England football fans were keenly looking forward to the first international of the season in September 1973.
The previous year had not been a vintage one. Losses to Italy and Northern Ireland in friendlies were compounded by a defeat by Poland and a draw with Wales in vital World Cup qualifiers.
Alf Ramsey’s team needed to get back on track – and fast.
So the stage was set at Wembley Stadium when a full-strength England team took the field in front of a 48,000 crowd to play Austria.
It was only a friendly, but it took on huge importance as England were due to play Poland the next month in a make-or-break World Cup qualifier.
As it turned out, the game belonged to a Manchester City midfielder who was almost venerated by the Blues’ faithful.
They called him Nijinsky and the King of the Kippax. On the England team sheet he was simply listed as Colin Bell.
England not only beat Austria, they annihilated them. Bell was brilliant in the centre of the park, raiding forward and defending with his customary stamina and zeal.
Austria were put to the sword 7-0 in what has been described as one of Bell’s best performances in an England shirt.
He pulled all the strings as Mick Channon scored the first after eight minutes, followed by two goals from Allan Clarke before half time.
Clarke’s second came from a magnificent off-balance cross by Bell which the Leeds’ striker quickly acknowledged. In fact Bell was to be the provider of three of England’s goals before the match was over.
Channon scored again three minutes after the restart followed by Martin Chivers in the 61st minute. Tony Currie slotted his first goal for England three minutes later.
The final triumph belonged to the master. Bell scored his first England goal at Wembley in the 87th minute to the delight of the home fans.
But the jubilation was to prove short-lived. Less than a month later, on October 17th 1973, England failed to qualify for the World Cup by drawing 1-1 when they needed to win.
Bell was once again in the team when Jan Tomaszewksi, famously described by Brian Clough before the match as ‘a circus clown in gloves’, performed heroics in the Polish goal.
But no-one was laughing at the end of a completely one-sided match where England managed 36 shots to Poland’s two, hit the woodwork twice, forced 26 corners and saw four efforts cleared off the line.
It was a different story when Bell and England faced World Champions Germany in the 100th international game played at Wembley on March 12th 1975.
A crowd of 100,000 saw Don Revie’s team defeat their old rivals 2-0 in a hard-fought friendly.
Bell was again an inspiration, scoring the first goal in the 25th minute with a volley from Alan Hudson’s free kick.
German captain Franz Beckenbauer tried to inspire his team in the second half, but England doubled their tally in the 66th minute when Malcolm Macdonald scored his first goal for his country.
England’s forwards that night were Channon, MacDonald, Hudson and Alan Ball with Bell powering through from midfield.
Channon reckoned the line-up was the best since 1970 and had no idea why manager Revie failed to continue with it.
In all, Bell won 48 caps for England, scoring nine goals. He was widely regarded as one of England’s finest midfielders and was even described as ‘the most finished article in the modern game.’
He captained the national team once in 1972 in the 1-0 defeat to Northern Ireland.
His biggest regret was not playing more on the world stage as England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.
Bell’s most bitter taste of World Cup action came in Mexico in 1970 when he was 24. He was called off the bench to replace Bobby Charlton in the 3-2 quarter final defeat by Germany.
Some saw it as the turning point of the match as England were leading at the time, but Charlton disagreed. He pointed out that Germany had scored their first goal before he went off and were renowned for coming back in games anyway.
Bell could at least take consolation from winning every event in the squad mini-olympics to help players acclimatise to the heat.
Nijinsky was always hard to beat!