Laurie Bell became one of the most expensive 12-year-olds in British football history when Manchester City signed him from Stockport County, but he had to wait a decade and move 4,000 miles away to make his professional debut
In the dressing room of a baseball stadium in the American South, I fiddled with orange shinpad tape, yanked my heels to my buttocks to stretch already-limber quadricep muscles, and tap-danced impatiently on plastic studded football boots. Ten more debutants in creaseless kits waited in line. A dipping Oklahoma sun peeked inside the tunnel, beckoning. When the referees eventually signalled that it was time, we marched out. First on red clay, then green grass, then across the straight white lines of a freshly painted football pitch. In the stands, 8,000 soccer rookies rose to their feet, waved homemade flags, and glugged half-price cans of Modelo beer. Up in the posh seats, the clubs hierarchy were given a first tangible taste of a team that had been two years in the making.
It was a momentous walk for all of us: the first action on the first night in Tulsa Roughnecks history. For me, it proved the last, improbable leg of a 14-year journey that had transported me 4,000 miles from my English home. At 22 years old, after a sequence of rejection and lateral footballing progress, my professional debut had finally arrived.
Men in military uniforms trumpeted out a national anthem. For a moment, a reverential hush cloaked the excitement for soccer pulsing through this old oil city. Stood by the halfway line where short stops might field on baseball-playing days I considered how we all arrived here. How had this brand new team leapt into existence? What did this crowd expect? Was our flung-together squad any good? Whats that centre-backs name again? And, of all the football clubs in all the world, how the hell had I ended up in Tulsa, Oklahoma?
This wasnt English football. This hadnt been the plan.