The gradual feeling with Duncan Bell had been that retirement might not be too far off for the Bath stalwart. As the years have worn on, Bell’s impact has come more from the bench that in the first hit of the first scrum, yet his resolve, good humour and overall dedication not just to his club, but to his sport, has never been in doubt.
Bell admitted in an interview with The Daily Telegraph yesterday that he has battled against the illness of depression for years, rarely giving any glimpses of the demons he was battling beneath surface. These came only in close contact with fellow colleagues; breaking down after an argument with then England captain Pat Sanderson, a passing observation from the Bath doctor after England’s 2009 test matches, and finally in recent weeks despite years of shredding sweat and flesh alongside him, to close friend David Flatman.
In a season when sport has lost Gary Speed and Selorm Kuadey, Bell’s admission, whilst at first surprising more importantly comes as a relief. To have the courage he has shown to come forward and admits his problems, will no doubt at first have seemed a hugely daunting challenge for the former England prop, but now hopefully Bell will feel a sense of comfort in knowing that he is not alone. Around 1 in 10 men suffer serious depression during their lifetime, meaning that there is a strong chance that somewhere in European Rugby there are others in need of help.
That, for Bell and for Rugby now, should be the next objective. The prop faces his own individual objectives over the coming months, when he will retire from the sport that he has given everything to since the age of 19. As he makes the transition from the playing field into his mortgage business with his four children to support, no one knows how Bell will handle the next few months, including himself. What he does know is that if the worst does happen, the rugby community will be there to offer him support, not in the shape of the anti-depressant pills he described as “deadening his soul”, but with plenty of heart and open arms.
Damian Hopley has made clear that in light of Bell’s announcement, the RPA will do everything they can to help Bell and any others who come forward. The hope is that if there are any more players suffering from this illness, that Bell’s courage will inspire them to make it known. After the tragedies of the last 12 months, you can only hope that they make themselves heard.
by Ben Coles