Farewell to The King

A Manchester City team wearing sky blue shirts, each bearing the number 8, will tonight pay homage to arguably the club’s greatest ever player.

The tribute to Colin Bell – King Colin, as he has been and will always be to City supporters – will take place against Manchester United in a vital League Cup tie at Old Trafford. It’s a tragic irony that City will mark the death of such a wonderful man and supremely skilled footballer, against the same opponent, in the same competition which marked his demise as a world class player 45 years ago.

RIP King Colin.

Colin was at the peak of his powers when City took on United in the fourth round of the cup, as a crowd of 50,182 packed into Maine Road on a cold Wednesday night in November 1975. With barely 30 seconds played City had raced into the lead, courtesy of a Dennis Tueart goal, and were swarming all over United’s defence.

In the fifth minute Tueart passed the ball from the centre circle and Colin was through, clear of the Red’s backline, heading towards the Platt Lane end and an almost certain two goal advantage. What happened next was to prove a football tragedy for player, club and country.

Colin was ‘tackled’ by United’s Martin Buchan, sustaining the horrendous injury that effectively – despite years of dedication and graft to regain fitness – ended Bell’s reign in the top flight. His right knee had been bent backwards, bursting blood vessels in the bottom of his thigh and top of his calf, as well tearing all the ligaments in his knee. The doctors who treated him said the trauma was similar to that suffered by someone in a serious car crash.

A football tragedy – Colin was stretchered off with his knee wrecked by Martin Buchan as City trounced United 4-0 in the League Cup back in 1975.

City smashed United 4-0 that night with the Manchester Evening News reporting that Colin’s injury would keep him, ‘…out of action for a month.’ If only that had been the case! City went on to win the League Cup in February 1976, but at such a heavy cost.

The following season – deprived of Colin – City finished as runners-up in the old Division One, missing out on being League Champions by a single point to Bob Paisley’s Liverpool. Had Bell been fit there’s no doubt City would have won the title at a canter – ‘Nijinsky’ – would’ve made all the difference.

City’s best ever – Colin rated Tony Book’s Division One Runners-Up side of 1976-77 as the best City line-up in his career. If Colin had been fit City would have been Champions!

Colin was the same age (29), as Kevin De Bruyne is now, when his career was wiped out by that one horrific moment. One can only imagine what City could’ve gone onto achieve, had he played at full throttle into his mid-30s. City’s trophy haul would have swelled and the history books would’ve seen a darn sight more blue than red in the late 1970s and early 80s.

King Kevin and King Colin – City royalty.

Reflecting on his career after his retirement, Colin singled out his comeback game on Boxing Day 1977 – a 4-0 victory over Newcastle United – as his number one memory of playing football, his number one game.

Sadly he was to be but a shadow of the player he’d been, but the sheer emotion as he emerged as a half time substitute – the tumultuous and ongoing standing ovation – seared into his conscience. Similarly, it’s a moment never to be forgotten by the 46,000 people who were present on the day. It may be a cliché, but it’s nonetheless true, that an untold number of grown men shed tears the day The King returned.

‘Fantastic, truly humbling and hugely emotional…’ is how Colin described his most memorable game – his City comeback against Newcastle on Boxing Day 1977.

There are so many questions about what Colin could have achieved, had it not been for injury, but that cannot overshadow what actually did happen in his 13 years at Maine Road. He made nearly 500 appearances and scored more than 150 goals, gaining 48 England international caps in the process.

He was the pivotal player in City’s glory years under Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison, winning the League Championship in 1968, followed by FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup successes in 1969 and 1970. Yes, there was Lee, Summerbee, Young, Book, Doyle, Oakes, Booth, Coleman, Heslop, Pardoe and others, so many who were integral to those halcyon days, but none more so than Bell.

Wembley glory in the FA Cup Final against Leicester City in 1969 and another top honour for Colin.

City fans of different generations – those fortunate enough to have witnessed the Mercer-Allison era, along with the more recent and present day glories under Mancini, Pellegrini and Guardiola – debate who’s the best to wear the City shirt? Was it Colin Bell or David Silva, could it yet be Kevin De Bruyne or Sergio Aguero?

It’s so subjective, but a key differentiator is that Bell played in an era of pitches resembling mud heaps and tackles that would now be reclassified as ‘ABH’ and ‘GBH’. He was never afforded the luxury of performing on carpet-like surfaces nor given the protection from the football ‘assassins’ of yesteryear.

European glory – Beating Gornik Zabre 2-1 in rain drenched Vienna to win the European Cup Winners Cup in 1970.

That said, all four are viewed as consummate professionals, supremely talented, role models, individuals who conduct themselves in an exemplary fashion, both on and off the field.

Colin Bell was special in so many ways. As a player he was peerless. As a husband and father, he was devoted to his family. As a man – regardless of being a football icon – he was self effacing, humble and completely devoid of ego.

I had the privilege of meeting and chatting with him on a handful of occasions – always at the Etihad on match days where he undertook ambassadorial duties. He had to overcome his natural shyness to engage with fans who were eager to meet him, spend time in his company, reminisce about his glory days and heap praise upon their idol.

Colin as he was known to a different generation of City fans – a match day ambassador at the Etihad.

I inadvertently caused him embarrassment when I first shook his hand and said he was the greatest player I’d ever seen in a City shirt. I wasn’t a starry-eyed kid, I was a ‘fortysomething’ giving a measured opinion to my boyhood hero.

The only problem was, Colin never saw himself in that light. Peter Barnes, City’s ex-winger and a star of the 1970s, was stood with us and Colin sought to deflect from the compliments coming his way, pointing out that ‘Barnesy’ was a terrific player.

World Cup heartbreak – Colin and England lost out in the sweltering Mexican heat as West Germany sealed a 3-2 comeback win in 1970. Colin won 48 England caps – it would’ve been so many more but for THAT injury.

Blundering in I acknowledged Peter’s pedigree, but compounded Colin’s modesty saying; “Oh, of course Peter was brilliant…but not a patch on you!” Talk about how to win friends and influence people!

In the early part of 2017 Colin did something which was totally in keeping with the character of the man – an act of kindness which meant the world to a dear friend of mine – Phil Entwistle, who was dying from cancer.

Royal Visit – City Blue Philip Entwistle was thrilled when King Colin and Cheeky Chappy visited him at his home in Nelson.

With the help of City’s former kitman – Les Chapman – a tremendous guy himself – Colin and Chappie visited Phil, a lifelong Blue, to boost his spirits. He was thrilled to spend time with City ‘royalty’ – even more so when, what was scheduled to be an hour’s chat, turned into a whole afternoon of sharing precious anecdotes and memories over tea and biscuits.

Unlike these modern days of social media and 24 hours-a-day sports channels capturing every game and goal, so much of Colin’s genius isn’t available at the touch of a screen or the flick of a remote control. Some of his finest moments will forever only be remembered in the eyes of those who attended City games of the past.

Whether you were fortunate enough to see Colin in full flow, a true thoroughbred, making light of cabbage patch pitches and gliding past opponents, or whether you’re reliant on You Tube archive footage of his goals and indefatigable brilliance, each and every City fan can marvel and fully appreciate why he was The King of The Kippax.

Imperious – Colin The King & Leader of Man City.

Our heartfelt sympathy, empathy and deepest condolences go to Colin’s family and closest friends, but what better way of celebrating the life of ‘The Leader of Man City’ than a win tonight in a Manchester Derby? Anyone for 4-0?

RIP Colin Bell – it was an honour, a pleasure and a privilege.

By David Walker

www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu

26 Comments

  1. January 6, 2021  6:00 pm by Martyn Hansen Reply

    Beautiful writing befitting our greatest player.

    • January 6, 2021  6:17 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thank you. It's almost like losing a family member. So, so sad when you lose a boyhood hero. At least I had the chance to tell him my thoughts - although I think he wished I hadn't. Lovely and humble gentleman.

  2. January 6, 2021  6:00 pm by Neil Higson Reply

    Thank you for that wonderful tribute. Like you Colin was my football hero from my first time watching City. I was there as an 8 year old when he got injured (not often Dad would take me to midweek games on a school night but it was a q/f against United) and never forgot the image of him being carried off on a stretcher that looked like a bit of old green mesh fence. I thought then how disrespectful to a great like Colin to be carted off on something like that. I followed his recovery and efforts to get fit again as did the nation via 'Saturday Heroes' on BBC Nationwide. Was lucky enough to be there on Boxing Day 1977 when the match almost became secondary as The King had returned coming on at half time. The hairs on your neck stood up with the passion around the whole ground just for Colin. Newcastle fans applauded him too. After all that, typical Colin was quoted as saying 'it was like 10 against 11 as I hardly touched the ball'. I had to watch 2012 93.20 Aguero on tv which was a truly unbelievable moment now rightly etched in City's DNA, but for me different but equally as emotional with actually being there, Colin's appearance in that Boxing Day game is just as special. I'm devastated and heartbroken and my thoughts go to his family and close friends. I hope they find some comfort in how he was loved and idolised by City fans and respected by every other teams players and fans too. Takes a truly special player and person to get that level of respect and affection. God bless you Colin. RIP legend, always The King.

      • January 6, 2021  6:34 pm by Neil Higson Reply

        Like you said, wish it didn't need to be said. I'm not ready for that. Colin was and always will be my footballing hero. Even as a 6 year old kid at my first game watching City with my Dad with new season ticket birthday present I remember asking Dad 'Who is the no. 8' because even to a know nothing 6 year old he stood head and shoulders over everyone else.
        I was lucky enough to meet Colin once a couple of years ago when he was with Tony Book at a City match. Similarly I embarrassed myself by virtually ignoring poor Tony and then stammered and waffled some sort of dreadful appreciation and even mentioned feeling sick when he was carried off injured in THAT game, god he must have thought what a complete idiot to mention that after all the wonderful memories I could have talked about and Tony probably thought I was just plain rude. Still, hideous embarrassment aside as a tongue tied 52 year old I'm still glad I met him and he'll always be my football hero..

        • January 6, 2021  6:37 pm by David Walker Reply

          Once again, great words and a smashing anecdote. In both our cases it appears to be 'When fools rush in...'

  3. January 6, 2021  6:13 pm by David Kelly Reply

    That was a brilliant tribute Read but never Red
    Thank you, you have written what we all wanted to say

    • January 6, 2021  6:14 pm by David Walker Reply

      Gratitude Guv. I just wish it hadn't needed writing. We're all devastated at Colin's passing.

  4. January 6, 2021  6:19 pm by Paul keys Reply

    Beautiful tribute David to a wonderful modest superstar whos talent and skill lit up our lives. As a nipper my mum knitted me a bobble hat sky blue and white with Colin Bell sown into it how proud I was of that hat. Latterly as an avid Blue I collected his autographed picture, testamonial programme and read every word of reluctant hero more than once. As a 59 year old man I find my self shedding tears on the announcement of the news and still the next day when reading the many tributes to King Colin who has godlike status in my blue tinted brown eyes. The king is dead, long live the King 🍻🍻

    • January 6, 2021  6:34 pm by David Walker Reply

      You were far from alone in your tears. Thank you.

  5. January 6, 2021  6:24 pm by Pete lynch Reply

    Beautiful, poignant piece befitting of the legend that will always be King Colin. Thank you David x

    • January 6, 2021  6:34 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thanks for reading and commenting - we're all on the same wavelength - total sadness.

  6. January 6, 2021  6:59 pm by Doug Henshaw Reply

    Beautiful written Dave bought a year to my eye. So many wonderful memories of this wonderful man.. What a player he was I remember as young kid going to my first ever City game my brother in law said keep an eye on number 8 he's brilliant. How right he was I had the pleasure of watching him in many more games what a talent he was. So sad to be writing this as I'm sure everyone feels the same. RIP King Colin

    • January 6, 2021  8:44 pm by David Walker Reply

      Yes, such a sad and horrible way to start a New Year. Many of us knew he'd had a long spell in hospital late last year, but when the news came out that he was home in time for Christmas we assumed he was in better health. Devastating to lose him at any time, but especially in the midst of Covid19. He'll always be The King. Thanks for your comments.

  7. January 6, 2021  7:00 pm by Will Linsdell Reply

    Lovely post Dave. I met him once and had instant lockjaw! My sporting hero. I was just starting to revel in football in 75 and it was his goal v Scotland in a rare live TV game that confirmed i would be a City fan. I was gutted about his injury and now gutted about his passing. But for injury I would’ve seen him play and City would’ve won 2-3 division one titles. Big Mal may never have returned and who knows what would’ve happened. The fact that the whole football world are giving so many plaudits speaks volumes of the man & player. Simply the best! RIP King Colin

    • January 6, 2021  8:41 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thank you. Colin is getting so many plaudits - and rightly so - but he and City would surely have changed the course of English football's history had it not been for THAT tackle. He brought so much joy to us Blues, it truly was a privilege to watch and support him.

  8. January 6, 2021  7:02 pm by Clive Vickerstaff Reply

    Thank you David for a superb story in the Life of Colin the King , i posted a short memory yesterday but growing up with watching him grace Maine Rd from his transfer from Bury . back in the day i used to go home and away to watch City, Colin was who i wanted to watch amongst others and as you rightly say he graced everywhere he played on bogs of pitches , my hero ! I couldn't help but shed a few tears yesterday that's how much it meant , such a huge loss to a wonderful human being . ( Rivalry was always there with Utd but i hated them after M. Buchan's atrocious challenge ) R.I.P. King .

    • January 6, 2021  8:38 pm by David Walker Reply

      He achieved so much in his glittering career, but it's always gnawed away at what could've been had it not been for bloody Buchan! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. January 6, 2021  7:46 pm by Andrew Bissell Reply

    Another fitting piece David, fit for a City king. Colin Bell was a role model in every respect and so rare a breed. He was a favourite player of mine as I grew up, even though he never played for WWFC, sadly. Karen points out that, and I would never disagree with my wife, as you know, that he was originally a Bury player, before his City days. Amazing the things she comes out with sometimes

    • January 6, 2021  8:36 pm by David Walker Reply

      Much appreciated feedback featuring your often quirky content...and top marks to Mrs B!

  10. January 7, 2021  1:55 pm by David Eccles Reply

    I'd just returned home from a stay in hospital over the New Year when my wife relayed the numbingly sad new of Colin 'the King' Bell's passing. After the initial heartfelt sadness of losing such a humble, yet supremely gifted man from our midst, my upset was quickly reprieved with the flood of joyous memories that Colin and his wonderful team mates had gifted me and thousands of other Blue nuts from the Kippax. Oh how my fevered imagination has pondered in recent years the fantasy combo of Bell, Silva and /or DeBruyne in a modern day City attacking midfield!! Talk about devastation to all who confront such sublime talent and super human energy ! Like many other Blues fans I've been lucky enough to briefly be in Colin's company, twice on fortunate trips on the team plane to Euro matches in Istanbul (Fenerbache) and Bilbao in the late 1960's and once on match day at the Etihad a few years ago. Unfortunately, and also like many others who have posted their tributes, my jaw and mind went into freeze mode on all occasions, for fear of too much gushing to this softly spoken and humble bloke and I ended up conveying absolutely nothing of the respect , admiration and lifelong appreciation I have for him, both as a fellow human being and the superb footballer and athlete he was.. I hope these few words will go some way to making up for my missed opportunities when Colin was with us. Thank you and God bless you Colin and all your family.

    • January 7, 2021  6:25 pm by David Walker Reply

      Lovely sentiments and anecdotes David. Thanks for sharing.

  11. January 7, 2021  2:42 pm by Steve Worthington Reply

    Well done, Dave. A lovely tribute which beautifully summed up how we all feel about the great man, our hero. It was a fitting tribute and performance by the team last night. Buzzer's tears are shared by all.

    • January 7, 2021  6:23 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thank you, it's really resonating now, even more so after last night's superb win. As you say, the image of Buzzer looking so desolate at the loss of King Colin epitomized the hurt and devastation felt by so many. So desperately sad, but the team did him proud last night. Your feedback is much appreciated.

  12. January 7, 2021  4:33 pm by Sean McDougall Reply

    A beautifully written tribute David. My daughter sensed something was upsetting me on Tuesday evening and I broke down when I explained why - my boyhood hero had died. Reading the tributes and many of the very personal comments has seen the return of the tears but been hugely comforting as well as proving to my daughter that her middle-aged old man hasn't lost the plot and is one of many thousands of the City family for whom Colin Bell meant so much. I became a City fan aged 5 in 1970 because of that great team that Colin inspired but living 100 miles from Manchester with self-employed parents working every weekend actually seeing him play happened just once.
    CARLISLE 0 CITY O 24th September 1974 Att: 17,900
    City: MacRae, Hammond, Donachie, Doyle, Barrett, Oakes, Summerbee, Bell, Marsh, Hartford, Tueart – sub Henson Manager: Tony Book
    For probably 17,899 attendees that night it was instantly forgettable but for this then 9 year old schoolboy it was pure magic - my first ever match, floodlights, right down at the front so close you could smell the liniment and seeing the players I'd only ever read about in Shoot or glimpsed on MOTD when I was allowed to stop up late on Saturdays or midweek on Sportsnight with Coleman when I hid out of sight on Mum's blind side of Dads chair to watch Colin on England duty against the likes of Czechoslovakia. Rest in Peace Colin the King, a wonderful player, man and role model who was way too humble to understand what he meant to a generation of City fans.

    • January 7, 2021  6:31 pm by David Walker Reply

      Brilliant comments with which I can readily identify. I too lived away from Manchester - in my case on the east coast - and my first live City game came in 1970 - away to Crystal Palace. I got lucky with a 1-0 win courtesy of Alan Oakes. I also vividly recall that England game against the Czechs with Colin resplendent in the new fancy Admiral kit and bagging a brace. It's probably overdoing it a bit, but it almost feels like we've lost a family member with Colin's passing. We were just privileged to have had him in our midst. Long live The King, forever in our memories.

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