As he grew up in England, Andrew Bell's vision of America was shaped by what he saw on TV and in the movies. He saw another side of the American dream when he arrived in the United States in 1996 and took his first job, driving a cab for North Area Taxi in North Charleston.
"Working that job, you get to see what life is like for many people in this country," Bell said. "It's a hard job, and you are mostly driving people who don't have enough money for their own car. A very small part of it is driving people to restaurants downtown or home from bars at night. I enjoyed it. I had to work really hard, but it was rewarding for me in so many ways."
Since then, Bell's life has unfolded like one of those American movies.
From expatriate taxi driver, the 42-year-old Bell has risen to become president of a professional sports team, the Charleston Battery of USL Pro.
The kid who grew up in Reading, England, and accompanied his dad to storied Elm Park to root on the Royals of Reading FC is now, in many ways, the voice and face of soccer in Charleston.
"It's been amazing, really, coming to America," said Bell, who has been the Battery's radio play-by-play man since 1999 and the club's president since 2007. "I wouldn't have had any idea when I came here that it would turn out this way. But it just goes to show you - people say in America you can do anything, and it's true."
During the ongoing World Cup, Bell has been the go-to voice of soccer expertise in the Lowcountry as well as an avid viewer, watching the games of his beloved England at the Three Lions Club pub at the Battery's Blackbaud Stadium.
"He's well respected in the league and has a strong involvement in the local sports community," said Battery owner and Blackbaud founder Tony Bakker. "Andrew has been a fine ambassador for the Charleston Battery these past 15 years."
A career in American soccer, of all things, was beyond the imagination of the U.K. kid who went to the University of Bradford in West Yorkshire to study archaeological science. A year abroad to do an internship at the University of Pennsylvania and a chance meeting at Mardi Gras in New Orleans changed his life.
It was in New Orleans that Bell met Suzanne Allen, a native of Atlanta whose brother was attending Tulane. The two fell in love and, after some time together in England, decided in 1996 to move to Charleston, where Allen planned to attend culinary school at Johnson & Wales.
Bell put his archaeology degree to work driving taxi cabs and doing other odd jobs while becoming a fan of the Battery, which at that time played downtown at Stoney Field. When the Battery moved in 1999 to Blackbaud Stadium on Daniel Island, management decided the team needed a presence on local radio.
Bell saw the want ad in The Post and Courier, and his life changed again.
"I was still driving a cab at the time," he said. "But I was able to come to work at the games and travel with the team, and that was amazing. It was incredible to go on the road and do broadcasts and be on the radio, talking about the sport I loved and was so passionate about."
That passion paid off as Bell first became head of public relations, then director of sales and marketing and then finally team president in 2007, when former president Nigel Cooper moved to Argentina.
"Both Nigel and I felt Andrew was the ideal candidate to take Nigel's place," Bakker said. "He is passionate and knowledgeable about the game, and he understands the balance between running a business and putting an exciting and entertaining product on the field."
As president, Bell runs the day-to-day operations of the team and of Blackbaud Stadium, which also hosts other events such as the upcoming Southern Ground Music & Food Festival in October. Coach and General Manager Mike Anhaeuser runs the soccer side of the operation.
"It's great to have someone with Andrew's experience and knowledge of the game as president," Anhaeuser said. "He sees the game from a different view up top, and his input is invaluable."
Bell and his wife, Suzanne, live downtown near Hampton Park and she owns Wall Candy, a decorative finishing service with clients from Charleston to Manhattan, including restaurants such as Closed for Business and The Grocery.
Bell still plays Sunday afternoon soccer in a league with friends, but says, "I'm afraid we're aging out of it."
But as local enthusiasm for the World Cup has shown, Charleston won't be aging out of soccer anytime soon.
"We are a soccer city, and I always say that to people," Bell said. "Charleston, Richmond and Charlotte have the oldest continuous pro soccer teams in America, even before MLS. But the culture has changed in the last four or five years.
"We've always had a knowledgeable fan base, but now a younger generation is coming through and watching the games differently. Now we have fans that sing and play drums at Battery games, which we never had a decade ago. If I think back to the World Cup four or eight years ago, the level of interest and support for soccer has grown tremendously in Charleston, and that's fun to see."