LONDON: Colin Bell, the former Manchester City and England midfielder, has died at 74.
Bell made 492 appearances and scored 152 goals for City during his 13-year stay after joining from Bury in 1966.
A club statement read: “Colin passed away peacefully this afternoon after a short, non-Covid related illness, aged 74. He leaves behind wife Marie, children Jon and Dawn and grandchildren, Luke, Mark, Isla and Jack.”
Bell earned the nickname ‘The King of the Kippax’ after one of the terraces at their former Maine Road home, and has a stand named after him at the Etihad Stadium after a fans vote.
City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said in a statement on the club website: “Colin Bell will always be remembered as one of Manchester City’s greatest players and the very sad news today of his passing will affect everybody connected to our club.
“I am fortunate to be able to speak regularly to his former manager and team-mates, and it’s clear to me that Colin was a player held in the highest regard by all those who had the privilege of playing alongside him or seeing him play.
“The passage of time does little to erase the memories of his genius. The fact that we have a stand at the Etihad Stadium named after Colin speaks volumes about the importance of his contribution to this club.”
He made 492 appearances for the club over 13 seasons, scoring 152 goals, and also won 48 caps for England, netting nine times. Those statistics may have been greater had injury not curtailed his career.
Bell hailed from the north east, born in Hesleden, County Durham, on February 26, 1946. He was raised by his father and other family members after his mother died when he was just a child.
Bell was a youth player with Horden Colliery Welfare before joining Second Division Bury as a teenager, having had unsuccessful trials with Newcastle, Sunderland and Arsenal. He quickly established himself at Gigg Lane and became the Shakers captain, attracting the interest of bigger clubs in the process.
City were keen but short of funds. Folklore has it that Allison used to watch him but bemoan his ability within earshot of other scouts, to mislead them, until City could afford the fee. They eventually signed him for £45,000 in 1966 – “an unbelievable bargain,” said Allison, who coached and later managed City.
Allison, who regarded him as “world class”, was the first to dub him ‘Nijinsky’ after the famous racehorse.
He scored on his debut and helped City secure promotion in 1966 and was one of their stand-out players as they edged out Manchester United to win the First Division title two years later.
FA Cup success followed in 1969 and two more trophies, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, were won in 1970. He was the club’s top scorer three times.
He made his England debut in 1968 and was a member of the squad at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Such was his fitness, he won every event in a ‘mini-Olympics’ organised to help the squad acclimatise to the heat.
In terms of the action, however, he was used sparingly and unwittingly gained an unwelcome place in history as the man sent on for Bobby Charlton in the quarter-final defeat to West Germany.
He was earmarked as long-term replacement for Charlton in the England midfield but, after the frustration of failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, effectively had his career ended by a knee injury at the age of 29.
Bell, who had been in his prime, was out of action for two years after being hurt in a tackle by United’s Martin Buchan in November 1975.
He briefly tried to revive his career with San Jose Earthquakes in 1980 but it lasted just five games. After football he held coaching roles with City’s youth and reserve teams and later became a club ambassador.
He was uncomfortable in the limelight and guarded his privacy, as the title of his 2005 autobiography, ‘Reluctant Hero’, suggested.
It took a lot of cajoling by family and friends for him to write that book, but it saved his life. It was read by football-loving surgeon, Jim Hill, who, noting how Bell’s mother had died of bowel cancer, contacted him suggesting he be checked out. Bowel cancer was also diagnosed and within three weeks he was operated on.
Bell, whose name lives on in the ‘Colin Bell Stand’ named after him at the Etihad Stadium, died on Tuesday aged 74 after a short illness.
He is survived by wife Marie, children Jon and Dawn and grandchildren Luke, Mark, Isla and Jack.