MANCHESTER, England — Colin Bell, one of the best English midfielders of his generation and considered an all-time great at Manchester City, has died. He was 74.
Bell, whose name lives on in the “Colin Bell Stand” named after him at the Etihad Stadium, died after a short illness not linked to the coronavirus, City said Tuesday.
“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," City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said in a statement. “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.”
Known as “The King of the Kippax" by fans and compared to a race horse by coach Malcolm Allison because of his extraordinary stamina, Bell was at the heart of City’s successful side of the late 1960s and 70s.
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.
“He was quiet, unassuming and I always believe he never knew how good he actually was," former City teammate Mike Summerbee said. “He was just the greatest footballer we have ever had.”
Bell was born in Hesleden in northeast England on Feb. 26, 1946. He was raised by his father and other family members after his mother died when he was just a child.
After starting his career at Bury in the Manchester area, Bell attracted he interest of bigger clubs in the process and moved to City.
Bell provided the complete midfield package. He could tackle, was full of running, had pace, an eye for a pass and was a fine finisher.
Allison, who regarded him as “world class”, was the first to dub him “Nijinsky” after the famous race horse.
He scored on his debut and helped City secure promotion in 1966 and was one of the team's stand-out players as they edged out Manchester United to win the top 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. But he was used sparingly and gained an unwelcome place in the team's history as the man sent on for Bobby Charlton in the quarterfinal 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 Man United’s Martin Buchan in November 1975.
He never blamed Buchan for what he regarded as an accident, but his comeback was not successful and he retired in August 1979.
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.
That book may have 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.
He is survived by wife Marie, children Jon and Dawn and grandchildren Luke, Mark, Isla and Jack.
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The Associated Press