Duncan Bell, The past, present and future

As manyof you will already know Duncan Bell announced his decision to retire this week. However the real shock came when he openly talked about his depression and how it has affected him over the years. After a manic week Duncan Bell kindly took the time out to chat with The Rugby Diary about times gone by and everything that is yet to come!

The Interview

As the rugby world has recently learned, you are to retire at the end of this season. What has been your favourite memory of your playing career?

Well unfortunately for you, I must say it is without doubt when we played Leicester in a Heineken Cup quarter final game at the Walker Stadium. We were under the cosh for ages, and even down to 13 for last part of the game. We were there as underdogs and everything was going against us, but somehow we turned the game around and won and ended up in a European Cup semi-final game.

Being an underdog always makes victory that much sweeter. The banter in rugby has always been one of its biggest draws for me as well as what goes on the pitch. What’s the best prank that you’ve seen played on someone off the field?

It has got to be when Michael Foley (Foles) was our forwards coach. He hated the lads playing golf on their days off and would always quiz us when we got back to training if we had been out playing. Of course to avoid trouble we would always deny it. One day I was out playing golf on my day off with David Barnes and when we were finishing up I got a text off Foles asking if I was playing golf. I replied straight away denying everything and thought I was in the clear. Later that night I got another text from him saying he knew I’d been playing and to come him and see him at 7am the next day (my day off) for a meeting. I wasshitting myself as he wasn’t a bloke you’d mess with. I got there early and Foles was late when he came in he was really cheery and asking me about what I’d been doing I played dumb and followed him up to the analysis room. After about another ten minutes Foles asked me what I was doing there so I said well I got your text and came in for the meeting. Straight away he was like mate I haven’t text you so I got him to ring my phone, straight away it flashed up with David Barnes. The little bastard had been into my phone and swopped his name with Foles’ and set the whole thing up. Put it this way I didn’t leave my phone unattended around him again!

It seems like you’ve had some great times at Bath and it’s a club you’ve devoted virtually your entire career too. Lots of players now are heading overseas for more money at the end of their career. What made it a club you wanted to stay at and did you ever have any temptation to move?

Bath has really been the only club that I could see myself playing for. I am a Bath boy through and through, and it may sound cheesy but I really have never wanted to play anywhere else. I have turned down an offer to go somewhere else but moving has never been something I’ve actively pursued. I’ve also been lucky enough that Bath have kept me on. The sport now is more of a career choice which is why there is an influx of players moving abroad, especially at the end of their playing days to earn as much as possible; rugby now is a viable career. When I was just starting out the game was amateur and you had to have a back-up plan for when you finished. The game is benefiting from the professional era in that it’s a lot better to watch, but the old school players who stay at a club for their whole career just aren’t around as much.

The game is changing especially with the fact it’s a lot more results driven. We can say that this hasn’t been a great season for Bath and there is set to be a big shake up with regard to the coaching staff in particular. This must affect the players, and there is an argument out there that it could have, and should have, been handled better. What do you think?

There is certainly unrest at the club. When your friends and people around are losing their jobs, it puts the pressure on and of course it shows; it really does upset people. Could it have been handled better? Yes of course it could. But going back to my previous point it’s very much a professional game now and it’s driven on results. The owner has a lot of money and wants a team that wins. It’s been made very clear that it is possible to go out there and buy a winning team. Look at Ian McGeehan; he’s only been there for a year and he’s lost his job because the results just weren’t good enough. Results and winning matter now regardless of whether you are a player or a coach.

It happened at Tigers earlier this season with Richard Cockerill when he had lost over 20 players for various reasons and some fans were calling for his head. This has become a part of the game, but it isn’t a direction we want to move in.

A lot of these problems come from social media one person says something a few agree and before you know it’s snowballed. It’s also very easy to be a keyboard warrior, when people very rarely know all the facts of any situation, be it on the field or off it. There is a lot more pressure on players and coaches now because of the access these people have and it makes it very tough.

Social media can provide messages of support too, such as when you announced your retirement were you expecting the reaction that you got?

I can honestly say I wasn’t. I was almost dreading some of the comments as it could have easily backfired on me. Hand on heart I can say I haven’t had one bad message which did take me by surprise. The support has been overwhelming and it really does mean a lot.

What made you decide to be so open about the depression aspect of your career and reasons to retire?

I really wasn’t going to talk about it publically. I was going to do some work with The RPA (Rugby Players’ Association) and a piece to camera for them and leave it at that. But it was my teammate, David Flatman, who really spurred me on to talk about it openly. I knew that once I had done my piece to the RPA, my mates would know and from that it would become public knowledge. I just hope it encourages more people to talk openly about what is a taboo subject not just in rugby, but in all walks of life. Blokes are especially bad but the way I’ve come to see it now is that you can’t perform at the top of your game if your body isn’t 100% and your brain is no different.

You’ve cited that the breakdown of your marriage was one of the major triggers for your depression. How do you think retirement is going to affect things?

Without doubt retirement is going to make it very tough. But luckily I’ve learnt to embrace it and know the signs to look out for. Clearly I’m never going to know exactly what is around the corner but I am much more prepared for the warning signs than others might be which is why we need to speak about these things for. I am acutely aware that it is going to be a very tough time but I am more than prepared.

Obviously retiring means a lot more time on your own. What are the things you will miss most from your rugby career?

Obviously the actual rugby is going to be a huge part of it. It’s a game I’ve played since I was nine. But I will seriously miss all of the boys, especially David Barnes and David Flatman, but we all seriously do get on very well. The banter and not being around 30 of your mates every day is going to be very different. Anyone who retires will find it tough but especially after a long career. The longer it is the harder it is. I wanted to make sure I finished before I became player I didn’t recognise as well. I knew when I signed my last contract two years ago it was going to be my last one and I’ve stuck to that. The timing has to be right and I know even now I’m not the player I was. I can’t remember the last game I played when my ankles and knees didn’t hurt throughout it.

Well I think you’ve done that very well and at least you’ve still got your hair!

Yes, it’s grey but there is plenty of it.

You have won five caps for England and we all know it should have been more, but who are you tipping to be the next big thing for England?

Kyle Eastmond at Bath is unreal. He hasn’t played much this season but from what I have seen on him he will be the next Jason Robinson, he is that good. I have played with Robinson at Sale and I would argue that this guy’s passing and distribution is even better than his! Certainly one to watch.

Speaking of new guys, what are your opinions on Lancaster and his England appointment?

He’s not necessarily a popular choice before this Six Nations; not many people would have heard of him. I have been coached by him at Saxons and he is one of those guys you just instantly know is a good coach. It is a shame about Farrell but I am sure he will be fine at Saracens. It’s great to see they’ve appointed from within the ranks and it’s great to see an English guy still doing the job. The other candidates were all good but I think this was the right choice.

So now rugby is pretty much done for you, what do you intend to do now?

Well starting on the 7th of May I will be running my own business in financial services and as a mortgage advisor. It’s called Bell Financial Services http://www.bellfinancialservices.co.uk/ I know it’s going to be pretty tough, but if I can get the right clients and network well then I hope I can make a go of it.

So guys and girls, massive thanks to Duncan for taking the time to speak with The Rugby Diary. We all wish you the best in your career in the future and keep us posted!

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