Bell: “Many players underestimate how nice it is”
The 30-year-old made his 250th competitive appearance for FSV in Bochum. We sat down with ‘Bello’ to reminisce and look towards the future.
When the line-up was announced an hour before kick-off in the season opener against VfL Bochum, Stefan Bell knew he would be in for a special match. The defender was set to make his 250th competitive appearance for 1. FSV Mainz 05. The milestone appearance puts Bell joint 16th in the club’s list of all-time record appearance makers, level with Christian Hock. The centre-back is also the longest-serving player currently in the squad. With the exception of two loan spells, the 30-year-old has been at FSV since 2007, when he joined the academy from TuS Mayen.
‘Bello,’ as everyone calls him, still remembers his professional debut for Mainz. On 1st December 2012, then head coach Thomas Tuchel subbed him on for Nicolai Müller in injury time against Hannover 96. “We were a man down after someone got sent off, and Ádám Szalai headed it in to make it 2-1. I got subbed in at defensive midfield in order to cut off any long balls. I won a free-kick and then it was over already,” Bell shared. Despite only getting a few minutes of action on his debut, it remains a treasured memory. “In the moment, it feels you’re in a movie, and you’re just doing your thing,” he explained. “You only grasp the significance of it afterwards.”
In the moment, it feels like you’re in a movie.
It was the first milestone in a career that has seen Bell become a regular starter and key player for FSV. He remembers exactly when he scored his first goal: “In a 2-2 draw against Freiburg” (Ed. Note: during the first half of the 2014/15 season), as well as his first brace in April 2015 against Schalke. “A Friday night game, that was incredible,” Bell remembers. There’s also no forgetting the first match in which he captained the side, in April 2016 against Augsburg. In the beginning, he would deputise for captain Niko Bungert whenever he was injured or didn’t start a game. Despite having taken on a role as a leader during his days with the FSV academy, Bell never naturally gravitated towards this position. “I almost feel more at ease in the background. But, I make sure that things are going well in the dressing room and have been at the club for a while,” he said. As a young player, Bell saw it as an honour to be chosen to wear the armband. “However, I also had the feeling that it sometimes distracted me. I prefer to pick my own battles, but you can’t always do that as captain,” he said.
Leaving his mark
In the modern game, it has become rare to play 250 competitive matches for the same club in the Bundesliga, the DFB-Pokal and the Europa League. But the 30-year-old believes he hasn’t missed out in any way during his time at there club. “I don’t feel like I’ve missed out. Even outside of the club, I have my whole life here. I went to school in Mainz for three years and I have built a large circle of friends here.” The fact that Bell was born relatively near by in Andernach and is chairman of his youth team FV Vilja Wehr are important factors. “Many players underestimate how nice it is to be able to look on their career and say ‘I was a one club man.’”Although going abroad in order to gain more experience and to maybe learn a new language are appealing concepts, Bell still wants to leave his mark at FSV.
Even outside of the club, I have my whole life here.
Bell has certainly left his mark at Mainz and he has forged some special memories at the club. “The brace against Schalke was something very special for me,” said Bell, who also underlines the 4-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 33 of the 2016/17 season, which secured Bundesliga safety, as a particular highlight: “That is one of the games that sticks out. It was an all or nothing affair and we went 2-0 down. There was a silence in the ground and then we all of a sudden scored four goals. But if you take the time to think about it then you could find great games from every season,” emphasised the 30-year-old, who also fondly remembers “Dortmund 2018” and “last season’s game against Leipzig.”
The 251st appearance is on its way
Bell has also seen numerous players come and go. Bo Svensson, for example, went from teammate to Coach and he has also forged friendships with many others. “I’m in regular contract with them and it’s nice that things like this last outside of your career.”
It’s nice that things like this last outside of your career.
After suffering a serious injury in the DFB-Pokal against Kaiserslautern in 2019, Bell has fought back to become a key figure in Svensson’s backline and within the team as a whole. His contract is set to run out in 2023, with Bell looking to add as many games as possible to the 250 he has been able to contest so far. Next up, will be the home game against Union Berlin (15:30 CEST, 13th August). Bell and Co. will be looking to build on the successful start to the season in Aue and Bochum. “It will be a close game, like last season,” Bell said. “Union are a solid, experienced team. Both teams will give it everything right from the start.”