Bell's never considered playing for any club but Zingari

Chris Bell with his son Spencer (9 months) at home this week. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Chris Bell with his son Spencer (9 months) at home this week. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Chris Bell will play his 243rd premier game for Zingari-Richmond tomorrow, setting a record for most premier games for one club in Dunedin. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn catches up with Bell and finds what drives him to wear the colours for so long. 

When Chris Bell got his first touch in premier rugby he might have thought it was going to be his last.

Bell, who will play a record 243rd game for Zingari-Richmond tomorrow when it takes on Taieri at Peter Johnstone Park, breaking the appearance record for most premier games with one club, came on to the field as a replacement against Alhambra-Union in 2002.

"I came off the bench and ran into [former Highlander] Filipo Levi at my first ruck. The ball came out of the ruck, I picked it up and ran straight into him. He sent me straight backwards and down. That was a pretty tough introduction to premier rugby," Bell said.

Bell, who went to Otago Boys' High School but never made the first XV, went on to clock up the games for Zingari-Richmond and once played more than 140 games in a row.

He had no affiliation with Zingari-Richmond when he left school but migrated up to Montecillo.

"I had a bit of a look at Alhambra-Union but went up to Zingari as I knew a few guys up there. And they were really welcoming and friendly to me. They're still like that now. They don't care who you are, who you play for. They're just friendly.

"I've made some great mates over the time and had some great times.

"I just love the game. You have a good time. Get to hang around with your mates and everyone. It's like your family. You spend time with them in the trenches. Go through the hard times and then there are the good times."

Highlights include playing his 200th game in the Grace Mills Memorial Trophy match and beating Alhambra-Union as well as being part of a side which defeated University to end the club's 33-match losing streak.

"It's still fun for me. That is why I still play. I have fun out there. Give the referee a bit of lip, all in good nature, of course. I'm getting a bit older and slower, of course, so I can't always get to where I should be but I suppose I know how to cheat more."

The No8, who has worn headgear in every game he has played, has scored about 80 tries in his career, although he has scored only twice this season.

This year Zingari-Richmond has recorded just one win but Bell said he never got down about ending up on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

"That is just life at Zingari at the moment. You always go out to win the game. We won one game at the start of the season and at the end of last season I thought we won something like five out of our last six games. We were trucking along all right but we lost a few players, guys went overseas.

"But it is still fun. You get out there and get into the battle and do as well as you can. It is still enjoyable."

He has won about 80 games all up in the 242 games and said he had never once thought about chasing success at another club.

"Never. I've never thought about it. This is my club and I'll retire at Zingari."

The game had got a lot more technical.

"You used to have just one coach. Now you have a coach for a lot more things. A scrum coach, a defence coach, a kicking coach. It just seems a lot more technical. But no-one teaches you about passion and pride that can get you over the line."

Players had got younger over the years.

"A lot more of them are coming straight out of school. They're faster, stronger and fitter. They're all out to make a name for themselves. And there is plenty of opportunities now, to make money from rugby all around the world."

Bell, who is married to Anna and has a 9-month-old son, Spencer, has no special thoughts about tomorrow's game and just wants to get on with it.

"It is going to happen. It is just a game. I'd much rather we played well and bagged a win rather than going on about the milestone."

Bell (33) said he hoped to be back next year, and was hoping to be still playing when Spencer got to watch and remember his dad.

 

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