Eric Bell: Footballer who scored in the 'Matthews Final'

He nurturedhopes of glory atOld Trafford;Matt Busby saidhe later regrettedletting him go

Eric Bell did his heroic damnedest to prevent one of the most ecstatically acclaimed football results of the 20th century. The steely Mancunian's contribution to the 1953 FA Cup final, in which national treasure Stanley Matthews inspired Blackpool to a breathtakingly dramatic late victory, was to score the goal which had seemed likely to ensure a Wembley triumph for their Lancashire rivals Bolton Wanderers.

And it wasn't just any old strike, but one which required immense courage and athleticism, given that – in the dark era when important games were often ruined because substitutes were not allowed to replace injured combatants – left-half Bell was a hobbling passenger on the wing, barely able to walk after tearing a hamstring only 18 minutes into the action.

However, with Bolton having made light of their handicap to seize a 2-1 half-time advantage, the Wanderers winger Doug Holden delivered a tempting cross 10 minutes into the second period – and the invalid contrived somehow to climb above his marker, Eddie Shimwell, and steer an adroit header beyond the unavailing grasp of the Blackpool goalkeeper George Farm.

At 3-1 up, the 10-man Trotters looked odds-on to prevail, which would have doomed Matthews to a third FA Cup final defeat in six years – and at the age of 38, the great man was deemed unlikely to get another chance to secure that elusive winner's medal. But depleted Bolton were tiring on the lush Wembley turf and the remarkable Matthews was merciless, exploiting the extra space afforded by Bell's immobility to mount relentless pressure on the Wanderers goal and turn the game around.

First, the "Wizard of Dribble" sent in Stan Mortensen to make it 3-2, then Mortensen completed his hat-trick with an equaliser from a free-kick in the 89th minute. Cue the climactic thrust as Matthews danced past two exhausted defenders to set up the winner for Bill Perry some 180 seconds into injury time. Thus neutrals all over the land rejoiced unrestrainedly at the veteran's fulfilment, and poor Bell was left to limp away to the dressing room clutching a loser's medal, his defiant strike reduced to a footnote in Wembley history.

There had been a time, after he was recruited by Manchester United as a teenage amateur inside-forward in October 1949, when the promising local boy – he was born in Clayton, home of United until their 1910 move to Old Trafford – had nursed legitimate hopes of glory as one of Matt Busby's emerging Babes. But after only a month he was released by Busby, who later admitted to regretting that decision after Bell had been converted into a stylish wing-half by Bolton, whom he had joined soon after his Old Trafford exit.

Having made his senior entrance as an inside-left in a 4-1 home defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in August 1950, he featured mainly for the reserves before displacing Tommy Neill as the first team's regular left-half in January 1953. Bell was ever-present as Bolton, fortified by the goals of rumbustious England centre-forward Nat Lofthouse, battled past Fulham, Notts County, Luton Town, Gateshead and Everton to reach that Wembley date with Blackpool.

The 1953-54 season proved to be the best of his career as he excelled in a well-balanced half-back line alongside Johnny Wheeler and Malcolm Barrass. He missed only a handful of games as the Trotters finished fifth in the top flight, and he was rewarded by call-ups for England "B" and the Football League, both against their Scottish counterparts.

Far more of a prompter and stopper than a goalscorer, Bell contributed the only League goal of his career in a 6-1 humbling of the reigning champions, Wolverhampton Wanderers, at Burnden Park in February 1955, but then his career momentum was severely jolted when he suffered a broken leg. He reclaimed the No 6 shirt in the spring of 1957 when his replacement, the slightly younger Bryan Edwards, was deployed temporarily at left-back, then centre-half.

Thereafter Bell lost his place again and retired in 1958 after another leg injury, and so was not a candidate for Wembley redemption in the Bolton side that beat Manchester United to lift that year's FA Cup.

Eric Bell, footballer: born Clayton, Manchester 27 November 1929; played for Bolton Wanderers 1949-58; married (one son); died Wythenshawe, Manchester 22 July 2012.

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn