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Colin Bell: Celebrating a legend

Birthday boy: Colin Bell

Birthday boy: Colin Bell

The term 'legend' is bandied around far too often in football these days.

A single goal against your bitter rivals or a last-minute winner now seems to merit such lofty status - but when considered in its original form, relating to a player of quality, dedication and loyalty, there are few who deserve the title more so than Colin Bell.

Dubbed 'The King' and worthy of having a stand at the Etihad Stadium named after him, the former City midfielder is still regarded as one of the best players - if not the best player - to have donned the sky blue shirt.

Today, the Blues' most famous number eight celebrates his 71st birthday - and so there's no better time to look back on his incredible career at the Club, which heralded a league title, plus FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup success? Particularly as we travel to Wembley on Sunday - a ground the King conquered on several occasions.

Bell featured in three cup finals with City at the national stadium, emerging victorious in the 1969 FA Cup clash against Leicester and 1970 League Cup encounter with West Brom.

He also found the net in the 1974 League Cup final but somehow ended up on the losing side against Wolves - an incredible feat considering the fact he was part of a front line which included Mike Summerbee, Francis Lee, Dennis Law and Rodney Marsh! Due to injury, he missed the 1976 League Cup final triumph.

The midfielder also gained recognition on the national stage at Wembley, collecting his first England cap in a friendly against Sweden and netting five of his nine international goals there.

His most notable strikes came against Czechoslovakia during 1976 European Championship qualification.

Bell made 48 appearances for England in total, becoming City's most-capped international at that time. In 2005, he was inducted into English Football's Hall of Fame, named in the Football League 100 Legends list and awarded an MBE in recognition of his charity work.

Born on this day in 1946 in Hesleden, County Durham, Bell began his senior career with Bury, who also hold their former captain in high esteem to this day.

Having attracted the interest of City boss Malcolm Allison, who attempted to ward off other suitors by publicly declaring Bell was 'hopeless' as he secretly plotted his move, he joined the Blues on transfer deadline day on 16 March 1966 for £47,500.

Blackpool were the only other club to attempt to secure his services - but thankfully, he decided against a move to the seaside!

Aged 20, he made his league debut for City three days later, and wrote his name onto the scoresheet in a 2-1 triumph over Derby.

Renowned for his amazingly high level of fitness and stamina and aptly nicknamed 'Nijinsky' after the champion racehorse, he went on to play 50 times in his first full season at the Club, bagging 14 goals from midfield.

In 1968, he helped the Blues to a second League Championship. A particularly impressive display in the penultimate game against Tottenham ensured victory at Newcastle on the final day would clinch the title; typically, a drama-filled 90 minutes ensued, ending with a 4-3 win for City.

The following year brought FA Cup success and Bell continued to impress in the 1969/70 season, netting 22 goals in all competitions - his best return for the Club.

Inspired by the King, the Blues lifted the League Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup that year, becoming the first City side to secure a domestic and European trophy in one season.

Bell continued to rack up appearances over the following campaigns, finishing as the league's top scorer with 18 goals in 1975.

The subsequent year would sadly bring a moment which would halt his career, as he severely injured his knee in a Manchester derby. Although the midfielder would make his return, the extent of his horrendous knee problem meant he had to hang up his boots in 1979. Though he'd done everything possible to fight his way back to fitness, he could never recapture his previous highs.

In total, he made close to 500 appearances for the Blues and remained at Maine Road following his retirement, working with the youth team.

He would later become the Club's first ambassador and has been described as 'possibly the greatest midfield talent England has ever unearthed.'

As mentioned, the West Stand at the Etihad Stadium is dedicated to him and he holds a place in the Club's Hall of Fame.

So we wish a happy birthday to a true City legend - a talented, goalscoring midfielder who spent 13 seasons at Maine Road and delighted the Blue faithful week in, week out.

Let's raise a toast and... drink, a drink, a drink to Colin the King, the King, the King! (For he's the greatest inside forward that the woooooooooooooorld has ever seen).

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