“I’ve played at Pride Park. It gives a different dimension to the occasion.” – Former Derby County player, Andi Bell ahead of Sunday’s East Midlands Derby
Andi Bell knows all too well about playing in an East Midlands Derby, having played for both Nottingham Forest and Derby during her playing career.
Ahead of Sunday’s game at Pride Park, Bell spoke on her time at both clubs, playing with, against and under Sam Griffiths, and what playing at the men’s grounds can give you.
From Hartlepool, Bell started her senior career at Middlesbrough, before playing for Blackburn Rovers while studying Sports Science at Liverpool John Moores University.
Bell said: “When I first started playing you had to pay to play, and the games would be played on really poor surfaces.”
“It really is night and day between then and now and a lot of people have paved the way for women’s people and now I think it’s getting it’s just desserts.”
After completing her degree, Bell joined Nottingham Forest where she would go on to spend nearly a decade playing.
Bell explained: “I played for Forest for almost 10 years at a time when there wasn’t a Super League but what was known as the National Premier League so the highest level available, and I’d say I played at a time when it was a really successful period for the club.”
She continued: “I’ve got mostly good memories of my time with Forest; we had a lot of success while I was there. Obviously, we had not so good times, for example relegation, but overall, it was really enjoyable. With success brings enjoyment.”
Following her smashing stint with The Reds, where she had earned legendary status, Bell joined the Ewes Rams at the latter end of her career.
“Derby came in for me and I had three good seasons with the club. I know there’s a huge rivalry but Derby were really welcoming and respectful, and think in terms of the club they are absolutely fantastic”, said Bell.
Bell added: “I still speak to people at the club now and they support me from afar with what I’m doing now.”
Now the manager of Mansfield Town Ladies, Bell guided The Stags to the County Cup Final after beating Nottingham Forest Reserves in the Semi-Final on Sunday.
“I initially joined Mansfield on a player/coach role but when the manager at the time left, I became the manager.
“It’s very hard work but I really enjoy it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. It’s not as good as playing but sometimes I do still get out on the pitch every now and then!”
Derby County Women manager, Sam Griffiths is an individual Andi Bell knows well and she was full of praise for the Ewes Rams boss.
Bell explained: “I played under Sam in my final season at Derby. I really enjoyed it. She is obviously a wealth of knowledge in terms of coaching and management. I think she’s been a good influence for me, and I have huge respect for her and what she’s achieved.
“She’s one of the most complete female coaches and it was great to learn off her and I still lean on her now.”
Like Bell, Griffiths knows this fixture well having played for both clubs too and managing Derby to a 1-0 victory at Pride Park last season against their fierce rivals.
Bell said: “I actually played with her at Forest, and at times against her when she was at Derby, so I’ve known Sam for a long time.”
Ahead of Sunday’s clash at Pride Park, Bell reminisced on what it was like to play in an East Midlands Derby: “It’s always a good fixture and usually a tight game.
“With it being a rivalry there is usually a lot riding on it and I think everyone will be going out to give a full-blooded performance, and rightly so.”
The former Derby striker added: “I scored [in an East Midlands derby] but to be fair I did play in quite a few! But I do know the feeling of scoring in one.”
Every fan at Sunday’s game counts and there is still time to get your ticket. Bell has experienced playing in front of a good crowd on more than one occasion.
Bell explained: “I’ve played at the City Ground, Pride Park, Ewood Park, and the Bet365 Stadium.
“It gives a different dimension to the occasion because you get all the facilities, the changing rooms and the quality of the pitches. I also think just having the fans [at the men’s grounds] has been brilliant for the women’s game, and hopefully that trend can continue on Sunday.”
Tickets remain on sale for the East Midlands Derby against Nottingham Forest at Pride Park on Sunday, March 26th (2pm Kick-Off). Visit dcfc.co.uk to purchase your ticket.