Matthew “Matt” Bell, often known as Ginger in his playing days, was born in West Hartlepool and raised by his father, a cartman and railway porter from Sunderland, and his mother, who hailed from Deptford in South East London. After attending Brougham School Matt served as a teenager in the Army’s East Riding Regiment during World War One, which is when he first started playing organised football. After playing the amateur game for West Hartlepool following his demobilisation Bell joined Hull City in August 1919, following in the footsteps of his brother Albert who had played in goal for the Tigers in a 1915 wartime match and still had business interests in the city. In his first season Matt played in both full back positions before establishing himself at right back. He dropped out of the side in February 1920 due to a suspension and spent time out of the first team picture. When he returned in November 1920 it was in the left full back role that he made his own for a decade, displacing another Tigers’ legend Jimmy Lodge.
Though Bell was occasionally absent for two or three games at a time, he was City’s undisputed first choice left back for the next nine years, missing only 51 of the 388 senior fixtures played between November 1920 and the end of the 1928/29 season. A tough tackling presence that took no prisoners, he was also City’s captain for most of the 1920s and part of a defensive line that famously maintained a remarkably low goals-against tally. During this period under manager Bill McCracken Bell was instrumental in pioneering an early form of an offside trap, one that proved so effective it precipitated a change in the offside law in 1925. In January 1925 he even deputised as City’s goalkeeper in an FA Cup tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers following an injury crisis, a match that City won with Bell keeping a clean sheet. He also went in goal on several occasions when the selected keeper, almost always George Maddison, was injured during the match. His only Tigers goal came in April 1924, the second in a 2-0 victory over Bradford City. Other than that goal, Matt took the descriptive duty within his position’s name very seriously and rarely ventured forwards, staying fully back and feeding the forward line with his accurate passes.
Bell was a strong favourite of manager Bill McCracken but during the 1929/30 the Irishman started to introduce young full backs George Goldsmith and Arthur Rodgers into the City first eleven. Despite this emerging transition Bell played an important role in City’s 1929/30 FA Cup run that took the Tigers all the way to a semi-final replay against First Division Arsenal at Villa Park. Distracted by the rigours of that Cup run and the resultant fixture pile-up, two months after that epic Cup semi-final City were relegated to Division Three North for the first time in the club’s history. Bell remained with the Tigers for much of that first season in the third tier but by February 1931 he was transfer listed, out of the first team due to a rib injury and ready to make a move – in August 1931, at the age of 34, he transferred to Second Division side Nottingham Forest.
Despite his advancing years Bell strengthened the Forest defence and he remained at the City Ground for three seasons, racking up a further 87 senior appearances before hanging up his boots in the 1934 close season. He then joined the scouting and coaching staff at Forest, roles that he maintained for two years until his dismissal in June 1936. He went on to coach Dutch side Heracles Almelo between 1937 and the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, having to leave the Netherlands in a hurry as the German forces invaded the country.
When his coaching days were over Bell lived in Doncaster for a while then returned to live on Albert Avenue in Hull, close to the future site of the KCOM Stadium. He died in January 1962.
Date/Place of Birth: 8 July 1897, West Hartlepool
Hull City First Game: 8 September 1919, Stoke A (Division Two), 22 years, 62 days old
Hull City Final Game: 18 March 1931, York City A (Division Three North), 33 years, 253 days old
West Hartlepool, Hull City (1919-1931), Nottingham Forest (1931-1934)
Hull City Record
Career: 423 apps, 1 goalsMatt Bell