Manchester City are mourning the passing of one of their greatest players, Colin Bell – “the finest City player of his generation,” the club said in tribute – who has died at the age of 74 after a short illness.
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Bell was a driving force in the great City team of the late 1960s which won all three of England's major domestic trophies – the league title, the FA Cup and League Cup – as well as the UEFA European Cup Winners’ Cup in a golden three-season spell between 1968 and 1970.
“He is widely regarded to be the finest City player of his generation,” said City on their website.
In the club’s successful 1969/70 Cup Winners’ Cup campaign, Bell played in all nine matches, scoring four goals, including the fifth in the 5-1 semi-final home victory over Schalke 04 with which they overturned a 1-0 first-leg loss.
Francis Lee, scorer of the winning goal in the subsequent 2-1 final success against Górnik Zabrze in Vienna, said: "Colin had tremendous stamina. He was a very good player technically and had the ability to score goals. He goes into the top five City players of all time – only in the last 10, 15 years has anyone else come along who can take that mantle."
Bell joined City from Bury during their 1965/66 promotion season from the old Second Division, and went on to make 501 appearances and score 153 goals. He was the club’s player of the year as they won the 1968 English league title under manager Joe Mercer.
His grace and power as a box-to-box midfielder earned him the nicknames 'Nijinsky' – after a champion racehorse – and 'King of the Kippax'. The Kippax was the most vocal stand at City’s old Maine Road stadium, and today the west stand in their new stadium carries Bell’s name.
Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the City chairman, said in a statement on the club’s website: “The passage of time does little to erase the memories of his genius. The fact that we have a stand at the Etihad Stadium named after Colin speaks volumes about the importance of his contribution to this club.”
For England, Bell made three appearances at the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, and appeared in both legs of the 1972 UEFA European Championship quarter-final against West Germany. Overall, he won 48 international caps between 1968 and 1975, the year he suffered a serious knee injury. After leaving City, he played for San Jose Earthquakes in the North American Soccer League, before retiring in 1980.