Dumbarton born Jack Bell was a winger or inside forward. Bell played with Dumbarton Union, and then for Dumbarton from 1890 to 1893. While at Boghead Park he won the first 2 of his career total of 10 Scottish international caps, his debut coming in a 4-1 win over Ireland at Ballynafeigh Park, Belfast in March 1890, winning a further cap while still with The Sons in a defeat to England at Ibrox in April 1892, when he scored Scotland’s only goal. His last Scotland cap came against England in April 1900 and he altogether he scored 5 times for his country. He also represented The Scottish League twice in 1892 and 1899 scoring once.
He first played in English football after he joined First Division club Everton, making his Football League debut against Bolton Wanderers in April 1893. In six seasons at Goodison Park he scored 58 goals in 144 games During his time with Everton he scored 18 goals in their 1894-95 campaign including an FA Cup hat-trick against Southport Central in February 1895 as Everton finished runners up in the League Championship and he was part of their losing 1897 FA Cup Final team beaten 3-2 by Aston Villa at The Crystal Palace, Bell equalising Aston Villa’s opener on 23 minutes.
The Lloyd’s Weekly News described him in October 1897 as: “A forward of exceptional excellence, he, for a time, worked on the left wing, but he has gained his fame as a right wing player, where he enjoys the assistance of another Dumbarton man, Jack Taylor, and these two understand each other’s methods so well that hey certainly form one of the most formidable combinations for attack possessed by any club in the country. Very neat in his work Bell, is an uncommonly good shot, and plays with a marked intelligence.” In 1898 he also played in Everton’s FA Cup semi final team, beaten by Derby County at Molineux. While at Goodison Park he also helped organise the Association Footballers’ Union and later served as its president.
Glasgow Celtic signed Bell in 1898 for an at the time incredible fee of £300 to replace James Blessington and he made his debut in August 1898 against Third Lanark. “A thrusting winger, a precision passer, a defence buster as the mood took him”. A superb dribbler and a regular goalscorer for Celtic which included a strike in the 4-3 Scottish Cup Final victory over Queens Park on 14th April 1900, that gave Bell his second winners medal as a Celtic player following the team’s triumph in the same competition the previous season. He also had the honour to have scored Celtic’s first goal of the Twentieth Century, on 1st January 1900 in a 3-2 victory over Rangers.
A notable match was against Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final in 1899. Rangers were favourites having managed a 100% record in the League. Bell was injured in the match after a crude challenge from Rangers’ notorious Nick Smith. Bell wanted off, manager Willie Maley had none of it and kept him on even though Bell had a heavily bandaged knee. Celtic then went ahead in the match 1-0. With little time left, the ball spun to Bell who kicked it with his one serviceable foot to John Hodge who scored the second goal to seal a great victory.
Having played 35 League matches and 11 Scottish Cup games with 23 goals scored in these matches, he left Celtic in the summer of 1900 to return to Merseyside with Second Division club New Brighton Tower, where he scored 9 goals in 24 appearances before returning to Everton the following year. A further 55 appearances and 12 goals followed over the next two seasons as Everton finished League Championship runners up in 1901-02, before he joined Preston North End in the 1903 close season, captaining the club and helping them to win the Second Division Championship in 1903-04 contributing 10 goals, and a similar haul helped The Lilywhites to finish runners up in the League Championship in 1905-06, his third career near miss.
He played his last game for Preston against Birmingham in January 1908, having scored 27 goals in 119 appearances, then became Preston’s manager in July 1909, remaining in the position until football was suspended due to the onset of the First World War in May 1915.