Every Newcastle United fan has a hero who once wore the black and white shirt.
A question often asked is how the little magician Tony Green can be given that status when he only made 33 appearances for the club?
I saw him play and confirm he was worthy of hero status on the pitch but what if I told you there was an even greater hero who wore the famous black and white shirt, this one only making 5 appearances for the reserves?
Donald Simpson Bell was a noted sportsman and during his time at college he was also an amateur on Newcastle’s books in the 1911-12 season. He made five appearances at full back before moving back to his native Yorkshire the following season to become a teacher and also supplement his income with a professional contract at Bradford Park Avenue.
In 1913-14 he began to establish himself as a prominent right back but war was looming, just weeks after war broke out Donald volunteered for active service and became the first professional footballer to enlist to fight for his country.
His skills, attitude and athleticism saw him quickly rise from the rank of private to that of a non-commissioned officer and he was involved in heavy fighting on the frontline during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 where his regiment recording over 3, 500 losses and casualties.
During one encounter on July 5th 1916, Donald and his battalion were attempting to capture a position called “Horseshoe Trench”, his actions were described as ‘of his own initiative leading two others, he crept up a communication trench and then rushed across open ground under heavy gunfire to attack a hostile machine gun which was holding back the British advance, he managed to make it across and shot the machine gunner with a revolver and destroyed the gun post with a grenade and also throw grenades into a nearby trench killing over 50 enemy soldiers’.
The act was described as a tremendous act of bravery which saved many soldier’s lives. At the time of the event, Donald modestly made light of his achievement, saying his accuracy with the grenades had been a total fluke and he was doing what anyone else would have done to protect his fellow men.
Sadly, less than a week later on July 10th, Donald was killed attempting another daring act of bravery on a German machine gun post which was again mowing down men.
Two months later Bell was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and his grief stricken widow was presented with the medal by King George V. Donald’s name lives on today with a monument at the place where he fell on the battlefield being named ‘Bells Redoubt’ he is buried at the nearby Gordon Dump Cemetery in Ovillers-La Boisselle.
So as far as heroes who have worn the famous Newcastle United shirt go, Donald was the first professional footballer to sign up for World War One and the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross, his medal sold at auction in 2010 for £252,000.
He may not have scored goals nor had you on your feet cheering him on, but 100 years later it would be a fitting tribute if every Newcastle fan raised a glass on July 10th 2016 and remembered a true hero and his fallen companions, I know I certainly will.