TThe King is dead. RIP Colin Bell. He was nicknamed Nijinsky after the great racehorse because he ran and ran without ever tiring. But it could also have been after the ballet dancer. To the rest of us, he was simply Colin the King.
He walked through the midfield like a colossus; a god, and space invariably opened in front of him. He didn’t do anything particularly complicated or fast, he just ran with the ball. Bell was the complete midfielder. He scored header goals, scored tap-ins, scored dangers from outside the area. He tackled, chased, closed, dribbled, crossed, headed, defended and passed beautifully. He was the complete midfielder. Colin won 48 games for England, and there would have been many more had he not been injured in his prime.
He scored the biggest goal I’ve ever seen, against Burnley. I think. From 40 yards, he shoved the ball into the well and screamed into the top corner. I say I think. I did not see the goal again. The cameras were gone that day. So for me it will be the greatest old-fashioned goal, always framed in the mind’s eye.
We all wanted to play with the number 8, Colin’s number. Of modern players, the way he ate the grass was similar to Kevin De Bruyne. He was not as outrageous a talent as De Bruyne, but this was a different era. De Bruyne never had to play on the baseball field. King Colin was mighty in the mud.
Bell, who came to City from Bury, was on Maine Road for the mark 1 glory days, that was in the late 1960s when City enjoyed phenomenal success without buying it (unless you count the £455,000 we paid to Bury for him). It was the totem of the City team that won all the national trophies in a three-year period between 1968 and 1970, followed by the Recopa de Europa. He scored so many goals (we didn’t call them assists back then) and could be trusted to score 14 or more goals in a 42-game season, sometimes more. He scored 142 goals in 481 for City, a phenomenal record, particularly back then, for a midfielder.
I started going to City in 1974, at the end of the glory days. We won one more trophy, in 1976, the League Cup, but by then Colin was crippled, ripped apart by Martin Buchan in a League Cup derby that City won 4-0. It was one of the best nights of my life and one of the worst. City fans from a certain era still repeat that tackle in their head. We never forgive Buchan. Weeks turned into months and the King still hadn’t returned.
Finally, two years and 44 days after the injury, he returned to Newcastle United. It was Boxing Day 1977 and the field was packed. It came in as a stand-in for the most sustained emotional roar you’ve ever heard at a soccer game. But it was not the same Colin Bell. The knee was kaput. He could no longer do what he was famous for: run and run and eat the grass. But he was still King Colin.
During 35 years during which City did not win trophies, Colin was pretty much all we had; Everything we talk, everything we sing Even the kids who never saw it. “Number 1 is Colin Bell, number 2 is Colin Bell, number 3 is Colin Bell, and number 4 is also Bell.” The song went straight down to the sub (only one back then) being Colin Bell. The song built up to his enthusiastic chorus, a hymn to the tune of Lily the Pink, it was “We’ll have a drink, a drink, To Colin the king,The kingg the king, He is the leader of our city, He is the best center forward, that the wooooooorrrrrrld … has ever seen ”.
And he was for us. When we moved to the Etihad Stadium, one of the stands was named after him; Unfortunately, the Bell End never had the majestic resonance it was intended for, so it was renamed the more sober Colin Bell Stand. When ex-players cited City’s best players, they always called Bell. Even in the wealthy era when we could buy the best in the world. At the end of last season I interviewed MiSummer beebee, who was playing on the same team as Bell (two-thirds of the famous Bell-Summerbee-Lee triumvirate) about David Silva’s departure. He said no City player has ever had Silva’s ability, but of course he had to compare him to Colin. And I adore Silva the way he did, I think he knew where his loyalty was ultimately.
Colin was a rock star footballer. But what made him so special was that he was also the best anti-rock star. He was beautiful, almoironicallylly cool, but the hair was a little too cool to be George Best or Rodney Marsh. When George Best opened a designer boutique wiSummer beebee, Bell opened a restaurant with the equally straightforward Colin Waldron. Bell wasn’t above serving anyone some food.
There was no histrionics when he scored. He didn’t punch the air or jump back, he just raised his hands, turned around, and played the game. When the players tried to hug him, he practically chased them away. He hadn’t done anything special, he had scored a goal, he had done the job he was paid for. Bell was not a superstar, he was a hard worker who practiced his trade.
When he retired, he wasn’t interested in being a star commentator or the great me that I am. It just left. On the rare occasions that television cameras caught up with him, he seemed lost for words. King Colin was not as regal as he seems, the antithesis of the modern superstar. It wasn’t even the boy next door. He was too shy for that. He was just a quiet boy named Colin who turned out to be a brilliant footballer. If ever there was a drink time for King Colin, it is now.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism