As anticipation builds for Wasps’ long-awaited league-opener at Ricoh Arena, this weekend’s home game against London Irish is a reminder for one of the Club’s major figures of the last time that he pulled on the famous Black and Gold.
Chris Bell was Wasps’ vice-captain for the first ever league game against London Irish at Ricoh Arena in December 2014 to a 28,000-strong crowd – but in a cruel twist of fate – the first 13 minutes of the 48-16 victory would not only spell the end of his time on Ricoh Arena’s hallowed turf, but it would go on to end his 14-year career as a rugby player.
Bell, now 36, is still at the Club but in a commercial role as Wasps’ Head of Partnerships after Club Owner Derek Richardson and Chairman Nick Eastwood offered him an initial role focusing on helping first-team players with their off-field development.
And nearly five years on from his last professional game, Bell said the memories of the day will stick with him forever, although he was only on the pitch for a short amount of time.
“Running out to 28,000 people inside a beautiful arena was a truly surreal experience – it will never leave me,” said Bell.
“One week we were playing at Adams Park and then all of a sudden we were playing at The Ricoh – all of the build-up to the game is a blur now, but I remember it being an incredibly emotional and exciting occasion and seeing a lot of players with wide eyes.”
That excitement soon waned for Bell – who captained Wasps back into the top flight of Europe after a three-year absence in 2013/14 – and he can still sharply recall the moment his career took a new path.
“I went in for a tackle within the first five minutes of the game and I couldn’t really feel my arm afterwards,” said Bell.
“I thought nothing of it at first until I threw the ball to Andrea Masi and it landed at his feet – my passing wasn’t much cop anyway, but that was when I knew something wasn’t right and I had to come off!
“I spent the rest of the game sat on the bench and I wasn’t great company to be around – and it wasn’t until a few months later that I realised I would have to take the difficult decision to retire because of a shoulder injury.
“It was obviously difficult to take at the time but when I look back now, I had an enjoyable playing career, and the Club is still a massive part of my life, as is Ricoh Arena where I am based nearly every day.
“After retiring I was planning to pursue a career as an insurance broker in London, but Derek and Nick tempted me into staying at the Club and working with the players to help them identify career opportunities for life after rugby.
“Alongside this I now work in the commercial world and drive a lot of the new and existing partnerships that the Club has with big brands – it’s a very different world and is less painful than playing rugby, but the discipline and ability to work as a team on the rugby pitch has helped me to make a smooth transition over the past five years.”
Despite this, Bell still gets his rugby fix at the weekend, and is backing Wasps to have a strong season.
He added: “This bunch of players stand a brilliant chance of having a good season.
“Dan Robson and Thomas Young have come into their own and are two key players and are great leaders, while Zach Kibirige has been impressive and is one to watch. He really gets people off their seats with his pace.
“I know a lot of people are excited by the prospect of seeing Malakai Fekitoa and Lima Sopoaga playing together – and I’m looking forward to seeing that partnership develop in a Wasps shirt.
“This weekend’s game against London Irish won’t be as physically draining for me, but as a former player, I’ll be playing every minute with the team.”
To get tickets to Sunday's game v London Irish, click the link below or call 02476 786411.