It’s not every day that royalty drops in for ‘elevenses’ - but that’s exactly what happened when a King came calling on ailing Manchester City fan, Philip Entwistle.
Phil (63), who is fighting what will ultimately be a losing battle against lung cancer, welcomed ‘King’ Colin Bell and City’s perennial Joker in the Pack, Les Chapman, into his Nelson home for a nostalgic chat of a lifetime.
A season ticket holder at Maine Road and the Etihad for more than 40-years, Phil, was thrilled to spend two-and-a-half hours with his football hero, as Colin – now 71 years old – regaled him with the highs and lows of his outstanding career with City and England.
It was a shared and very emotional experience when Phil asked his idol what was his best game in a City shirt? The answer surprised both Phil and Les.
It wasn’t the thrilling 4-3 victory at Newcastle which clinched the 1968 First Division title, making City the Champions of England.
It wasn’t the 1-0 1969 FA Cup Final win over Leicester, nor was it the 1970 European Cup Winners Cup triumph over Gornik Zabre – the one and only time City have lifted a major European trophy.
In his own words, Colin Bell’s ‘best game’ for City was a 45-minute appearance as a second half substitute.
“I didn’t score, in fact I hardly touched the ball, but it was the most fantastic experience, truly humbling and hugely emotional – it was my comeback match against Newcastle United on 26th December 1977,” said Colin.
Colin had suffered horrendous damage to his knee in a 4-0 League Cup hammering of Manchester United more than two years previously.
He’d caught his studs on a muddy Maine Road pitch and United’s Martin Buchan had thundered into Colin with a clumsy – some might say malicious – challenge, twisting Bell’s standing leg and wrecking his knee.
As Colin prepared to step out once more on the Maine Road turf on that Boxing Day afternoon, word spread like wildfire as half time drew to a close.
“I couldn’t believe the atmosphere. The whole ground, including the Newcastle fans, stood and applauded and chanted my name.
“I was a passenger, but everyone tells me it was great seeing me there. For me it was, and always will be my number one game, my number one memory of playing football.”
Phil remembered it almost as vividly as Colin. He was in the Main Stand just eight rows above the player’s tunnel and, even now, more than 39 years on, he wells up, recalling that first magical sighting of Colin The King running onto the pitch.
The emotions of that chilly winter afternoon – the outpouring of footballing ‘love’ and admiration for Colin is in stark contrast to the behaviour of United’s Buchan – the man who effectively ended Colin’s career.
More than 40 years on, the United defender has never contacted Colin – nothing – no word of regret, no apology.
It came as no surprise to Phil when Colin spoke warmly of the two men who shaped his career like no others – Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison.
“Joe was like a father figure, so revered and respected – a true gentleman – whereas Malcolm – what a man – you’d run through brick walls for him. He was so far ahead of his time with his training methods, sports psychology, diet and nutrition.”
When the conversation turned to the present day City, Colin was full of praise for Pep Guardiola, a man he says is the best manager in the world and one who is being backed 100% by City owner Sheikh Mansour.
There are many - Colin included - who believe Pep will deliver success in a way that will surpass anything City have ever achieved, but Phil asked Colin which was the best City team he’d ever seen?
Once again the answer may surprise some as it wasn’t the Mercer-Allison side of the late 1960s and early 70s.
Colin raised eyebrows when he said Tony Book’s 1976-77 team – beaten to the title by Bob Paisley’s all-conquering Liverpool by a single point – was the best.
Tellingly the squad which featured the likes of Corrigan, Clements , Keegan, Henry, Donachie, Watson, Doyle, Power, Hartford, Owen, Barnes, Tueart, Kidd, Royle would – without a shadow of a doubt – have been Champions of England, if Colin Bell had been available.
With Phil and Les enthralled by Colin’s recollections, The King revealed his favourite player of all time…and once again it might come as a surprise to many.
Bobby Charlton is the player Colin admired the most, and he recalled the irony of how their paths crossed when England crashed out of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
England had led 2-0 in the sweltering heat of Leon, before Franz Beckenbauer pulled one back in the 69th minute. 60 seconds later, Sir Alf Ramsey withdrew a tiring 32-year old Charlton and sent on a fresher, fitter 24-year old Bell, in an attempt to see out the game and preserve Bobby for the semi final.
The rest is history as the Germans equalised, before snatching victory through Gerd Muller in extra time.
47-years, on Colin joked that he lost England the World Cup – which of course he didn’t – but it might have seemed that way as the Germans went up a gear after Charlton was substituted.
Arguably Manchester City’s finest player of all time (a certain David Silva might be seen as a modern challenger to that accolade), Colin is and will forever be, Phil’s football idol.
Colin’s career effectively ended at the age of 29 years, thanks to Martin Buchan, whereas a certain young Philip Entwistle’s football fortunes were curtailed when injuries took a toll, while representing Burnley at youth team level.
Unable to progress into professional football, Phil carved out a successful amateur career as a ball playing centre half for Colne British Legion.
They both – along with Les – share a love of football, and the fact they spent 150 minutes chewing the cud on all things City, meant the world to Phil.
Les said:”It was amazing how much Phil knew about Colin’s games and goals for both City and England – it was great to see how much he relished being in Colin’s company.”
And a final word from Phil: “It was smashing to spend time with Colin and Les – it was so interesting and the conversation just kept flowing. I’d like to say a big thank you to them both, and also to Read But Never Red for making it happen.
“We’re all Blues Brothers together.”
By David Walker
Dedicated to a man I'm privileged to call my friend - Philip Entwistle - and to two other good men, true and blue who are also waging war on the the b@st@rd called Cancer - Dave Hughes and Lee Welland. Come on fellas there's a lot of people rooting for you - fight, fight and fight again!