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Football: KELLY'S FAN-ATICS.

Byline: BILL CLARK

RUSSELL KELLY, Linfield's new midfielder, will be first to notice if the Windsor Park crowd turns restless.

It's a group of fans who are paying the 24-year-old's wages.

The Blues wanted Kelly when he came home from Ayr United but their team budget was all used up. So in stepped supporters to guarantee pay days until the end of the season.

"I'm very grateful to them for this chance to play for Linfield," he acknowledges. "But I don't go out there feeling extra responsibility. I just couldn't play if I kept worrying about making mistakes.

"Naturally, I want to keep the crowd on my side and I've had great encouragement so far. It's up to me to keep it that way."

Kelly hopes to swell attendances with English and Scottish scouts in the weeks ahead. "My agent plans to bring people to watch me," he explains. "I still believe I can play full-time football and hopefully some club will agree."

Russell's career has roller-coasted since a smooth three years with Chelsea. "I had 60-plus reserve games under Glenn Hoddle," he recalls, "but I eventually gave up the struggle to make the first team."

There were good days at Darlington until Jim Platt got the sack as manager. And Dundee brought a First Division winners' medal before another boss bit the dust.

"Both times I had long-term injuries," remembers Russell. "When I came back, there were new gaffers who had signed new players. I was out of the picture."

Next stop was a remote Icelandic town and action with a team called Thor.

"It was really just a summer job before joining Ayr," points out Russell, "but it made me look like somebody who can't settle down.

"Ayr didn't help. There is a big turnover of players and a clear-out is threatened at the end of the season. I decided to get out ahead of all that.

"Linfield is a big stage with every chance of games in Europe. It's a place to be seen."

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GRATEFUL: Russell Kelly
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 26, 2000
Words:342
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