YOU DON’T have to be falling out of a nightclub in the wee small hours, with a girl on each arm, to be classed as a maverick.
You don’t have to be in the pub one minute and on the pitch the next.
No, sometimes you just have to be different.
And Colin Bell was wonderfully different.
One of the finest attacking midfielders that England has ever produced, Bell played a pivotal part in Manchester City’s success in the late 1960s, winning the League title, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
He also won 48 caps for England but as you’re about to discover, it should have been much, much more.
He was born to play football…
For the young Colin Bell, school was just an inconvenience, a hurdle to clear before he made it in the world of professional football.
A day would never pass without him playing and rarely was he seen without a ball at his feet.
“I was put on this earth to be a footballer,” he once said.
“I just thought, at the back of my mind, even though I was going through school, I would become a professional footballer.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Malcolm Allison played a blinder to sign him…
With his performances for Bury winning rave reviews, Manchester City manager Allison made the short trip to Gigg Lane to see the young Bell in action and he came away convinced that he had to sign him.
Not that he let anybody else know.
Instead, he publicly criticised Bell, telling the media that he “can’t head it, can’t pass it” adding that “he’s hopeless.”
The trick worked.
With other clubs ending their interest, put off by Allison’s damning assessment, City were free to sign Bell and he moved to Maine Road in 1966.
He was that good he had two nicknames…
Not only was Bell dubbed ‘The King of the Kippax’ – after the home end at City’s former ground Maine Road.
But his tireless work rate, coupled with his pace, also earned him the nickname ‘Nijinsky’.
Not because of his likeness to the Russian ballet dancer of the same name but because of the racehorse that dominated flat-racing in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The fans loved him and he loved the fans…
While several of Bell’s medals are on display in the National Football Museum in Manchester, there is also one unusual item from his personal collection – a hand-made crown.
It was was placed on Bell’s head by fan Dave Brammer at the end of the 1975-76 season to welcome him back to action his serious injury.
And Bell kept it.
“I always kept what the fans gave me,” he says.
“I thought that if they had taken the time and effort to make something it’s only right you kept it.”
Superfan Dave said: “It cost £8 to have it made – I was only on £29 a week at the time.”
Dave added: “He’s still my hero.”
He had the world at his feet until a derby match in 1975…
At the age of 29, Bell had already played nearly 500 games for Manchester City and was rapidly closing in on 50 caps for his country too.
Indeed, there were calls to make him England captain such was influence on his teams.
Then came a League Cup match against neighbours Manchester United on November 12, 1975.
With City leading 1-0, Bell set off on another his trademark dribbles but as he attempted a dragback to evade the attentions of Martin Buchan, the United defender smashed into him, his tackle obliterating his right knee.
“My knee bent backwards, bursting blood vessels in the bottom of my thigh and in the top of my calf. All the ligaments in my knee were torn. Within seconds the knee was just a bag of blood,” Bell recalls.
“I was told by the doctors that the trauma was similar to that suffered by someone involved in a serious car smash.
“The knee was a complete mess. As well as the ligament and muscle damage, the cartilages had been destroyed and there had been massive internal bleeding.”
It wasn’t quite the end for Colin Bell but he’d never be the same again.
He did make a comeback…
But it was short-lived.
Boxing Day 1977, a little over two years since the tackle that nearly broke Colin Bell, and City are playing Newcastle United at Maine Road.
The players run back on to the pitch after the half-time break and there, coming on as a surprise substitute, is Colin Bell.
Cue a standing ovation and a huge round of applause from both sets of fans.
It would be nearly five minutes before the cheering stopped.
“A few people, grown men, have told me that they actually cried when I came out onto the pitch, which shows how much it meant to them,” he says.
“I knew the ovation was for me personally and those moments were better than winning all the trophies I had collected. In fact, that response, from both sets of supporters, was the highlight of my entire career.”
But it didn’t last…
Bell continued to struggle with his knee and would be in and out of the City team for the next two years.
It was left to manager Malcolm Allison to break the news that he couldn’t quite face himself.
The pair were standing in the tunnel at Maine Road when the City boss broke the news to Bell that it was time to go.
“Malcolm told me years later that telling me I was finished was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do,” says Bell.
“But I knew he was right. My playing career was over.”
And while Bell tried his hand in the North American Soccer League alongside George Best at the San Jose Earthquakes, he could only manage five games before finally calling time on his playing career.
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He’s a Manchester City icon forever more…
When City moved into the City of Manchester Stadium in 2003, a campaign by fans convinced the club to rename their West Stand in honour of their of their legendary midfielder.
In February 2004 the club unveiled the new ‘Colin Bell Stand’, resisting the temptation to call it an ‘End’ for obvious reasons.
“This is a tremendous honour that has been bestowed on me,” said Bell. “I can’t thank City fans enough for their continued magnificent support.”