Bell picked for first AFL final
Tomorrow, Shellharbour’s James Bell will line up for the Sydney Swans against cross-town rivals, the GIANTS, in an elimination final in Tasmania. It will be Bell’s first finals appearance in the AFL.
His selection was something of a surprise, with the pacy and skilful player out of the Swans’ side since Round 20, almost a month ago.
As a product of NSW, we’re thrilled for him and wanted to learn a bit more about his football journey, growing up in an area of the state not typically associated with AFL.
Quiet, but something special
Soccer and rugby league are the dominant codes in Shellharbour and surrounds during the winter months. A prodigious sportsperson, Bell represented NSW in soccer before he pulled on the boots for the Shellharbour Swans. Some say if not for discovering AFL, he would be an A-League player.
Former president of the Shellharbour Swans junior club and now president of the senior club, Shellhabour City Suns, Steve Ashworth has seen plenty of James Bell. In fact, it was Ashworth who invited Bell to play AFL for the first time, having watched him dominate other sports with Ashworth’s son, Sandon.
“He was a very good soccer player, a good short distance and long distance runner,” Ashworth recalls. He wanted to see how Bell would fare on an oval with a Sherrin, rather than a square field with a round ball.
From his first game, it was clear Bell was something out of the ordinary. As a 12-year-old, he kicked two goals on debut, the first with his left foot, the second on his right. “Even at a young age he could kick on both feet, which not a lot of players could do. He learnt the game very quickly,” said Ashworth, who still keeps in regular contact with his Bell and his family.
Former AFL employee, Dave Johnson, also knew James Bell during his formative years. He coached him during talent pathway programs when Bell was a young teenager. “He was quiet, but he stood out in the crowd of talented players. He was special.”
The recurring theme with Bell is that he is quiet, good natured and exceptionally talented. Ashworth said: “He is a respectful young man who comes from a great family. He’s one of the nicest kids I’ve met.”
Bell’s influence on Shellharbour and the NSW south coast
Even before being selected to play his first final, Bell was an inspiration to plenty of footballers on the south coast. His junior team won several grand finals as they went through the AFL South Coast ranks, leaving a winning legacy at the club.
When he returns home, he often gifts footies to his junior club and is generous with his time. Now an AFL player, Bell understands his importance to his roots and connects with the Shellharbour football community when he can. He takes his responsibility as a role model for Aboriginal players seriously and is an Indigenous Ambassador for AFL NSW/ACT alongside Jeremy Finlayson.
Steve Ashworth says just having James Bell on an AFL list is doing wonders for the region. “It’s a really good sign for our area and what we’re doing for both junior and senior clubs,” said Ashworth. “The kids have a role model like James to follow now – he’s led a pathway for others. It’s pretty exciting for the whole Illawarra and Shoalhaven area, and south coast AFL in general.”
We’re looking forward to seeing James Bell competing hard in Launceston tomorrow. He will be one of five Swans and eight GIANTS to take the field who grew up in NSW or the ACT.
Our Digital Road Trip is drawing to a close. We’ll park up somewhere cosy over the weekend and get our finals fix!