'There are legends and then there are legends who get stands named after them' – Manchester City remember all-time great Colin Bell

The King of the Kippax never realised how gifted he really was

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There was something sadly fitting when Colin Bell passed away on the eve of a Manchester derby.

In 1975, it was a game against Manchester United that in effect curtailed his career. He never fully recovered from a knee injury.

Without that, perhaps City would won the title in 1976-77, when they finished second and he did not play. Without it, it would almost certainly have been Bell’s status as the club’s record goalscorer that Sergio Aguero took. He might have overhauled his former team-mate Alan Oakes to become City’s record appearance maker.

Instead, Bell had other distinctions. Long after he retired, his place as City’s greatest footballer was secure.

“He goes into the top five City players of all time,” said Francis Lee, another old colleague. “Only in the last 10, 15 years has anyone else come along who can take that mantle."

Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Kevin de Bruyne may find themselves on a shortlist with Bell.

A title winner in 1968, an FA Cup winner in 1969 and a European Cup Winners’ Cup winner in 1970, a byword for both modesty and attacking, entertaining football, Bell was City’s answer to Sir Bobby Charlton; indeed, in 2015, Charlton described Bell as “a truly exceptional player.”

His name echoes through City history; so, do his nicknames. Phil Foden said: “The King Of The Kippax was a true legend and someone I’ve grown up admiring. You’ll be sorely missed, Nijinsky.”

“If only I could have seen him play,” Vincent Kompany said.

Bell is immortalised in the memories of those who saw him, the imaginations of those who did not and the bricks and mortar of the club’s ground. “The passage of time does little to erase the memories of his genius,” City chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak said.

“The fact that we have a stand at the Etihad Stadium named after Colin speaks volumes about his contribution to this club.”

From Kompany to Silva to Pablo Zabaleta, recent City favourites settled on the same word: “Legend”.

But as Micah Richards said: “There are legends and then there are legends who get stands named after them.” In a 2004 poll, fans voted for the West Stand to take Bell’s name. A “once-in-a-generation talent”, as the outstanding City goalkeeper Joe Corrigan described him, stands apart even from their other luminaries.

And yet when his name first crossed City lips, the sentiments were not so complimentary. Bell joined in 1966 when they were a Division Two club. Malcolm Allison, Joe Mercer’s visionary of an assistant manager, championed his signing and did his best to deter top-flight suitors, going to scout Bell playing for Bury and, in a brazen attempt at kidology, loudly declaring: “He can’t pass it, he can’t tackle and he’s no good in the air.”

Even after Bell’s signing, Mercer was not convinced. “How did we pay £45,000 for that player?” he asked. “He’s hopeless.”

If others were soon won over, his team-mate Mike Summerbee felt Bell did not realise his own greatness. “I always believe he never knew how good he actually was,” said Summerbee, who compared his old friend to De Bruyne.

“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.”

In old age, a more honest Allison described Bell as the best player he had ever worked with. “He was so gifted,” he said. “He had so much talent. He could score goals from midfield. He had great pace. He was good in the air. He had everything.”

He combined a middle-distance athlete’s running power with a deft touch and a wonderfully clean strike. It would have equipped him to excel in any era.

Bell scored 14 goals from midfield in the 1968 title win, 21 in all competitions the following year, 153 in 498 games in all for City. There were 48 England caps, and a goal and a starring role in the 1975 win over world champions West Germany; again, injury denied him many more.

But the host of the tributes spoke volumes. “He was the professional I always wanted to be,” said the former City captain Rodney Marsh. “Most under-appreciated player who ever played.”

But also, at City, the most appreciated.