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Emotional Stephen Bell is so proud of history-making family

By Graham Luney

Stephen Bell began his emotional journey at Crusaders as a teenager, joining the club's committee at the age of 18.

Set to turn 51 next week, he's seen it all - the glory and the horror - historic success and near liquidation.

"I live beside the ground and it's just a way of life," he says with a grin that comes only when your club wins back to back titles. "I stopped playing football at the age of 16 and then decided to help Crusaders."

Now the club's chairman, he'll be smack bang in the middle of the celebrations but also never forgets the painful road the club has travelled.

"I always remember where we were 10 years ago and the memories flood back to me when we were fighting for survival," says Bell. "I do get emotional and that comes from knowing the pressures we had. We were close to folding at one stage and you can't help but reflect on the history of the club and what it means to all of us.

"Cliftonville achieved this feat but we were ambitious too. Everyone involved at the club deserves immense credit, including the volunteers. I take my hat off to those people whether they are stewards or turnstyle operators.

"Everybody has put their hands in their pockets to help us out and get us over the line. It's not a one-man show, this is a fan- owned business that is thriving."

Crusaders have secured a Champions League qualifying spot, generating another major financial boost and Bell added: "We have based our team on European football and hopefully we can progress through a few rounds as well. We won't be in Europe just to make up the numbers."

The Crues have ambitious plans to remain at the top of the domestic game. Director Mark Langhammer said: "These are tumultuous times at Seaview. Praise and credit should go where it belongs - to Stephen, his backroom team and particularly the players.

"They have done the club proud. Behind the scenes we have a busy summer ahead - re-laying a new artificial surface, renovating the Crusaders Social Club as an education centre, gym and ticket office, and planning for the anticipated Autumn Stadia Funding call through DCAL.

"A decision of Antrim and Newtownabbey Council is due on Monday for an interim Phase 1 development of a training complex at Threemilewater (Monkstown)."

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