The death of Sir Tom Finney has brought many memories and stories of the great 1950s footballers. The 1950s saw footballers with clean cut haircuts, jobs and a pride to play for England.

The 1950s saw the rise of great names such as Stanley Mathews, Stan Mortensen, Billy Wright and Nat Lofthouse who have all been described as some of the best players to ever grace the game.

Football in England by the 1950s was held up as the pinnacle and a model which should be followed across the world. However the rest of world was not following the English model and this was made clear in the first World Cup England attended in 1950. The England team which included some of the great names were humiliated after being knocked out early by the USA.

The flaws of English football were again put on full display as in 1953 Puskas and the Hungry team defeated England 6-1 at Wembley. Yet such humiliating defeats did not dampen the faith fans had in these giants of 1950s football.

At Prenton Park one player who perhaps isn’t listed among the usual suspects of great 1950s footballers is Harold Bell. This legend of Prenton Park was a one man club who was with Tranmere from 1939 until 1960.

A young Harold Bell joined Tranmere as the country prepared for war at the age of just fifteen. With the out break of war the Football League suspended all leagues until hostilities ended. Alongside this players from the first and reserve teams were draft into the war effort whether at home or abroad.

For the fifteen year old bell this lack of players gave him a rare opportunity to play first team football even if it was against weakened sides. The then coach Jimmy Moreton saw the potential of young players such as Bell and spent much of his time coaching the youngsters.

The youth programme took a massive blow however as Moreton died in 1942 but he had in his short time been instrumental in the development of players such as Bell. Bell too had great respect for Moreton and he was one of the pole bearers at his well attended funeral.

Bell’s debut for Tranmere seemed to show a career full of goals as the sixteen year old scored a hat trick beating Bradford 6-4 in 1941. However it was felt Bell’s skills would best be severed at centre half and later full back. During his professional career Bell would only manage another eleven goals.

After making around two hundred appearances for Tranmere during the war in 1946 Bell would make his first League appearance as the Football League began again after a seven year absence.

Unfortunately however the game wasn’t the greatest success for Bell as they lost 4-1 to Rotherham at Prenton Park. What Bell did not realise was that day he would embark on a record breaking career.
For nine seasons Bell went on to made 401 league appearances, never missing a game until 1955 when he was finally dropped to the bench. 401 consecutive appearances is still a Football League record and in all Bell would make 633 appearances.

The year bell missed his first game in nine seasons was also his testimonial year and Tranmere welcomed Bolton Wanderers to Prenton Park. The game made the front page of the Brikenhead News who may have been somewhat awestruck that the legendary Nat Lofthouse who was part of the Bolton Team.

Attendance at the testimonial was one of the highest in the club’s history for testimonial as twelve thousands fans packed into the still relatively small Prenton Park. In an age when player’s wagers were capped and many had second jobs the £1,500 raised by for Bell was welcomed gratefully, especially to Bolton who donated £1,000 to the fund.

Bell continued on with Tranmere until 1960 but the aged player could no longer compete in the now fast paced game. After leaving Prenton Park he joined Peter Farrell at Holyhead and even managed the club briefly before returning to his home town of Liverpool.

Back in Liverpool he became the manager of a Littlewoods Social Club and later died in July 1994.

Bell may not be remembered alongside the likes of Finney, Lofthouse or Mathews outside of Prenton Park but he still a true legend of the game.

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