Dr Jon Bell's big goal to raise funds for The Christie
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 March 2019
Colin Bell is the Manchester City legend whose name is written in the very fabric of the Blues’ stadium. His son Dr Jon Bell has his own goal in life: to make The Christie hospital the best it can be
Tall and softly-spoken, Dr Jon Bell is leading me on a whistle-stop tour of his domain in The Christie hospital, dispensing cheery words to colleagues every few yards along the way. We whisk through the control room for a bank of MR (magnetic resonance) scanners, made possible by charitable fund-raising, and Jon proudly declares this ‘the best MR department in the NHS’.
Minutes later, we are in a more cramped, less shiny CT (computed tomography) area. This part of the ever-evolving Christie is, he says, ‘not fit for purpose’.
Redeveloping CT facilities at Manchester’s famous cancer hospital is a £10m ask. In the plan are new machines, including a new four-dimensional CT scanner which combines CT scans with video x-ray - the first of its generation in the UK, and expected to be in use by next year.
Jon, a consultant interventional radiologist at The Christie, won’t just be using those machines, he’ll be doing his best to raise the money to buy them, through his efforts for The Christie Charitable Fund, which held its annual ball at The Principal Hotel, Manchester, on Saturday March 9.
Meeting the kind of people likely to write a big cheque for The Christie is made slightly easier by Jon’s family connections. For his dad is Colin Bell, the England and Manchester City star of the ‘60s and ‘70s - a footballer so well-regarded in Blues history that a stand at the Etihad Stadium is named in his honour.
‘That’s something he’s immensely proud of, but I’m sure he’s been stopped trying to get into the stand if someone doesn’t recognise him,’ Jon says of his self-effacing dad.
A bad knee injury sustained in a match against Manchester United in 1975 meant that Colin’s footballing career was ending at the time Jon was born.
‘My interest in medicine came from interaction with the physios at Man City,’ says Jon, aged 40, who is married to Emma, a doctor at St Mary’s, Manchester, with two children, Isla, aged six, and three-year-old Jack, living in Wilmslow. ‘My dad used to take me down to the training ground at Platt Lane. They used to talk to me about dad’s injuries, and I just became interested in sports injuries and medicine.’
Jon and elder sister Dawn grew up in Hale Barns, where their parents lived for over 40 years. The family home is now owned by former Smiths guitarist and fervent City fan Johnny Marr, and Colin and his wife Marie now live on the Arley Hall estate.
‘They love it, because dad’s a bit of a recluse,’ says Jon. ‘He’s never really liked being in the public eye. He was very comfortable playing football, but not really comfortable with everything else that comes with celebrity.’
After Stockport Grammar School, where he was head boy, Jon studied medicine at St Andrews and Manchester universities.
‘He always put a lot of emphasis on education,’ says Jon of his dad. ‘He came from a mining village (in County Durham) and his dad was always adamant that he wasn’t going to end up down the mine. Dad found a route out through football, and my mum and dad always valued education.’
Starting out with an ambition to go into orthopaedics - fixing the kind of injuries which might result from a crunching tackle - Jon gradually developed a fascination for interventional radiology, a discipline he saw as ‘the future’.
‘It’s classed as ‘pinhole’ surgery,’ he explains. ‘We use x-rays to guide where our catheters and wires are going. It means we deliver the treatment in a very localised position, minimise patient side-effects and get people home.’
Colin, who turns 73 on February 26, helped City to their second league championship in 1968, the FA Cup title in 1969 and made 48 appearances for England. But as Jon grew up, Colin’s superstar status was barely an issue. Colin devoted himself to running a restaurant in Whitefield, called Bell Waldron, and for some years he rarely went to City matches as a spectator.
Eventually, he was wooed back to work in youth development, and appointed the club’s first ambassador. ‘He works there every match day as a host, and I go to as many games as I can,’ says Jon. ‘The club is an amazing place now. Everybody is so warm and welcoming. If you ask dad about the money, he’d always say he was privileged to play at a time when any team could win the top flight league, because every team had their great players. And the media scrutiny was less.
‘He’s always said he’d take that era over the money, but I’ve not asked him in the last ten years whether he would want to play for City now, with the money and with that team. His mindset may have changed slightly. It’s a joy to be at the Etihad now: the goals, the way we’re playing and just the environment. Everything’s changed on and off the pitch. It’s a great place to be and a great time for the football club.’