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I faced Steven Gerrard in a friendly and he chopped my team down like a chainsaw… I feared we’d need four ambulances

LEE BELL remembers the day he thought Crewe Alexandra would need FOUR ambulances on standby because of an angry Steven Gerrard.

The Railwaymen boss was in the team during a pre-season friendly at Gresty Road against Liverpool while Gerrard was getting dog’s abuse for flirting with a move away from Anfield.

Lee Bell is working wonders in League Two with Crewe

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Lee Bell is working wonders in League Two with Crewe
The talented boss still remembers going up against Steven Gerrard on the pitch

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The talented boss still remembers going up against Steven Gerrard on the pitchCredit: AFP

He said: “There were rumour that Gerrard was leaving not long after Rafa Benitez came in as manager.

“Stevie G had a face like thunder on him and he went around like a chainsaw — chopping people down and was in bad mood. I thought, ‘How can this guy not be in Rafa’s plans?’

“I thought we were going to need four ambulances that day!”

But he is getting success at Crewe by putting himself into the PlayStation 5 age.

Despite having the third LOWEST budget in League Two, the Railwaymen host Morecambe on Saturday sitting third in the table.

And anyone who says you cannot win anything with kids should tell that to the Crewe boss who has his young team challenging for promotion.

The 41-year-old former Crewe, Burton, Mansfield and Macclesfield midfielder says the key to his early managerial success has been his ability to put himself into the young man’s world. 

He told SunSport: “I’m still playing the Master System and have to get my 14-year-old son to fix the TV and wifi when it breaks.

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“Neil Baker, who was an assistant here for years, once told me, ‘You’ve got to get into their world, they’re not going to get into yours.’

“He said, ‘You’ve had a different upbringing to them. Look at your son, he doesn’t live in a council house like you did and he sees his dad all the time.’

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“So it’s important to do a lot of listening and understanding — find out how they are, what family they’ve got, what needs they have. 

“You want to create a good group so you need to learn about the dynamics of the individuals.

“I sound ancient but you look at football boots now and think, ‘Wow, they’re different to what I remember.’

“But my son Noah, who is in our academy, plays his music in the car while I’m driving. So when one of our players puts on a song in the changing room, I can comment on it.

“It’s a small example of getting into their world rather than forcing them into yours.”

Bell has quickly been gaining a reputation as one of the brightest young coaches in the EFL.

His love affair with the Railwaymen goes back to when he started as a youth player aged 12 — going on to make 148 appearances in two spells.

Bell was in a Crewe team that included the likes of Dean Ashton, Rob Hulse, David Vaughan, Dave Brammer and club legend Kenny Lunt.

The Alex boss laughed: “The day before I made my debut, the manager Dario Gradi told me during shooting practice, ‘If you hit the target, you’re in the squad tomorrow.’ So I pee-rolled a shot straight at the keeper and I came on for the last 20 minutes against Northampton!”

But while Bell was loving life as a pro, he quickly recognised he needed to add strings to his bow for the day he retired.

Bell has taken Crewe to third in the table despite their modest budget

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Bell has taken Crewe to third in the table despite their modest budget
Bell talked exclusively to SunSport's man Justin Allen

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Bell talked exclusively to SunSport’s man Justin Allen

And through current England assistant manager Steve Holland, who was on the Crewe staff, he started working on his coaching badges.

Bell is passionate about educating young footballers about the importance of having a career mapped out for life after playing.

He said: “I believe the support network needs to be better for lower-league footballers — especially when they’re getting into their mid-20s.

“When we sign a player and give them a tour of the training ground, I show them our classroom. I say, ‘Use this room, think about what you want to do after playing.’

“We’ve got a few players who’re doing degrees now. Conor Thomas, who is now 30 for example, is doing coaching and a masters degree.

“There’s a pool of four or five lads who are going to start doing their UEFA B license at the club.

“Some footballers retire in their early 30s and don’t know what to do with their lives. We need to do more to address this problem.

“Footballers largely come from a working-class background so people who I played with or against have gone into the building trade.

“I’d have gone into bricklaying or something had I not become a coach.

“But there’s so much scope for players to continue in football — with the experience they have. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at a club, it could be working for the PFA or another organisation.

It’s a win-win for everyone — we get good young talent and top clubs get their players exposed to competitive League football.

Lee Bell

“You also must look at the mental health of footballers who retire because they have families.

“The divorce rate is so high among ex footballers.

It’s the largest of any industry — around 60 percent of marriages fail after retirement.

“Unless you’ve done it, it’s hard to explain what it’s like to be around a bunch of people every day getting paid to do something you love and then for it to suddenly stop overnight, like it did for me because of injury.

“Luckily, I recognised aged 24 that you don’t earn life-changing money outside the top divisions, you’re on short-term one-year, two-year contracts, so I started my coaching badges.”

Crewe have for decades had a superb reputation of developing young talent — and because of that Premier League and Championship clubs are happy to loan some of theirs to learn their trade at the Mornflake Stadium.

Among Bell’s kids is 20-year-old Liverpool keeper Harvey Davies, the fantastically-named Brighton defender Ed Turns, 21, and Huddersfield midfielder Josh Austerfield, 22.

And the Alex boss said: “The minutes that loan players get here is excellent.

“Ultimately Liverpool, Brighton and Huddersfield have given us players not because they care about Crewe but how their players are going to develop. They want to know what we’re doing for them.

“Because we play them, we get that trust. Brighton last season gave us James Beadle and now they’ve given us Ed. It’s a win-win for everyone — we get good young talent and they get their players exposed to competitive League football.”

Bell has been a coach now for nine years — working with the under-18s and under-23s before becoming assistant boss and then in November 2022 the manager.

He said: “I’m ambitious and want the club to be moving forward. I want to achieve something and for my managerial career to be better than my playing career.”

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