“Colin the King” of Manchester City was the antithesis of the modern goal scorer.
Yet he was an all-out midfielder,
The King has died.
Colin Bell RIP. Since he ran and ran and never tired, he was called Nijinsky, after the great racehorse.
But it may have been after the ballet dancer as well. To the rest of us, he was simply Colin the King.
Like a colossus, he strode through the midfield; a god – and space eventually opened up before him. He didn’t do anything that was especially tricky or fast, he just ran with the ball.
Bell was an all-round midfielder. With his head, he scored goals, took throw-ins, took bangers from outside the box. He beautifully tackled, chased, finished, dribbled, crossed, headed, defended and passed. He was an all-round midfielder.
For England, Colin won 48 caps and would have won several more if he had not been injured in his prime.
The best goal I’ve ever seen against Burnley was scored by him.
I assume. He took off from a distance of 40 yards and the ball went to the top corner.
I’m dreaming, I say.
I’ve never seen the goal again. That day, the cameras weren’t there.
So it’s going to be my biggest, old-fashioned target, forever framed in my mind’s eye.
We all decided to play number 8 – the number for Colin. Of the modern players, Kevin De Bruyne was similar in the way he ate the grass. He wasn’t as outrageously talented as De Bruyne, but that was another period.
On the baseball field, De Bruyne never had to play. In the dirt, King Colin was mighty.
In the glory days, Bell, who joined City from Bury, was Mark 1 at Maine Road – that period in the late 1960s when, without buying it, City enjoyed incredible success (unless you count the £ 45,000 we paid Bury for him). In the three years between 1968 and 1970, followed by the European Cup Winners’ Cup, he was the figurehead of the City team that won every national trophy. He scored so many goals (assists were not called that in those days) and could be relied on in a 42-game season, often more, to score around 14 goals. He scored 142 goals in 481 games for City – a remarkable record for a midfielder, especially in those days.
In 1974, at the end of the glory days, I began going to the city. We won another trophy in 1976, the League Cup, but by then Colin was crippled – he was mown down by Martin Buchan in a League Cup derby that City won 4-0.
It was one of the best, and one of the worst, nights of my life.
City fans of a certain vintage still see that tackle in their minds. We never pardoned Buchan. Weeks became months, and the King wasn’t back yet.
Finally, two years and 44 days after the injury, he returned against Newcastle United.
It was 1977 Boxing Day, and the location was packed. When he was substituted, there was the biggest and most emotional cheer ever heard at a soccer match.
But he wasn’t the same Colin Bell. The knee was bum. He could no longer do what he was famous for – running and running and eating up the turf.
But he was still King Colin.
For 35 years, during which City won no trophies, Colin was pretty much all we had; all we talked about, all we sang about. Even the kids who never saw him. “No. 1 is Colin Bell, No. 2 is Colin Bell, No. 3 is Colin Bell, and No. 4 is Bell, too.” The song went all the way to sub (only one at the time) as Colin Bell. The song built to its rousing chorus – an anthem to the tune of Lily the Pink: “We’ll drink a drink a drink, To Colin the king, The king the king, He’s the leader of our city, He’s the greatest center forward, That the wooooooorrrrrrld … Has ever seen.”
And that’s what he was to us. When we moved to the Etihad Stadium, one of the stands was named after him – unfortunately the Bell End never had the intended majestic resonance, so it was renamed the more sober Colin Bell Stand. When former players named the greatest City players, they always named Bell. Even in the moneyed era when we could buy the best in the world.
At the end of last season I interviewed Mike Summerbee, who played in the same team as Bell (two thirds of the famous Bell-Summerbee-Lee triumvirate), about the departure of David Silva. He said no City player had Silva’s skills, but of course he had to compare him to Colin.
And as much as he adored Silva, I think I knew where his loyalties ultimately lay.
Colin was a rock star soccer player.
But what made him so special was that he was also the ultimate anti-rock star. He was stunning, almost iconically cool, but the hair was