DCSIMG

Forgotten Scot who helped to shape Sporting Lisbon's history

SPORTING Lisbon are known as a Portuguese institution - their official name is Sporting Clube de Portugal, and they have won honours in a host of sports besides football.

But one of the most important roles in their early history was, in fact, played by a Scot, Charlie Bell from Dumfries, who had two separate spells as their manager, from 1919 to 1922 and again from 1928 to 1930.

Born in 1894, Bell was a striker who never quite made the big time, having his career disrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. As a manager, however, he made a far more substantial impact, and might have gone on to greater things but for his tragically early death in 1939.

Bell's first club, Dumfries Wanderers, had been one of the most prominent clubs in the south-west of Scotland a few years before his birth, having reached the fourth round of the Scottish Cup in the 1890-91 season. His next club, Douglas Wanderers, had occasionally featured, with less success, in the same competition.

After making the short hop across the Border to play for Carlisle City, Bell then made a significant step up in 1913 when he signed for Woolwich Arsenal. Unfortunately, he would spend just a year with the London club, scoring twice in his only competitive appearance.

Bell's contribution to the team may have been a minimal one, but his stay coincided with a critical stage in the evolution of the club. Having had a new stadium built for them at Highbury by majority shareholder Sir Henry Norris, they abandoned their old home in the close season of 1913, and dropped the 'Woolwich' from their name in April of the following year.

Moving on to Chesterfield as war broke out, Bell enjoyed the best spell of his playing days with the Derbyshire club, who had spent the previous five years out of the Football League after failing to be re-elected. He scored seven goals in 11 games for the Spireites, then moved on to Barrow, and on again to Queens Park Rangers,

The end of Bell's playing days has been obscured by the fog of war, although it is known that he served in the Army, a commitment which restricted his chances of establishing himself at any one club. That inability to settle may well have been what inspired him, while still in his mid-20s, to turn to management.

He chose a new country in which to begin his new career - and a relatively new club, too. In 1919, when Bell arrived in Lisbon, Sporting had been on the go for a little over a decade, having been officially founded in 1906.

The dominant figure at the time, at least as far as the football section was concerned, was Francisco Stromp. Two years older than the Scot, Stromp made his debut for Sporting at 16, and captained the club for ten years.Reflecting the fact that Sporting were far more than just a football club, Stromp was also Portuguese discus champion, while his brother Antonio had taken part in the sprints at the 1912 Olympic Games.

In those days the captain took key decisions regarding training and team selection as well as those on the pitch, and Stromp is now recognised as having been in effect the club's first manager. The arrival of Bell, however, allowed Stromp to concentrate on his playing duties, and the club benefited with the arrival of their first Lisbon Championship in the Scot's third season at the helm. Bell returned to the United Kingdom shortly after that success, taking over at the now-defunct Wigan Borough in 1923. But his good work with Sporting did not go to waste, as his successor, Augusto Sabbo, led the club to their first Portuguese Championship.

After a couple of years in Lancashire, Bell moved abroad again, this time to Padua in Italy. He was soon tempted back to Lisbon, but found less success in his second period in charge: while the managers immediately before and after him lifted city championships, he was unable to add to the one he had won in 1922.

He moved on in 1930, and spent two years out of football before becoming manager of Olympique Marseille. They were runners-up in the French championship in his sole season in charge, after which he returned to Britain for good.

He joined Mansfield Town, again just for a season, before heading south to Bournemouth in 1936. He spent three seasons on the Sussex coast, and died there just three months before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Had he lived he might easily have worked on into the 1960s and the era of the great Scottish managers such as Bill Shankly and Matt Busby.

Even in the short time he had, Charlie Bell made his mark as a manager in four different countries and, above all, with the club who will visit Ibrox tomorrow night.

 
 
 

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