Colin made 492 appearances for City during a 13-year stay with the Club and scored 152 goals.
He was also capped 48 times by England – and his appearances for both club and country would have been far higher but for a devastating knee injury he suffered in 1975.
Few would argue that alongside today’s modern-day legends, Bell is regarded as one of - if not the - greatest players Manchester City has ever had - and with good reason.
Bell started his career with Bury where the teenager’s talent shone like a beacon and he was soon made captain.
He scored 25 goals in 83 games for the Shakers and was on the radar of most of English football’s top clubs.
City coach Malcolm Allison needed time for the board to raise the necessary £47,500 to buy Bell and so would watch from the stands among other scouts and managers, loudly expressing his doubts over Bury’s prized asset.
Big Mal questioned every aspect of the 20-year-old’s ability, absently saying: “He can’t pass it,” (just loud enough for those sat nearby to hear); “he can’t tackle and he’s no good in the air.”
Whether anyone was fooled by this is unknown, but it just bought enough time for City to meet Bury’s asking price.
Wearing the No. 10 shirt, he made his debut against Derby County on March 19, 1966, Bell made and scored one of the goals in a 2-1 win to underline what a talent the Blues had unearthed.
He played in all 11 remaining games during which City didn’t lose a match, won promotion and picked up the Division Two championship for good measure.
Bell was an ever-present during his first full season and finished top scorer from midfield with a dozen goals as the Blues limped to a final placing of fifteenth in the table, but that was merely the warm-up for the incredible years ahead.
Though he changed shirt numbers during his first 18 months, the No.8 jersey would eventually become his own and with a full top flight campaign under his belt, he set about shifting up another gear, as did many of his team-mates.
Francis Lee had joined the club partway through the 1967/68 season and for many, this represented the final piece of the Mercer-Allison jigsaw.
City won the league title for the first time in 31 years with Bell inspirational throughout the campaign. He was here, there and literally everywhere and the fans loved his incredible athleticism and seemingly limitless stamina and in a team of winners, he was an easy choice for the 1967/68 Manchester City Player of the Year.
He was the beating heart of the team and along with Lee and Mike Summerbee, formed the legendary ‘Holy Trinity’ of players who would inspire the club to as yet uncharted heights.
Bell also won his first England cap in 1968 – the first of 48, which for several decades, was a club record.
He never scored winning goals in cup finals and rarely took the headlines for being anything other than brilliant – not unlike David Silva today, though he bore more similarities to the playing style of Kevin De Bruyne. He was a fantastic footballer and a quiet man off the pitch, too, never seeking adulation or press coverage, even though he’d more than earned it. In fact, he positively shunned the limelight.
While Summerbee, Lee and Doyle would wind-up the opposition, the press and opposing fans, Bell quietly ticked along in the background, painfully shy, preferring to let his feet do the talking – and how they talked!
Fittingly, he earned the nickname of a thoroughbred horse (and world-renowned ballet dancer) ‘Nijinsky’ and the City fans chanted he was ‘Colin the King’ to the famous hit of the time ‘Lily the Pink’.
He was to Manchester City what George Best was to Manchester United – the golden boy, the untouchable, the prodigal son. As the years ticked by, Bell’s influence seemed to grow even stronger rather than fade and while the press and pundits harshly claimed Rodney Marsh’s signing cost City the 1971/72 league title, few noted that Colin Bell had missed nine games through injury and that City won just four of those matches.
Bell was fantastically loyal to City and there was never the slightest suggestion that he would ever leave the club. Undoubtedly, every top club in Europe coveted the Blues’ No.8 but as the successful late sixties team slowly began to fragment, Bell powered on missing just three league games in three-and-a-half seasons.
Then came the infamous 1975 League Cup tie with Manchester United and the moment indelibly etched in the minds of all who witnessed it. Bell, attacking the Platt Lane end of Maine Road, was caught in two minds as to what to do as he approached Martin Buchan on the edge of the Reds’ box. He opted to cut inside and was strongly challenged by the United man, with the impact effectively destroying his knee joint and, in reality, ending his career.
He did come back later that season and was again on the end of a nasty challenge, this time from Ray Kennedy as the Blues beat Arsenal 3-1 at Maine Road – that injury was, many believed, equally as damaging as Buchan’s challenge. He was sidelined for the next 18 months doing everything he possibly could do work his way back to fitness.
Quietly and stoically, he continued the long, painful road back to some kind of fitness, pounding the streets around Maine Road as some mobility returned before he was finally passed fit to begin training again.
He was forced to miss the entire 1976/77 season, with Tony Book’s side finishing second to Liverpool by a single point – few doubted that with a fully-fit Colin Bell, the title would have been coming back to Maine Road that season.
He made an emotional comeback against Newcastle United as a second half sub on Boxing Day 1977 and received perhaps the most memorable ovation ever witnessed at Maine Road as a crowd of more than 45,000 stood as one to salute his sheer bloody mindedness and determination to overcome the odds that had been stacked against him.
Bell’s appearance that day galvanised his team-mates and the crowd and City scored four goals to win the game 4-0.
He played sporadically after that but, understandably, he was never the same again, with the injury making the free-flowing running style that was a huge part of his game look awkward and painful.
His bravery, though, was admired by all in football and at City, he was revered like no other player before him.
Though he briefly tried his hand in the USA, his playing days were effectively over and after officially handing his boots up. he returned to City as part of the youth team set-up for a time and after being awarded the MBE in 2004 for his services to football, the Club recognised his enormous contribution by naming a City of Manchester Stand ‘The Colin Bell Stand’ that same year.
A true Manchester City legend in every sense of the word.
Tributes and reaction
Former captain, manager and now Life President Tony Book
“He was a very special person, not only as a footballer but as a man – he was just tops and I can’t believe he’s gone.
“He is irreplaceable. We had some great times together and I’ll miss him terribly.
“It’s an awful shock and it has hit me very hard, I can promise you.”
Club Ambassador Mike Summerbee
“I am devastated to hear of Colin’s passing. He was more than just a team mate and an incredible footballer, he was wonderful human being and a true friend.
"Colin was a lovely, humble man. He was a huge star for Manchester City but you would never have known it.
“When I think about him, I simply think of quality - just sheer quality. We never singled out individuals in the team we played in, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he was the greatest.
“The complete player, the complete athlete, the complete person. My condolences to Marie, Jon, Dawn and his wonderful grandchildren. We have lost someone special today.
“He was quiet, unassuming and I always believe he never knew how good he actually was. He was just the greatest footballer we have ever had.
“Kevin De Bruyne reminds me a lot of Colin in the way he plays and the way he is as a person.
“Colin was very close to all of us and particularly Tony Book – they used to go to the games together and I only briefly spoke with Tony this evening because it has hit him very hard, as it has all of us.
“Even though I knew he’d been poorly for a while; I wasn’t expecting to lose him – it’s a complete shock.
“He was a very nice man and when you are very close to someone, you don’t have to see them every day or week or even month – there is a friendship and a bond from playing, training, and working together for so many years that will always be there.
“He was adored by the City fans and for our supporters to say he is the best they have ever seen, you don’t get a better compliment than that, do you?
“He was very special and he will be very sadly missed.”
"I would like to send, on behalf of the Rosler family, our condolences to Marie, Jon and Dawn at this sad and heart-breaking time.
"Colin was a true gentleman and a legend in our Club's history.
"I always admired and idolised him and, of course, one of my two sons is named after Colin.
"Rest in peace, King."
"The main thing is he was a fantastic player and a very important part of the successful team City had from the late 60s onwards.
"It was unfortunate he got injured because it curtailed his career by a good four or five years. You tend to think around 28, 29 if there is a chance you know it all, you know it then!
"He 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."
“At this moment I just feel devastated for his family.
“He was one of those unique players that comes along once in a generation.
“Word can’t really do Colin justice. Where do you start?
“He was such a great, great player and he was a phenomenal athlete alongside being a phenomenal footballer.
“He could have been an Olympic athlete had he put his mind to it. I remember struggling my way round Wythenshawe Park on our training sessions and Colin just breezed past me as if it was a stroll with not a bead of sweat on him.
"It made you realise what an athlete he was alongside being one of the great players in Manchester City’s history.
“No tributes to him can be high enough.
“Col was also such a lovely man. Very quiet and unassuming and all the players all held him in the highest esteem both as a player and a person.
“He never bragged about his talent or ability – he just got on with his job and his job was to be a professional footballer and play for the Club that he loved.
“And it just shows you what kind of guy he was after that horrific injury and with all the hard work he put in alongside physios Freddie Griffith and Roy Bailey to get himself back for that comeback game against Newcastle in 1977.
“The response he got off the crowd was amazing, and it just showed what the fans thought of Belly.
“I spoke to Roy earlier and he just broke down – he worked so hard with Belly and spent hours and hours with him and he also thought the world of him.
“Let’s face it, not many players have a stand named after them – words are so hard to come by to sum the man up. He was just Belly to us – but he was a truly great person and player.
"And speaking on behalf of the Former Players Association I can’t stress how much he will be missed and what Belly meant to everyone.
“And I know I will be speaking for all lads and former players when I say it’s such a truly tragic loss and that we all thinking of Marie and the family.
“But his contribution to City and England will never, ever be forgotten.
“When he was injured both City and England were a poorer side for Belly’s absence – he was that good and that important.
"He was irreplaceable – he was a once in a generation talent.
“He could score goals with either foot, with his head, he could defend, attack, he could do everything… you don’t get players like that anymore.
“It was privilege to play alongside him and to call him my mate. He was an inspiration to me when I first got in the team in 1967 and I’ll never, ever forget him.”
“When I first got in the side as a 17 year-old, I was a City fan and there I was playing with Colin and lads like Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee - I had to pinch myself it was such a privilege.
“I was the youngest in the team and Belly along with Mike Doyle, Glyn Pardoe and Alan Oakes used to look after me and I started playing golf with them and it was just brilliant. What a time we had.
“What a player and what an athlete too. When we went training Colin was unbelievable – he sailed through everything.
“Whatever it was - 400m, 800, long distance, you name it Colin could do the lot.
“We used to do these 200 and 400m sessions with Derek Ibbotson a former Olympic athlete and I would breathing through my backside. Meanwhile Belly just sailed through it. I’d be struggling and Belly would come up and say: ‘Are you alright Tommy?’
“Col was just a great lad too. And he was such a special person too
“He’s one of the greatest players we have ever had and for me it was a privilege to play alongside him and share in so many special moments.
“And but for that terrible injury in 1975 goodness knows what he would have gone on to achieve.
“He was simply the complete player and no-one will ever, ever forget what he did for our Club.
“Colin the King. That says it all.”
Extremely saddened to hear Colin Bell has passed away. The King Of Kippax was a true legend and someone I've grown up admiring. You'll be sorely missed Nijinsky 💔 pic.twitter.com/MQaEbBOCb6— Phil Foden (@PhilFoden) January 5, 2021
A wonderful era for Man City is slowly coming to an end😔 An inspiration for all of us! Rip king Colin 💙 https://t.co/JQM57PK4hI— Tommy Doyle (@Tommy_Doyle8) January 5, 2021
@ManCity You have my deepest condolences to the Bell family. There will only ever be one King Colin Bell. RIP 🙏🏾💙— Shaun Goater MBE (@OfficialSGoater) January 5, 2021
My heart goes out to his family and friends at this difficult time . DEP LEGEND 🙏💙 pic.twitter.com/u2cbshDyl3— David Silva (@21LVA) January 5, 2021
Such sad news about Colin Bell. There are legends & then there are legends who get stands named after them. Have fond memories of speaking with him in the players lounge after games & I know what an incredible player he was. One of the nicest men ever. Condolences to family. 🔵⚪️ pic.twitter.com/GFdS8nCOe9— Micah Richards (@MicahRichards) January 5, 2021
Absolutely devastated to hear of the passing of Colin Bell. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time. RIP LEGEND 💙 pic.twitter.com/dhrYA4G6B7— Pablo Zabaleta (@pablo_zabaleta) January 5, 2021
Devastated - #ManCity King Colin Bell has passed - he was my lifelong hero and became a true friend as a result of the time we spent together on his book Reluctant Hero - I last spoke to him on Christmas Day, which he spent with his much loved family 💔 pic.twitter.com/66cFvC4QMM— Ian Cheeseman (@IanCheeseman) January 5, 2021
Devastated to hear of passing of Colin Bell...One of the greatest if not THE greatest player to ever wear the City shirt & more than anything the nicest & most humble man you could ever meet. Thoughts, love & prayers to all the Bell family 💙 RIP Legend 💙 https://t.co/rwYS61HwUS— Paul Dickov (@OfficialPDickov) January 5, 2021
Absolutely heartbroken to hear the devasting news about Colin Bell. He gave generations of us #ManCity fans so much pleasure. One of football's all time greats and The King of Maine Road. My deepest condolencies to all family & friends and to everyone at the club #RIP #ColinBell pic.twitter.com/HVMojPFp9m— Kevin Cummins (@KCMANC) January 5, 2021
COLIN BELL RIP MCFC— Liam Gallagher (@liamgallagher) January 5, 2021
But more importantly he was a lovely man, a very private person who devoted his time to his family. Colin will always be part of the History of our great Club. I am sure Malcolm will be waiting for him with a Cigar and Bottle of Champagne. We will always remember you King Colin💔— Kevin Parker (@KevinP184) January 5, 2021
COLIN BELL rest in peace one of City’s greatest— Kevin Kennedy (@mrkevkennedy) January 5, 2021
RIP Colin Bell. Genius on the pitch, gentleman off it. My children’s faces speak volumes...they were so thrilled to meet the player that their parents and grandparents had always spoken so fondly of. Farewell, blue legend 💙 pic.twitter.com/hUGhQKXyku— Jo Lake (@Joanne_Lake) January 5, 2021
Immensely sad to hear of Colin Bell's passing. Football royalty to the @ManCity faithful, and to all of us here at the museum.— Nat. Football Museum (@FootballMuseum) January 5, 2021
Our thoughts are with Colin's friends and family at this awful time.https://t.co/Ty9CbchnYY pic.twitter.com/N2U1hYHdzg
>😔 Most under appreciated footballer who ever played.....— Rodney Marsh (@RodneyMarsh10) January 5, 2021
I just shed a tear after hearing about Colin Bells passing. I can’t speak highly enough of the man. He was instrumental in my progress. Words can’t explain. He’ll be missed by many. His name will continue. Love to the family. RIP #colinbell #alwaysablue #nijinsky #mancity pic.twitter.com/WafknT8MMz— Jim Whitley (@jimwhitley10) January 5, 2021
Deepest condolences from all of us at LFC. Our thoughts are with Colin's family and friends ❤️— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 5, 2021
We’re deeply saddened by the news that Colin Bell, who won 48 caps for the #ThreeLions between 1968 and 1975, has passed away.— England (@England) January 5, 2021
Our deepest condolences go to Colin’s family, friends and former clubs. pic.twitter.com/idD9CGzOeo
Very sad news to hear about Colin Bell. I took Colin back into @ManCity as a member of my coaching team. #colinbell was a pleasure to work with, a fantastic player and person. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Marie & family, love and best wishes Brian & Val Horton. xx— Brian Horton (@brian_horton4) January 5, 2021
I’ve Just heard the sad news regards Colin bell.— Andy Morrison (@AndyMorri5on) January 5, 2021
I’ve been very fortunate to work with colin over the last few years at the ethiad on match days, a more humble man I’ve never met .
Thoughts are with the bell family RIP 💙
We are extremely saddened to hear this evening of the passing of former Bury FC player and Manchester footballing legend Colin Bell.— Bury AFC (@OfficialBuryAFC) January 5, 2021
Our thoughts are with his family at this time.
💙 #BuryAFC pic.twitter.com/cUnLTlVwhn
💙 Seldom has a player been as beloved at a club as Colin Bell at @ManCity. He was affectionately known as 'The King of the Kippax' and has a stand named in his honour at the City of Manchester Stadium 👑🏟️— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) January 5, 2021
😢 RIP to one of @England's finest all-time midfielders 🤍 pic.twitter.com/2hHRnMdJfD
Rest in peace Legend 🙏🏽 https://t.co/4tgdQDvTf5— Sergio Kun Aguero (@aguerosergiokun) January 5, 2021
Sad to hear the passing of Manchester City’s Colin Bell. Thinking of his family at this sad time. Absolute legend for the club. To have a statue made outside the stadium speaks volumes of how much the club and fans thought of the man. #RIP pic.twitter.com/WMP1jbiWUH— Shaun W-Phillips (@swp29) January 5, 2021
Desperately sad news. RIP Nijinsky. One of the most formidable, athletic, talented players ever to grace the English game. Had this supreme stamina, driving forward, great technique, scoring freely. #mcfc legend, revered #eng international. Thoughts with his family and friends. https://t.co/vqHGXBpU70— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) January 5, 2021