average a goal every three games, which helped keep the club in the second division.
Bell was gaining a huge reputation at Bury and several clubs were reported to be interested in him. Among them were City and Allison was rumoured to have spent a lot of time watching the youngster while he was waiting for the money to sign him. During this time, Allison allegedly criticised Bell’s performance in the hope that other interested parties would be dissuaded from making a bid for the youngster.
Finally in 1966, Allison got his man as the blues coughed up £45,000 for the midfielder. Although only 20, Bell had made 86 appearances for Bury, scoring 25 times and had even captained the side. But great things were happening at Maine Road and bell would be an integral part of it.
Bell scored four goals in his first eleven games for City which helped clinch the second division title and Bell, after fighting relegation with Bury, suddenly found himself in the top flight of English football.
In 1968 he was part of the City team that clinched the First Division title with a 4-3 win at Newcastle on the final day of the season at Newcastle and just a year later, Bell starred in the FA Cup triumph over Leicester City at Wembley. His drives from midfield and seemingly endless stamina had earned him the nickname ‘Nijinsky’ and Bell was certainly living up to the name. He also made his England debut in 1968 and scored the winner against The Netherlands while also getting on the scoresheet against Brazil.
In 1970, Bell collected two winners’ medals as the blues won the League Cup before winning their only European trophy in the form of the European Cup Winners Cup. Things just got better for Bell as he travelled to Mexican as part of the World Cup squad. England had won the trophy four years earlier and reached the quarter final where they faced West Germany. Bell went on to replace Bobby Charlton but the Germans won the game 3-2. Later, Bell’s substitution was blamed for England losing the match but Charlton was quick to defend the decision, saying Germany had scored before Bell replaced him and therefore the substitution made no difference.
In 1974, England failed to qualify for the World Cup and subsequently departed with Sir Alf Ramsey as manager. Former City boss Joe Mercer took temporary charge of the national side and included Bell in every game under his charge. Regarded as one of the finest ever England midfielders, Bell’s best performance in an England shirt came during the 7-0 hammering of Austria. Bell scored twice and a year later, helped England to victory over new World Champions West Germany. In total, Bell won forty eight England caps, scoring nine goals in the process.
However, in 1976, Bell’s career was to begin a downward spiral. After a clash with United’s Martin Buchan, Bell was forced out of the game until 1977. He returned from injury but was not the same and Bell failed to regain his form and in1979, bell made the decision to retire. Chairman Peter Swales described Bell as irreplaceable, and manager Malcolm Allison failed to find another midfielder in Bell’s mould. In another effort to resurrect his career, Bell moved to the USA and joined San Jose Earthquakes, but only managed to play five games for the club.
Bell was honoured by the blues in 2004 when the west stand at City’s new stadium was renamed The Colin Bell Stand and a year later, Bell was recognised further when he was awarded an MBE in recognition for his charity work.
Colin Bell played over 450 games over a fourteen year period, scoring 152 goals in the process. He is a true legend and forever in the hearts of every blue.
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