Until that point, the indefatigable midfielder was tipped to go on and break the 100-cap mark for England, the team he captained briefly after the retirement of Bobby Moore.
His time in the England set-up included some memorable moments, but Bell failed to scale the heights at international level like he did with his club.
Colin Bell signed for City from Bury in 1966, with City’s assistant manager, Malcolm Allison, attempting to throw other potentially interested clubs off Bell’s scent by declaring him ‘hopeless’. Allison’s ploy worked and Bell helped the Maine Road outfit to promotion the same year with four goals in 11 matches.
The following season, City managed a 15th place finish in the first division, with Bell weighing in with 12 goals. Netting strikes from midfield would become Bell’s trademark. He reached double figures with hid goal tally in six consecutive top-flight seasons and historians have attempted to identify a modern equivalent of Bell in the Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard.
With the additions of Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee, the Sky Blues were well placed to make a championship tilt in 1968, which they did in extraordinary fashion. A dramatic 4-3 win at Newcastle United on the last day of the season handed City their first title in over three decades, but Bell’s performance in the win over Tottenham Hotspur in the penultimate match tipped the title's destiny in City’s favour. Bell contributed 14 goals from midfield in that historic season, cementing his legacy at the club. City’s faithful dubbed him ‘the King of the Kippax, and the club embellished their league triumph with the FA Cup the following year.
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His play was characterised by constant movement and running into channels; a never-stand-still attitude that made him elusive and effective. Such attributes in adverse weather conditions were seen as invaluable.
On club form, Bell was untouchable at the time. He scored 23 times in all competitions as City ousted Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United en-route to the League Cup final against West Brom and overcame Gornik Zabrze in Vienna in the Cup Winners Cup.
Ahead of the tournament proper, Bell notched a winner against the Netherlands and struck against world-champions in waiting, Brazil.
However, Bell’s contributions in the tournament were seen as largely disappointing. Alf Ramsey, the England coach withdrew Bobby Charlton in favour of Bell in the quarter-finals against West Germany and England went on to surrender their lead and crash out of the competition, losing their mantle of world champions in the process.
Nonetheless, Bell was appointed captain of England for the defeat against Northern Ireland in 1972. When Joe Mercer replaced Alf Ramsey following the Three Lions' failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, the City man featured in every match of his former club manager’s seven game tenure as caretaker boss.
City, by then, were a power on the wane, without an honour since 1970 and only challenging for the league on one occasion since their 1968 triumph.
However, Bell was again in the form of his life. He scored 15 goals during the 1974/75 season, despite a recent history of niggling injuries.
For England too, Bell was a focal point. New manager, Don Revie, watched as the playmaker helped orchestrate comprehensive wins against Czechoslovakia, West Germany and Scotland.
However, optimism for the 1976 European Championships was to be severely tempered.
During a League Cup tie against Manchester United in 1975, Martin Buchan tackled Bell heavily, causing severe damage to both artery and blood vessel. Bell and City initially failed to diagnose the problem correctly and he had to abort a comeback later on that season. Bell would remain incapacitated for a further 18 months. Without him, England failed to qualify ahead of Czechoslovakia, who went on to win the tournament.
After trying to return on Boxing Day 1977, in an emotion-filled 4-0 win over Newcastle, Bell decided to call it quits. He briefly dabbled in the NASL with San Jose Earthquakes before permanently hanging up his boots.
He worked with the Manchester City youth set-up until he was ousted by his former team-mate, Franny Lee, who served as the club’s chairman in the 1990s. The west stand in Manchester City’s new stadium has been named in his honour, and Colin Bell has since been inducted to the English Football Hall of Fame and awarded an MBE for his charity work.
Peter Staunton, Goal.com