Manchester City Win The League

On this day (May 11) in 1968 Manchester City defeated Newcastle United and won the League title. Here’s the build up to that game; the story of the match itself and quotes from those involved.  Enjoy!

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75 Years Ago Today-Colin Bell Was Born

On this day (26th February) in 1946 Colin Bell was born. Today would’ve been his 75th birthday. Sadly Colin, recognised by most Manchester City fans as the greatest ever player for the club, passed away earlier this year.

The above photo comes from Peter Barnes’ collection and was taken at Champneys where City were staying prior to the League Cup final in 1976. It was, of course, Colin’s 30th birthday. My thoughts and best wishes are with Colin’s family today. Many of us know how tough it can be on the first birthday after a family member’s death (my mum died last year and it would’ve been her birthday last month) and it’s often a difficult day. Here’s hoping the knowledge that Colin was loved by so many helps in some small way.

I’ve interviewed Colin and written a lot about him over the years. A few posts are available (free to read) here for anyone who wants to learn more about Colin or remember some of his incredible achievements:

https://gjfootballarchive.com/2021/01/09/colin-bell-interview-tribute/

https://gjfootballarchive.com/2021/01/06/1977-78-colin-bells-contribution-to-the-central-league-title/

https://gjfootballarchive.com/2021/01/05/manchester-city-hall-of-fame-colin-bell/

https://gjfootballarchive.com/2020/12/29/manchester-city-hall-of-fame-colin-bells-significant-game/

https://gjfootballarchive.com/2020/12/28/in-search-of-the-blues-colin-bell-mbe-interviewed-in-january-2005/

On This Day – 1974 Manchester City’s Scintillating League Cup Quarter Final

On this day (16th January) in 1974 Denis Law scored again (after netting in the League game with Leicester four days earlier).

Law’s goal came as Manchester City defeated Coventry City 4-2 in the League Cup quarter-final replay.  That game was notable for lots of reasons, not least because it came in the middle of industrial action resulting in power cuts across the Country.  For this game to go ahead City had to bring in an Electricity generator, which was positioned outside the ground. I remember hearing a loud buzzing noise from the generator as I made my way towards the Platt Lane Stand with my dad and brother.

Like City’s 2-0 victory over Leicester in the League four days earlier, this was another scintillating display by Ron Saunders’ City team. 

Incredibly, City had been losing 2-1 as late as the 79th minute but then Francis Lee ‘exploded on to the scene with two goals in three minutes’ according to one report. One of Lee’s goals was a penalty awarded after a foul on Colin Bell by Willie Carr.

Watch highlights of the game here (watch the celebrations by Law & Lee after the last goal):

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Football Focus, Colin Bell and the 1904 FA Cup’s Significance

There was an absolutely brilliant, emotional tribute to Colin Bell on the BBC’s Football Focus yesterday by ‘James Bond’ actor and MCFC fan Timothy Dalton. Everyone should watch it. It really was a nice piece.

Plus I was surprised to see myself later in the programme talking about Manchester City and the recent purchase of the FA Cup they won in 1904. The reason I was surprised is that I filmed the piece for MCFC and didn’t think the BBC would bother showing me and would just focus on the trophy itself.

I was delighted it appeared because it was so important the story of the significance of that trophy to Manchester is fully known. It was the point when Manchester became a Footballing City.

The BBC Iplayer has the episode available for the next 6 days. Watch it while you can:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000r753/football-focus-09012021

1977-78 Colin Bell’s Contribution To The Central League Title

When I interviewed Colin Bell a few years ago we talked about his many successes and triumphs as a player. He was as humble as ever. Then he told me something which surprised me a little and that was about Manchester City’s 1977-78 Central League title.

City’s reserve team played in the Central League back then and, due to his devastating injury, Colin played reserve games throughout that season as he pushed for full fitness. He started 22 of these games and scored five goals.

When I interviewed Colin he told me he was as pleased with this Central League success as he was with all his other medals. To him that season saw a return to competitive football and it was irrelevant whether it was a reserve league or the Football League. It mattered enormously.

Most obituaries and posts on Colin won’t talk about the 1977-78 Central League title but, as he was so keen to ensure he mentioned it to me all those years ago, I feel it’s appropriate to give it a little focus today.

His first Central League appearance of the 1977-78 season attracted almost 5,000 as many of us were determined to be there when he returned to action. For the record that game was v Huddersfield on 17th September 1977, attendance 4,921.

Colin was a wonderful player and man. Those of us who saw him play know what a great player he was; those of us who were privileged to meet him met a truly humble & wonderful human being. He was the King of our Kippax but was truly a legend of football at Bury, City and England. His name will always be remembered.

This image of my ledger for 1977-78 shows Colin in City’s Central League match records.

Colin Bell 1946-2021

It is with immense sadness that the news has been released of Colin Bell’s death. He was 74 and, according to reports, he passed away after a short, non-covid related illness. My thoughts are wife his wife Marie, son Jon & daughter Dawn, and his grandchildren.

For decades Colin was regarded as the greatest Manchester City player of all time and, in truth, thousands who saw him play still believe him to be the greatest.

I would like to place on record my thanks to Colin and his family for the support given to me over the years. Colin, quite a shy man in truth, rarely gave interviews and so every time I met him I was absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to chat.

It is a mark of the esteem in which all City fans and the club hold him in that Colin is the only person to have a stand named after him at the Etihad (indeed no other stand at any of City’s grounds has ever been named after another person). It is worth highlighting that he was the first footballer to ever have a stand named after him at either of Manchester’s clubs.  

Colin is a player remembered for many superb performances and also for his remarkable stamina and determination.  For decades he was City’s most capped international player (and he should have had more had injury not limited his opportunities from 1975!).  

The following sections provide an overview of Colin’s footballing life, including where appropriate words from the interviews I have done with Colin over the years:

Early Life

Colin was born in Hesleden, a small mining village in Durham, in 1946 and like many footballers from working class backgrounds his early life was difficult.  His, however, also started with tragedy:  “My mother died when I was born and, because my dad was a miner working shifts, my sister had to look after me.”

In those days there were few nurseries and child minding services were non-existent, so Colin’s sister had to spend most of her time thinking of ways to keep him occupied while she was at school.  In the end she had no option but to take him to school and as a two year old Colin used to keep himself occupied by playing football in the school yard:  “I used to play in the yard while my sister had lessons.  She says that half the pupils would be looking out of the window watching me with the ball!”

Football seemed to be one of the family’s main preoccupation.  Colin’s father was a noted local player who attracted attention from Nottingham Forest, while his mother had played for a pioneering ladies’ side in the north-east, as did his sister.  

As Colin grew his interest in the sport increased and he inevitably moved up the grades.  He played for East Durham Boys and for the Horden Colliery Welfare junior side.  League sides started to show interest, especially the local giants Newcastle United:  “I had a trial at Newcastle when I was about 15 or 16 but they weren’t interested, so I then had a trial with Arsenal.”

Bury Move

The Arsenal opportunity fizzled out but two other sides, Huddersfield and Bury, were very keen to sign the youngster.  Colin’s father suggested time should be spent at both clubs so that they could gauge properly which would be in Colin’s best interests.  They also agreed that the final decision would not be made until the two men were back home in the north-east.  After two reserve games for Bury a couple of Bury directors tried to get Colin to sign immediately, but wisely the player chose to hold off until he had spent a similar time at Huddersfield.  In the end both sides were desperate to sign him and both offered a wage of £12 a week.  

Colin knew he wanted to sign for Bury – they appeared a much more homely and friendly club – but before he agreed terms Newcastle renewed their interest.  At the time Newcastle, Bury and Huddersfield were all Division Two sides, but clearly Newcastle were significantly larger than either of the others.  Nevertheless, the young Colin told them he was not interested in any offer.  They’d had their chance and missed it!

In July 1963 Colin became a Bury man and then in February 1964 he made his League debut against Manchester City.  It was a rather unusual match and came at a time when City were at an extremely low point in their history.  A pitiful Maine Road crowd of 14,698 watched the game, but on the pitch Colin made it a memorable debut by scoring:  “I side-footed the ball in from six yards while City were appealing for offside.  All I could think about were the headlines I would get in the next day’s ‘papers.  The City ‘keeper Harry Dowd got injured – these were the days before substitutes – so Harry went up front with his arm in a sling and he was City’s most dangerous attacker!  The inevitable happened and Harry scored the equaliser, which ruined my debut a bit.”

Despite the headlines going elsewhere, Colin’s Bury career was off to a great start and by the time he left in March 1966 he had scored 25 goals in 82 League matches and had become team captain.  He had also become noticed by a great number of clubs, in particular City and Blackpool.  City were struggling financially and, although new manager Joe Mercer and assistant Malcolm Allison, had already started to turn things around at Maine Road, City could not afford to embark on an auction.  Allison decided on a plan:  “I knew everybody was interested and I remember sitting in the Directors’ Box at Gigg Lane.  They all seemed to know I’d come to watch Colin, but City were so strapped for cash that we couldn’t really make a move until they’d raised enough.  When the match started I kept saying that Colin was out of position… that he couldn’t pass…  he couldn’t kick… couldn’t head the ball… he couldn’t do anything right. They all started to agree with me!  I said I’d wasted my time and they agreed!”

“Behind the scenes the directors were getting the money together and on the eve of the transfer deadline we got him for about £45,000.”

Arriving in Manchester

Blackpool had been very interested, despite Allison’s best efforts, and the transfer almost didn’t make it in time.  According to journalist Len Noad writing in 1966:  “City paid £45,000 last night for Bury’s Colin Bell.  But the next biggest deal since City paid Huddersfield £53,000 for Denis Law, had to wait for a pit shift to finish at Hesleden in Durham before it was completed.  City manager Joe Mercer and Chairman Albert Alexander arrived at Gigg Lane at lunchtime and put their offer to Bell.  The young player, who had already been approached by Blackpool, asked for time to think things over and to talk to his coalminer father when he came off his shift at 5pm.”

Once Colin did sign for City Joe Mercer told reporters:  “It’s the biggest fee I’ve ever paid, but I think he’ll prove to be worth every penny of it.”  The youngster immediately started to prove it was money well spent with a goal on his debut.  The Blues beat Derby 2-1, and Colin’s goal had proved vital, but it was a rather unusual first goal according to the Manchester Evening Chronicle:  “Bell received the ball from the brilliant Summerbee, and drove it towards the goal.  Saxton cleared rather vaguely and the ball bounced back into the net off Bell.  An odd but acceptable way of celebrating a first appearance with a new club.  To show that he was capable of better things Bell developed the best shot of the game just before half time.  Matthews did well to tip it over the bar.”

Approximately six weeks later Colin netted the goal that brought City promotion at Rotherham.  Journalist Alec Johnson wrote at the time:  “City’s fair-haired inside-right, Colin Bell, rose high into the air in the 47th minute to head the ball into the back of the Rotherham net and send City back into the First Division after a three year absence.  It was a golden goal – one that means a big cash bonus for the City players and the chance of really big time soccer at Maine Road next season.  The legion of City supporters roared ceaselessly in the last 15 minutes, ‘We’re back in Division One’, and Bell was cheered off the field.”  Immediately after the game Colin told reporters: “This is the most exciting goal I’ve ever scored.”

That goal ensured Colin would be remembered for a long time at City, but the events of the next few years helped to create a special relationship with City fans that survives to this day.  Once promotion had been achieved the Blues developed and Colin started to become recognised across the country as a major talent, although he is the first to admit he was still learning:  “We beat Liverpool at the start of 1966-67 at Maine Road and Tommy Smith crocked me on the half way line.  As a youngster I didn’t know what it was all about, though in later years you learned not to get too close to certain players if you could help it!”

Champions

In 1967-68 City won the League Championship with Colin contributing 14 goals in 35 appearances, and then success followed in the FA Cup (1969), the League Cup (1970) and the European Cup Winners’ Cup (1970).  He was now regarded as one of England’s greatest talents and played in the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico.

Colin’s England career commenced with an appearance in the May 1968 friendly with Sweden, and by the time of the 1970 World Cup he had appeared in eleven internationals and scored two goals, although Colin believes those first few years of his international career were tough:  “It was hard getting my international career off the ground.  I seemed to be injured whenever I was called up in the early days.  After playing in the First Division, playing for my country had always been my greatest dream.  No matter how many times I played, I still got a lump in my throat every time the letter with the FA stamp dropped through the letter box.”

The last England appearance made by Colin came on 30th October 1975 in the 2-1 defeat by Czechoslovakia in Bratislava.  Colin was a regular selection at this point and would have gone on to be a fixture in the England side for many years, however a devastating injury was to prevent any future appearance.

Before the injury, however, Colin’s City career continued to bring much praise his way.  Johnny Hart, City’s manager for a spell during 1973 and a member of City’s great 1950s side, felt Colin was one of the best players he had ever worked with or seen.  Talking in the early 70s Hart told Peter Gardner of the Manchester Evening News:  “Bell is an example of the complete professional footballer.  City are indeed lucky to have a fella like this on their staff.  His stamina is fantastic and his ball control is a delight to watch.  He also sees situations like lightning and there are many opponents who have felt the full fury of his scoring potential.  Bell is a midfield dynamo, but he can also be a marksman supreme given half the chance.  He has an explosive shot and he is, too, a brilliant header of the ball making him extremely dangerous anywhere within sight of goal.  He is in fact a modern Peter Doherty.”

In 1974 Colin scored City’s only goal of the League Cup final meeting with Wolves.  Sadly, Wolves won, but many felt City had been the dominant side.  Colin:  “In my career I’ve played in two games of this kind.  One was when England drew with Poland at Wembley and missed qualifying for the ’74 World Cup, and Wolves was the other.  If either of those games had been boxing matches the opposition would have thrown the towel in!  We were 1-0 down to Wolves at half time but I always felt if we pulled one back we would win.  I got the equaliser and we were never out of their half after that.  Then, late on, a ball was played across our area, Rodney Marsh just got a toe to it and helped it in the direction of John Richards who scored the Wolves’ winner.”

The disappointment hung over City for a while and, in truth, that League Cup final saw the end of the great Bell-Lee-Summerbee combination as over the following months first Lee, then Summerbee were to move on.  Of the 1968 Championship side only Colin, Mike Doyle, and Alan Oakes were still regulars by the start of the 1975-6 season, but the mid-seventies side was also a team packed with internationals and top quality players.  The side had finished 8th in 1975 and as the new season opened there was great optimism around the side.  Everything seemed perfect and when the Blues drew recently promoted Manchester United in the fourth round of the League Cup (November 1975) City couldn’t wait for the opportunity to prove which side were the dominant force.  Colin, who felt he had struggled at times during the previous year, was feeling very positive about the future:  “Two or three games before we played United I suddenly felt everything had come right.  I couldn’t do a thing wrong.  I thought, ‘terrific’.”

Injury

The League Cup tie in November 1975 proved to be one of City’s most mesmerising performances, but it also contained the saddest moment of the decade as far as many fans were concerned.  The game opened brightly with Dennis Tueart scoring after only 35 seconds.  United struggled to match the Blues and resorted to a physical approach.  After only five minutes tragedy struck when Colin Bell remained on the ground after a tackle by Martin Buchan.  Colin:  “I remember Dennis Tueart knocking me through on the inside right position, and I had three options.  The first – I was going to have a shot if the ball would sit right, from about 25 to 30 yards out.  Or, I could even quicken up and go for goal first thing.  The third option was to drag the ball inside a defender – and it was Martin Buchan as it happens.  I was weight bearing on my right leg as I dragged the ball to let him go past at speed, and he caught my knee… bent the knee backwards, burst a couple of blood vessels, did the ligaments, did the cartilage, and off I went.  That was the beginning of the end of my career.”

Although Colin does not blame Martin Buchan, the supporters did – and still do.  On the night they chanted ‘Animal’ at Buchan as Colin was stretchered from the field.  City went on to win the match 4-0 as they swept United aside, and eventually the Blues were victorious at Wembley in the 1976 League Cup final, but the meeting with United damaged not only Colin’s career but also City’s chance of major success in the League.  Dennis Tueart believes the side was disrupted too much by the injury:  “It left a major hole in our side – a major hole!  He would have been a major loss to any side, but ours in particular because we had such a balanced side.  Such a settled team.  Although we went on to win the League Cup that was the biggest setback, and I don’t think we were ever really as good after Colin’s injury.”

Over the following seasons Colin tried hard to resurrect his career.  He did return briefly at the end of the 1975-6 season but it was clear he was far from fully fit and, potentially, the early return caused more damage.  Eventually, he returned to action on Boxing Day 1977 and went on to make a further 27 League appearances before finally calling it a day in 1979.  During his recovery period he had been a key member of the City reserve side which won the Central League in 1978 – a triumph he felt immensely proud of.

The previous season a Colin-less City side had missed the League Championship by a point and many believe a fit Colin would have made the difference.  

Retirement

In retirement Colin concentrated on his restaurant business opened midway through his City career, and then in 1990 he returned to Maine Road to assist with reserve and youth team coaching.  Seven years later that City career ended, but in the years that followed Colin was a member of City’s matchday corporate hospitality team.  In 2004 he received the honour of having the West Stand – basically City’s main stand – named after him at the Etihad Stadium.  It was a major honour and recognised the achievements of an incredible talent and a tremendously popular City player.

Manchester City, Bury and England have lost one of their greatest ever players. A true legend of the game in his lifetime and one whose name will forever be remembered.

My thoughts are with Colin’s family, friends and former colleagues.

I’ve posted the In Search Of The Blues interview I did with Colin in 2005 for the Manchester City match programme here:

https://gjfootballarchive.com/2020/12/28/in-search-of-the-blues-colin-bell-mbe-interviewed-in-january-2005/

Also, here’s the story of the Boxing Day 1977 game v Newcastle which saw an emotional return to first team action by Colin:

https://gjfootballarchive.com/2020/12/29/manchester-city-hall-of-fame-colin-bells-significant-game/

Manchester City Hall of Fame: Colin Bell’s significant game

City 4 Newcastle United 0

Division One

26th December 1977

City Team: Corrigan, Clements, Donachie, Booth, Watson, Power (Bell), Barnes, Owen, Kidd, Hartford, Tueart

Attendance: 45,811

This match has entered Manchester folklore as one of those games you just had to experience to fully appreciate.  All of those present that night from players, to fans, club officials to newspaper reporters, talk of this night as one of football’s most emotional nights.

The story of Colin Bell and his injury had become one of football’s most discussed issues.  The teatime BBC television news show Nationwide had profiled Colin’s tragic story and as a result the player received thousands of good luck messages from neutrals and ordinary non-footballing members of the public.  They had been touched by his long, hard training schedules; his lonely runs through the streets of Moss Side and Rusholme; and by his absolute determination to return to full fitness.  To them Colin’s story was incredible, to City and England supporters it was a deeply disappointing and tragic story.  

Colin’s gruelling training regime ensured he forced his way into manager Tony Book’s thinking by December 1977, and on Boxing Day he was named as substitute for the visit of Newcastle.  Anticipation was high as supporters believed this would be the day they would see their hero return to action.  

Chairman Peter Swales rated Colin highly and shortly before his death in 1996 the former Chairman explained:  “The supporters loved him.  You can never kid supporters.  They know great players.  It’s no good a manager saying, ‘this is the best player we’ve ever had’.  The supporters will know after a few weeks whether he really is the best.  Bell was the best.  No question.”

On the night itself Tony Book had planned to send Colin on as substitute for the final twenty minutes, but an injury to Paul Power meant the manager had to take decisive action.  The supporters didn’t realise, but as the players were making their way into the dressing room for the interval, it was decided that Colin would play the second half.  During the interval fans started to speculate as to when they would see their hero, with the majority believing he would come on for the final flourish, but then as the players came back out on to the pitch it was clear that Paul Power was missing and that Colin was coming on.  

The stadium erupted and the fans on the Kippax terracing began to chant his name.  It was a truly marvellous sight and the tremendous feeling of anticipation and excitement had never been felt midway through a match for any player before.  It was the most amazing individual moment witnessed at the old ground.  Dennis Tueart, a player on that day, remembers:  “He came on at half time, and it was like World War Three.  I’ve never known a noise like it in all my life!  The crowd gave him a standing ovation and he hadn’t even touched the ball.  I’ve never seen a guy work as hard to get back.  The hours and hours he put in.  The pain he went through…  it was a phenomenal amount of work and he definitely deserved that ovation.”

For the player himself the day remains one of the most significant memories of his life:  “As I came down the tunnel I could hear a whisper go right round the ground.  I knew that reception was for me alone.  I was never an emotional player but that afternoon I got a big lump in my throat.  I’ve been lucky to win cups and medals and play internationals, but of all my great football memories, that is the one that sticks in my mind.”

“The City crowd and I had this mutual respect really, and that standing ovation from over 40,000 people brought a lump to my throat for the only time in my career.”

The substitution totally transformed the atmosphere and the result.  The game had been goalless, but the Blues tore into Newcastle as if they were playing in the most important game of all time.  Dennis Tueart played superbly and scored a hat-trick, with Brian Kidd also scoring, to make it a convincing 4-0 win for the Blues.  At one point Colin had a header which just sneaked over the bar, but the fairytale goal on his return did not arrive.

A modest Colin feels he didn’t contribute a great deal:  “I don’t think I touched the ball.  It was ten men versus eleven, but the atmosphere got to our team and we ran away with it.”

IN SEARCH OF THE BLUES – Colin Bell MBE (interviewed in January 2005)

Colin Bell MBE joined the Blues from Bury in March 1966 and went on to become a major trophy winner with the Blues and a star with England.  Gary James met up with him at the end of January 2005

Let’s start with your early life, was football everything to you from an early age?

From the moment I was born I wanted to play.  Actually, everybody did in those days.  Football was all you ever wanted and I always had a ball with me, so I could play anywhere.  No one ever pushed me; it was something I just wanted to do.  My mother had played ladies football before I was born and so did others in the family, so there must have been a natural instinct for the game.  I used to go and watch Sunderland when I could, although it would take about 90 minutes and three buses to get to Roker Park.  As a boy my hero was Len Shackleton and then Charlie Hurley. 

At the age of 17 (1963) you joined Bury.  There were other potentially larger teams interested, so what made you choose Bury?

The move had to be right and I was quite a shy boy in many ways, so I needed to go somewhere where I felt at home.  Bury were a homely club and made me feel so welcome.  I’d had interest from a few clubs – Newcastle offered me a trial but I heard nothing afterwards!  Arsenal were another.  I damaged my back shortly before I went down to London from my home in the north-east and that made me a little uncomfortable.  Their manager Billy Wright watched the games we played and selected the ones to stay, and then said to those not selected “I hope you join other clubs that are not as good as Arsenal!”

Both Bury and Huddersfield wanted me to sign, so I was totally open with them and agreed I wouldn’t make my mind up until I returned back home and looked at it objectively.  The Huddersfield experience went well, but Bury was so much more homely.  While I was there I knew I’d sign for Bury, but I wouldn’t tell them.  They kept pushing me, and I wanted to say yes, but I felt it was more important to stick to the plan.  So when I went home I told both clubs of my decision.

Presumably, you never looked back and felt Bury was the right choice?

Definitely.  My instincts were right, however I did still feel homesick.  It really hit me for about six weeks or so and I know that if my family had suggested I go home I would have done.  I’d have packed it all in because I hated that homesick feeling.  I’d have got that wherever I went, and I’m glad I chose Bury because in the end I couldn’t have had a better start to my career.  It was a great period once I’d settled and I felt I was so lucky to be paid for playing.  

How ambitious were you then?  Did you set targets and aims?

I took each day as it came.  That’s true of all my career.  I never thought about moving from Bury.  It never crossed my mind, and I certainly didn’t think about playing for England.  I didn’t even know City were watching me until the official approach came.  In fact it got to transfer deadline day and suddenly I had both City and Blackpool interested in me and I had to make another choice.  This time it was stay at Bury, move to Second Division City, or move to First Division Blackpool.

So what made you pick City, was the Mercer-Allison involvement the deciding factor?

At the time I didn’t know enough about Mercer or Allison to base a decision on, so my decision was based more on league position.  City were heading for promotion, while Blackpool were beginning to struggle (they were eventually relegated in 1967), so I thought it would be best to join a club looking forward rather than one heading for struggle. 

Was City as homely as Bury?

That’s something that was truly special about City at the time because even though it was a much bigger club, it still had that homely feel.  We were all part of the same family.  First team players would pop into the laundry room and have a cup of tea with the ladies in there.  Sometimes we’d just love being at the ground.  I do think football’s lost a lot by having training grounds some distance from the home grounds.  We felt part of the Maine Road furniture.  It was my second home and most mornings we’d get in early to get into the gym for head tennis.  If ever you arrived at the ground and found you’d arrived too late to make up a head tennis team you’d skulk around and plan to get in even earlier the next day.

You mentioned that you were homesick at Bury, how long did it take you to settle at City?

I arrived in March 1966 and it took me the rest of that promotion season to settle.  Promotion helped because I was part of the celebrations from the start.  The goal I scored at Rotherham guaranteed promotion and afterwards I tasted champagne for the first time.  I couldn’t believe how quickly I was part of a winning side.  Something major I realised at this time was that at Bury we’d go to away matches with the aim of getting a draw – at best – but with City we went expecting to turn over every side.  After a couple of games I felt this same level of expectation and I think that’s why we became so successful.  Malcolm stressed our strengths and used to say that he didn’t care how many we concede so long as we win.  If ever we won 4-3 he’d never mention the three goals, he’d only mention the four.  That was a great way to play and it continued throughout those successful years.

Both Mercer & Allison and most of the other players have often commented on your high level of fitness and your stamina, was this something you were conscious of at the time?

I think in games I was just as tired as the rest but I think I had a quick recovery rate and I never ever wanted to give less than the best.  I was always determined.  At training I never really thought about my own fitness, but I do remember that when Malcolm had us all running hard I’d give a commentary as we were running.  I’d be going “Bell overtaking Booky on the inside” and so on and I think that may have been a bit off putting for some of the others.  

In 1967-68 City won the Championship by two points over Manchester United with a victory over Newcastle, do you remember much of that day?

It was a great end to end game.  I’d never previously won at Newcastle and I know that beforehand I felt quite uncomfortable.  The great thing about football during this period was that every team in the League was capable of beating you on their ground, so it didn’t matter whether you were playing the top or the bottom.  Also, no side ever gave up, so we knew that Newcastle, who were about tenth, wouldn’t sit back if we took the lead they’d be going for it… and they did!  We beat them 4-3 but it could have been 5-4 or 6-5 – we knew we’d score one more than them, but both sides kept attacking, kept playing.  At no time did they give up. 

Presumably the Old Trafford derby match (March 1968) remains another great memory for you?

We beat United 3-1 and that really set us up, but we’d lost a goal right at the start.  I equalised, George Heslop headed a goal, and then late on I was brought down by Francis Burns.  As I was being stretchered off Francis Lee scored the penalty.  I went to hospital, had my leg put in plaster and then joined the rest of the players at the Fletcher’s Arms in Denton for a celebratory drink! 

Before the match Malcolm had stressed the importance of the game.  He told us they were beatable and once he’d convinced us of that nothing was going to stop us.  I think that helped the other teams as well, because once we started to beat them at Old Trafford – and remember I played 9 League derbies at Old Trafford and only lost the first – they realised they could do the same.

Winning so many trophies – League, FA Cup, ECWC, League Cup – during such a short spell was incredible, but which success brought you most satisfaction?

Each trophy was important but I judge success by consistency and when we won the League in 1968 we proved over 42 games that we were the most consistent side.  I have to say I’m also very proud of winning the Central League in 1977-78 because I was fighting to regain fitness and also because the side was a very good one.  It was great to play with some very enthusiastic young players.

Of course, each success means a great deal.  Winning the ECWC was great, but the 1968 League success was all about consistency. Our journey back from Newcastle after the last game was very memorable.  Coming down the A1 was superb.  There was a convoy of blue and white all the way back.

Moving on to international football, how did it feel when you first discovered you were in the England squad?

When the letter came through the door I couldn’t believe it.  Again, as with my early days, I never thought about anything beyond the next City game.  I didn’t think about England, but when the letter arrived it was a major, major honour.  In fact every time the letter came – even after 40 odd appearances – I still had the same excitement and same buzz I’d always had.  It was the highest honour you could receive.

When I joined the squad I remember sitting in the dressing room and seeing all those players who had won the World Cup only a year earlier.  These men had achieved so much and to be sat in the same room and to see my name on the squad list next to theirs was a real highlight.  Of course when there were other City players in the squad that helped as well, but it’s also worth remembering that every top division side had players who were either in the international squad or on the fringes, so you knew that you’d achieved something major if you got into Alf Ramsey’s team.

You made your international debut in May 1968 against Sweden, and went to the 1970 World Cup finals.  How did you feel about the way your career had developed?

Immensely proud, and looking back it’s incredible how it all developed.  Having said that I do feel a little aggrieved that when some people talk of the 1970 quarterfinal against West Germany they talk of the substitution of Bobby Charlton as some sort of turning point.  I came on for him and I know that he was absolutely drained.  Like me he would try and deliver more, but his age and the heat worked against him.  I personally think I should have come on earlier and maybe we’d have kept the score at 2-1, or even increased it.  Once I came on we still had a lot of play but they’d got to 2-2 and then unfortunately they scored the winner in extra time.  Apparently Brazil were delighted because they were convinced we were the best side in the tournament – they’d beaten us in the group stage but knew they’d been in a real game.

You made 48 England appearances and replaced Bobby Moore as captain for one game in 1972, was this something you had always wanted?

I always believed that there should be eleven captains in a side.  By that I mean every player needed to be interested and offer advice. There’s no point hiding, waiting for someone else to make the decisions.  Every player needed support at times and everybody needs to give advice in my opinion.  Tony Book was City’s great captain and a wonderful leader, but if you watch any of those games you’ll see we all act as a captain should.  Actually they used to go on about how loud I was on the pitch and how quiet I was off it.  

The England captaincy came against Northern Ireland and it must have been a one-off because Moore remained captain for the next year or so.  I’m not certain why I got the nod, but it was a privilege and I do remember Sir Alf Ramsey asking me to take on the role.

Moving on to your injury in the 1975 Manchester derby, we now know how serious it was, but how did you feel at the time?

I knew it was very bad, and I know that the physio Freddie Griffiths worked hard to try and get things working for me.  He and his assistant Roy Bailey really went out of their way to help, but it was a long and difficult recovery.  The TV programme Nationwide did a feature on me and I received lots of letters and cards, which helped – the fans were terrific – but it was the blackest moment of my life.  I had violent pains in my leg if I sat a certain way, and thanks to my wife and family they managed to keep me sane.  When I started walking properly I was so glad.  At one point I didn’t think I would walk again, let alone play sport.  

I tried a comeback towards the end of 1975-6 but after the fourth game (V Arsenal) I broke down.  It was too soon, and for the following 20 months the battle to return dominated everything I did.  

Boxing Day 1977 V Newcastle was your memorable return.  I know how I and most Blues felt that day, but how did you feel?

There’s always been something about Newcastle.  That day I came on as substitute and I could not believe the atmosphere.  The whole ground – including the Newcastle fans – stood and applauded and chanted my name.  I was at the Halifax Supporters Club a month ago and I mentioned the game and almost every person in the room talked of the day and how emotional they got.  There were at least two dozen people in the room who said they were crying when I came on.  Grown men admitted it and I was deeply touched.  On the day you could feel that emotion.  I don’t believe I did anything of note in the game.  I was a passenger, but everyone tells me it was great seeing me there and for me it was and will always be my number one game, and my number one memory of playing football.

Finally, I guess that Newcastle game demonstrated how fans truly felt about you?

The fans have been marvellous throughout my life.  The last four years they’ve helped to get me honoured as one of the Football League’s 100 legends; the stand has been named after me; and now the MBE.  It’s been an amazing four years.  I don’t believe there’s any other player anywhere in football who has the same bond with the fans, and I don’t believe any club has fans as loyal as ours.  City fans like players who give 100% and so long as you do that, you will always get incredible support.  I loved my time as a player, and I am delighted my bond with the fans is as strong – possibly stronger – today than its ever been.