‘In time, Colin will be among the all-time greats who have ever played in this country’ That is what Manchester Citys Assistant Manager, Malcolm Allison said of King Colin when asked. Of course we had already signed the young lad from Bury at the time of this quote. Had you asked him before Bell had signed the paperwork his answer would have been more like this “can’t head it, can’t pass it, he’s hopeless”(Both quotes taken from ‘The Worst Of Friends’ by Colin Schindler).
Of course the latter was an attempt to put off fellow clubs who were interested in signing Colin while he and Joe fought with the City board to release the funds. For 45,000 pounds Colin Bell turned out to be, and arguably still is, the best money City spent. Certainly fans who saw ‘Nijinsky’ play would confirm that all the stories of him were true. He was a shy guy who had the stamina of a middle distance runner and the skills needed to help City reach and compete with the top clubs in Europe.
He could have so easily have gone to Arsenal but fortunately for City fans their manager, Ex England star Billy Wright didn’t see in Bell what our Big Mal saw. Bell went for trials with the North London club before being rejected and told that they hoped he found a side whose standards were not as high as Arsenals. Four years later Colin was flying high in sky blue.
In his debut game, on this day in 1966, Bell scored in an away win against Derby County (even though he may not have known much about it) as Mercer, Allison and now Bell were finally moving City in the right direction, with Bells goal at Rotherham actually securing the promotion.
Colin Bell would go on to become arguably City’s key player and turned out in the sky blue of City just under 500 times, scoring 153 goals. Only two players have scored more for the club, and who knows how many more he could have scored if not for that horrific injury in a 4-0 League Cup win against United with a ‘mistimed’ tackle from Buchan. The levels of fitness that Bell had kept up meant that had the injury not occurred he could have continued for at least another five or six years longer than it did.
He did come back as a substitute against Newcastle on Boxing Day 1977, just over two years after the initial injury but he never returned to his best and would only get 17 games under his belt before eventually being forced into retirement. His comeback though did lift the club who went on a seven game winning streak and he did manage two goals. His last goal however came in Europe in a tie against FC Twente in September 1978 at Maine Road, which fittingly was also the venue for his last League game for City although this time it was a loss against Aston Villa.
Colin Bell later continued his service with City by working with the youth team, but left before returning during the 1990s as the club’s first ambassador. Then when Francis Lee took control of the club there was a falling out and Bell left. Fortunately Bell came back and now acts as a club ambassador and can be seen around the ground on matchday.
When moving to the new stadium in 2003 City fans were polled as to what to call one of the stands, Colin Bell won the poll and now while at the Etihad you will see the Colin Bell Stand. No other section has been given a players name and to date only Joe Mercer has had a similar section around the ground named after him and so on Matchday now you can walk down ‘Joe Mercer Way’ and take your seat in the ‘Colin Bell Stand’ and watch the mighty City.