'Best, Goater and Lightbourne paved the way'
Nahki Wells has joined the most exclusive club in Bermudian football as one of the island's “famous five” to reach the pinnacle of the English game.
The 26-year-old etched his name into the annals of Bermudian sporting history at a cauldron-like Wembley Stadium as Huddersfield Town reached the Premier League for the first time — after a 45-year absence from the top flight in England.
Despite being the island's most loved sportsman, Wells has long resisted being uttered in the same breath as Clyde Best, Shaun Goater, Kyle Lightbourne and the oft-forgotten Arnold Woollard.
But after achieving his childhood dream in yesterday's Sky Bet Championship play-off final against Reading, Wells feels deserving of his place in the pantheon of Bermuda's finest.
“There's another Bermudian in the Premier League and that means everything to me,” Wells said. “I can't take away what Clyde Best has done, what Shaun Goater has done, what Kyle Lightbourne has done; they've paved the way for players like me.
“It feels amazing to follow in their footsteps and now I want to achieve some of the things they did and solidify myself as a Premier League player.”
Wells draped himself in a Bermuda flag within moments of his side's 4-3 penalty shoot-out win, after the game remained 0-0 after extra time, and said he is thrilled to “put the island back on the football map”.
“I can't forget what Bermuda has done for me,” Wells said. “I'm pretty sure for the past few hours the island has been at a standstill, with people cutting work to go to the bars and watch me.
“I genuinely believe I'm representing my country whenever I step onto the pitch. Bermuda holds a special place in my heart and I'll always do what I can to emphasise that.”
From St John's Field to football's most iconic stadium, Wells's rise to the promised land of the Premier League has been gradual rather than meteoric.
After plundering goals galore for Dandy Town, Wells left the island in 2010 to join the Richmond International Academic & Soccer Academy in Leeds, playing for Eccleshill in the Northern Counties East League, the tenth tier of English football.
He endured a frustrating spell at League One side Carlisle United, where he was restricted to three substitute appearances, and dropped down a tier to Bradford City where he made his name.
Wells notched 22 goals in 2012-2013 to help lead Bradford to the League Cup final, losing 5-0 to Swansea City, before returning to Wembley to score in a 3-0 win over Northampton Town in the League Two play-off final.
A year later, Huddersfield broke their transfer record when they paid their West Yorkshire rivals £1.3 million for the Bermuda captain.
The goals have continued with Wells bagging 14 in his first full season, 18 the next and ten this term for a side that does not create a hatful of chances.
At 26 years of age, Wells is adamant he is “entering my era” as Bermuda's most prominent player and feels the best is yet to come.
“If you'd told me back in the day where I'd be now, I'd have bitten your hand off,” he said.
“It was a dream and now it's a reality. I remember doing interviews with you guys at St John's Field after I'd finished up as Bermuda's top scorer [with 20 goals] and being over the moon.
“To then come to England and score more than a 100 goals in just over five years is an unbelievable feeling. It's important I stay humble, stay grounded and keep working.”
Immediately after firing his penalty past Ali al-Habsi, the Reading goalkeeper, Wells kissed the tattoo on his left wrist bearing the name of his best friend, Tumaini Steede, the late Devonshire Cougars forward. It has become Wells's trademark goal celebration, with Steede — who lost his life in a motorbike accident when he was 22 in 2012 — never far from the Huddersfield striker's thoughts.
“Tumaini was in my thoughts 100 per cent,” Wells said. “Not a day goes by, especially when it comes to football, when I don't think of him.
“This was his dream as well, to get to this point, but unfortunately he lost his life. His name is on my wrist for ever and he's the guardian on my shoulder.”
Wells admits that winning promotion will not sink in until Huddersfield return to preseason training and the Premier League fixture list is announced.
He will head home before then, though, to celebrate his team's triumph with family and friends.
“I'll be back in Bermuda soon for a quick visit,” he said. “It will be good to get back to see some familiar faces. So see you soon, Bermuda!”