When Featherstone Rovers signed up local youngster Keith Bell in 1971, there was no doubt that they had secured a future star of impeccable pedigree. Keith was the youngest son of 1930s centre Jimmy Bell, who was Rovers groundsman and kit manager in the 1960s. Keith therefore followed in the footsteps of his father and his three older brothers Roy, Peter and John into Featherstone’s team when he made his try-scoring debut in November 1971. What could not have been predicted was how his exploits over the next nineteen years would eclipse those of all the rest of his family and many more besides.
Initially a hooker, Bell stated out as the understudy to Keith Bridges in the early days of his career, but, under the guidance of coach Peter Fox, he gradually established himself in a formidable pack as a ball-handling loose forward. So successful was he in his new role that he kept his place at number thirteen as Rovers went all the way to Wembley for the 1974 Challenge Cup final. Despite Rovers’ poor display there, it was the first early honour for young Keith. His sublime handling skills and keen rugby brain were ideally suited to the role at the base of the scrum, and within three seasons Keith had picked up a Championship medal, integral part of arguably Rovers best ever pack of forwards: Thompson, Bridges, Farrar, Smith, Stone and Bell. He won county caps for Yorkshire and also appeared for Great Britain under 24s. When four of that famous Champion pack was sold, it was just Bell and Peter Smith who remained at Post Office Road and helped to rebuild the club’s fortunes.
Despite the value of a drop goal being reduced to one point in 1973 Keith was well aware of how vital those one-pointers could be, kicking a total of 67 in his career (this is still a club record). He proved his true worth to the club in the period between 1983 and 1985 when, although a senior member of the team, he didn’t play much first team rugby, and indeed he missed out on our famous 1983 Wembley triumph, being a travelling reserve. But Keith buckled down, and captained the A team with the same shrewdness and tenacity he had always shown for the first team. And when Peter Fox came back to the club in 1987, Keith enjoyed his swansong, filling in at hooker during our 1988 Promotion season. Keith was one of only two players, along with Peter Smith, whose career spanned the two coaching stints at the club by Peter Fox.
Keith Bell was awarded a benefit season in 1984/5 which coincided unfortunately with the miners’ strike. His final tally of 417 games has been bettered by only four other players in the history of the club. After finishing at Rovers in 1990 he played a couple of years at Hunslet before hanging up his boots at the age of 39. Since then he has been involved with coaching and management at Featherstone Lions.
Few players in Featherstone Rovers’ history can claim to have offered more service to the club than Keith, a legendary servant of the club.