Stranraer midfielder Steven Bell notched his first goal of the season when the Blues drew at Stirling Albion last weekend and the strike nicely marked his return from a six-month injury absence.
For Bell, it was the second lengthy spell out of football and when you consider his first absence was for nearly three years you recognise why his goal is an important milestone in his career.
He was rejected by Dundee United as a kid and had a similar experience at Queen of the South before being reborn at Stirling, where his form was good enough to earn a return to full-time football with Dunfermline aged 23.
However, just as the Pars were shaping up as a top-flight side, Bell suffered a snapped Achilles tendon in November 2010 and his career was put on hold.
The now-29-year-old recalled: “Dunfermline won the First Division and while the rest of the boys were looking forward to playing in the Premier League, I knew that I was not going to be part of it.
“I was 25 years old and my career was swept away from me. I was playing my best football, playing at a full-time club, playing with good players and it was gone. I had also just become a dad and due to the injury I could not even get up to play with my boy. It was hard emotionally. Then my contract started running out and I began to wonder where the next wage was coming from.”
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Bell added: “I received a league winner’s medal, and thankfully not a sympathetic one, as I had contributed a lot during the first four months. It was a really tough time, though, but I am the type of person that hates giving something up so I had to come back.” The comeback happened last November at Stranraer after Bell had played alongside Stair Park manager Stephen Aitken in a bounce game and had impressed him so much that he was invited into training despite his near-36-month break.
Bell said: “I love the game and that helped drive me back. The people at Stranraer have been brilliant and let me manage my fitness. If I don’t feel like training they will work around that.
“Last season I played in 21 games and helped Stranraer move into the play-offs. I never felt my tendon once. Mind you, the one that caused me problems has been removed and my ankle linked up to another one.”
Bell’s recovery had sparked talk of an emotional return to the Fife side, but the public sparring ahead of the sides facing each other in the promotion play-offs brought that to an end.
“Dunfermline are a massive club and should be in the top flight,” said Bell. “But I don’t think I will ever play for them again.
“I don’t think I could manage full-time now and my relationship with Jim Jefferies is not what it was with Jim McIntyre, who was the previous manager.Before the play-offs, they had been in contact about me joining them. Jim Jefferies said one thing to me in private and then he said in the papers that I was not good enough to get into his side.
“Maybe he did it to unsettle me, but he also said something to a player about stopping me playing, which was well over the top. I also felt I owed Stranraer as they’d taken a chance with me.”
Bell, who now works for Show Racism the Red Card, added: “In the first leg of the play-off I scored the winner, so hopefully I proved a point. The second leg at East End Park was an emotional day and Stranraer recognised the importance of it and made me their captain for the game. I had my two kids watching, so when I walked out of the tunnel it made all the hard work over the three years worthwhile. I was back playing – maybe not at the top level, but a decent level.”
Dunfermline won the second meeting 3-0 and Bell felt twinges in his ankle again and, after coming through his seventh operation in four years this summer, he remains at that decent level. Bell said: “Although it is the same ankle, it is not the same injury. The Stirling game was my first start since the play-offs and I know I am lucky to have another chance.
“My career would have been finished 10-20 years ago but the knowledge about re-attaching tendons has grown a lot in that time.
“I see the bigger picture now. I am 29, have two kids and I know that if I pick up an injury that will affect me later in life I have to stop. My left leg is sore every morning, but it goes away and I can get on with things like football.”
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