Brighton & Hove Albion’s visit to St Andrews, Birmingham, sees a famous former international full back in the shape of manager Chris Hughton return to a club he managed with some success.
Another full back who managed the Blues in an earlier era was Willie Bell, a Scottish international whose illustrious playing career ended with the then Division Three Brighton.
Bell missed only two games during Albion’s 1969-70 season having been signed as a player-coach by his former Leeds United teammate, the late Freddie Goodwin, from the 1969 FA Cup Finalists Leicester City.
Goodwin obviously knew the pedigree of the player and a delve into some Leeds United archives reveals how Bell had been an unsung hero of that famous Don Revie side as it rose to prominence between 1962 and 1967.
Legendary Leeds hardman Norman Hunter is quoted as saying: “Willie Bell was one of the bravest men I have seen in my life. He never blinked, he never flinched, he just went for it.”
And Scottish international winger Eddie Gray remembered something similar. “Willie was a natural defender; a big, strong player who epitomised the old school of British full-backs in his discipline in sticking rigidly to the basic defensive requirements of his job.”
He was a regular in Don Revie’s side from the 1963/64 season and played in the 1965 FA Cup final when Leeds eventually lost after extra time to Liverpool.
England international Terry Cooper eventually replaced him at Leeds, but his performances for the Elland Road outfit earned him two full caps for Scotland in 1966, against Portugal and Brazil.
Leeds transferred Bell to Leicester in 1967 for £40,000 and he was their captain for a while but the emerging, future England international David Nish became their first choice left back and, in the summer of 1969, Bell linked up with Goodwin at Brighton.
When Goodwin left Brighton for Birmingham, he took Bell and youth coach George Dalton with him, but Goodwin was so eager to hire his old pal that he made an illegal approach to him while he was still under contract at Brighton and Birmingham were later fined £5,000 for the offence.
Goodwin and Bell launched the career of Trevor Francis, the first £1m footballer, as a teenage starlet at Birmingham. In 1972, Francis, Bob Latchford and Bob Hatton spearheaded promotion for the Blues and a place in the FA Cup semi finals.
When Goodwin was sacked at the end of the 1974-75 season, Bell became caretaker manager and, after a successful spell in temporary charge, got the position on a permanent basis.
Bell brought in Syd Owen, the former Leeds United trainer, as a coach, but the team struggled, finishing one place above the relegation zone at the end of their 1975/76 centenary season.
He led them to an improved 13th in the following season but after losing the opening five matches of the 1977/78 season, Bell’s managerial career at St Andrews came to an end. His successor was none other than former England boss Sir Alf Ramsey, who was by then a Birmingham director.
Bell meanwhile went on to manage Third Division Lincoln City, following the unsuccessful George Kerr in trying to emulate the heights enjoyed by the Imps under Graham Taylor, who had gone on to manage Watford. It wasn’t to be, though, and on leaving Lincoln in October 1978, Bell emigrated to the USA and coached at Liberty University in Virginia. He also turned to religion and became active in the church. In 2001 he and his wife Mary retired to Yorkshire.