A gifted Burnley Ladies footballer will soon be flying across the Atlantic to further her sporting career.
Eighteen-year-old Natalie Bell, Nat to her friends, has won herself a much-coveted four-year footballing scholarship in North Carolina, USA, where she will play for Queens Soccer in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II.
Nat described what will be involved: “I will train three times per day and play two matches each week, while also studying for a psychology degree. If my team, Queens Soccer, finish in the top two of the league, we will progress onto the conference, which will involve playing against the winners of other divisions in North Carolina.”
Nat started playing football aged six when she joined the Burnley Ladies Under 8s squad.
At the time she was too young to play in the team, so only participated in the training sessions.
Subsequently, she has represented Burnley at a range of ages and Lancashire at both Under 14 and Under 16 levels.
The high point in her football career to date was reaching the national final with Lancashire and playing at Norwich City’s Carrow Road, a match that, regrettably, they lost to Essex – an experience that constitutes her lowest moment so far in the game.
This season she has appeared regularly with Burnley Ladies first team, her combination of trickery and a cultured left foot routinely posing problems for opposition defenders.
When asked who has been the greatest influence on her football life, Nat does not hesitate: “My dad Steve has been the assistant manager for almost my whole time at Burnley.
“He has been very supportive in the decisions I’ve made and has always pushed me to take risks and try new things – for example, to trial for Lancashire; something I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do without him, as I didn’t think I had a chance of getting in the squad.”
Nat is a modest young woman, so she requires coaxing to identify her strengths as a footballer, but with a bit of prompting she is able to acknowledge that she is more than half decent at crossing, shooting and dribbling.
Those who have watched Burnley Ladies this season will have witnessed these skills as she repeatedly skips down the flank before lashing the ball into the box with her left foot.
By way of contrast she openly admits that her tackling and defensive nous are not her strong points.
How did she feel when she first heard that she had won the scholarship?: “Overwhelmed and nervous by the thought of living away from home for four years, but extremely excited by the opportunity.
“I’m relishing the prospect of experiencing a different type of lifestyle, while a bit apprehensive as I’ve never lived away from my family for a long period of time before.”
And what does she hope to achieve from her stay in the USA?: ‘I’m aiming to develop into a better footballer and hopefully be able to take my career to the next level, perhaps ultimately gaining the opportunity to play for a professional club either in England or America – as well as returning with a psychology degree!”
Nat, a current Burnley College student, will fly out to America on August 10th and will be based there until August 2020.
Gary Sidley of Burnley Ladies said: “I’m confident that I speak on behalf of her friends and everyone involved with Burnley Ladies football club in wishing this popular young woman success in both her sporting and academic endeavours.”
Natalie is still pulling on the claret and blue shirt ahead of her switch, claiming two assists in Burnley Ladies’ 8-0 win against Curzon Ashton.