Crewe Alex: Mission accomplished as Bell ends Alex career on Wembley high
IT will be 10 years in August when Lee Bell made his first senior Crewe appearance, and the midfielder is gutted he won't be around for the anniversary.
In fact, Bell first joined up with the Railwaymen as a 12-year-old Alsager School pupil ... still a relative "late starter" in Alex terms, he suggests.
He has been there ever since, still coaching in the Alex academy while he spent three years away playing for Mansfield and Macclesfield.
And regardless of what he has achieved on the pitch, he could be classed an Alex hero for helping bring through star youngsters Nick Powell, Max Clayton, Harry Davis and Kelvin Mellor.
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Bell was understandably devastated when told his contract would not be renewed on Monday, via a phone call from assistant manager Neil Baker.
But the 29-year-old could not have chosen a better way to bow out than helping the club secure promotion in the League Two play-off final at Wembley on Sunday.
He said: "When I decided to rejoin Crewe in 2010 it was to help the club get out of League Two, and it was a great way to do it.
"I would have liked to have played more, but the way the boys have performed in central midfield has been fantastic.
"It was a dream to get promoted. Even though I played less than a minute at Wembley, it was still a brilliant day."
Bell started out as a goalkeeper with Alsager Celtic, but his form when he moved outfield saw him join Crewe in 1995. He signed schoolboy terms two years later on the same day as Wales international David Vaughan.
He was still in the youth team in January 2001 when he had a training ground bust-up with Colin Cramb which led to the Scottish forward's swift departure to Fortuna Sittard. Bell stayed though, scoring a memorable goal against Colchester when he broke into the first team at the start of 2002/3 and helping win promotion from Division Two.
But he could not hold down a place in the Championship and had only made 61 appearances in all when he decided to try his luck elsewhere in 2007.
Following a short spell at Burton Albion he signed for Mansfield, where he endured a relegation out of the Football League.
He then quit for Macclesfield and made almost 50 appearances in his first term before winning the club's player-of-the-year gong in his second season.
A new contract was on the table, but he instead opted for another go at Crewe, where he was brought in as a replacement for James Bailey, who had left for Derby County.
"I was coaching in the youth team so I never really left, but I have matured a little over time," said Bell.
"In a way it has been similar to my first spell in that there have been very good players fighting for a spot in midfield. Ashley Westwood and Luke Murphy have been superb.
"I've got some good memories, and I had hoped I would add some more now the club is in League One. That's not to be, but I wish them all the best."
Bell has made 148 Crewe appearances in total, scoring five goals, and may still continue his association with the club by coaching the juniors.
He said: "I have loved my coaching and that's where I see my long-term future.
"It has been amazing coaching lads like Max, Nick, Harry and Kelvin and then actually playing alongside them.
"I'm not sure at the moment if I'm going to be able to continue, but my fingers are crossed. We'll see."