Connor Bell is currently focussed on helping his local side South Shields achieve promotion from the Northern Premier League but two seasons ago, he was playing football away from his homeland.
Having spent time with Rotherham United in his youth days, Bell finished his footballing education with Wrexham before having a successful spell on loan in the Welsh Premier League with Rhyl during the 2015/16 season. However, injuries would halt his progress and left him contemplating his future in the summer of 2016. A Welsh coach abroad would eventually offer the young forward a new opportunity in Switzerland.
Bell would spend the 2016/17 season with Servette, mostly playing for their under-21 side who compete in the fifth-tier of Swiss football. With the U21s, he scored six times in 16 matches as his side finished third in the league behind two senior sides.
After a season, he returned to Britain to play for Inverness Caledonian Thistle where he scored six times in the Scottish Championship last year. At the start of this season, the 22-year-old joined Greenock Morton before returning across the border recently to join South Shields for their promotion run-in.
I caught up with Connor to ask him a few questions about his time in Switzerland.
English Players Abroad: How did the move to Switzerland come about and what convinced you to make the move?
Connor Bell: I’d been at Wrexham and doing well and there was a Welsh coach out there called Adam Owen [later managed in Poland with Lechia Gdańsk] who also works for Wales who said there might be an opportunity. I’d just had back-to-back knee operations so I was a bit disillusioned with football at the time and I jumped at the opportunity to go over there and start fresh in a new country.
EPA: How did you settle in Switzerland? Did you enjoy living there?
I loved my time living there, I was in Geneva which is one of the best cities in the world and very multicultural so I settled in very quickly and remains the best experience of my life so far living over there.
EPA: What was the standard of football like in the fifth-tier or Swiss football? Was it a different style than you were used to?
We were playing against men’s teams so it was a great test against some good teams and we had regularly had games against top tier under-21 sides like Young Boys and Zurich. The style was a lot more technical and the build up a lot slower than what I was used to in the UK. It took a while to adapt but I fitted in well.
EPA: Did you get a chance to train with the first team much?
I was on the fringes of the first team with the manager at the time Anthony Braizat and travelled to a few games but didn’t manage to make an appearance. In the winter break he said I’d be part of his plans second half of the season after impressing but unfortunately he was sacked during the break and a new manager came in.
I was regularly involved in training with the first team and travelling to games, the main striker that season was Jean Pierre NSame who scored 20 odd goals and got a move to Young Boys off the back of that season. He also won player of the year so I couldn’t have any arguments.
EPA: Would you have liked to have stayed in Switzerland for longer?
As much as I enjoyed my time when the opportunity came about from inverness I couldn’t turn it down. There was a chance to stay in Switzerland but they couldn’t guarantee me first team football, which I think I needed at the time, so I made the decision to move to Inverness which resulted in me having my best season as a pro to date.
EPA: Finally, what are your ambitions for the future? Would you like to play abroad again?
I would never rule out moving back abroad as I loved my time out there, I’ve had some injury problems this season at my club in Scotland so I’m currently back home playing for a local side with massive ambition. So I will see what the summer holds.