The claret and amber ‘Wells 21’ shirts are commonplace on the streets of Hamilton. Bermuda cannot get enough of their local boy made good.
City fans are not the only ones on tenterhooks to see how this month pans out with Nahki Wells. Around 3,400 miles away, the inhabitants of his sunshine home are looking on just as anxiously.
For an island of only 60,000 people and two amateur divisions, their prize footballer is big, big news. From the prime minister – who was pictured in a Bantams jersey before flying over for the Capital One Cup final – to those dreaming of emulating Wells on the capital’s all-weather pitch, everyone is following his next move.
“For many kids here, leaving Bermuda to forge a career in the UK can be an intimidating and seemingly unrealistic prospect,” said James Burton, sports editor of the Bermuda Sun newspaper.
“So to see one of their own be successful is not only a great source of pride but it also shows it’s not a pipe dream.
“English football is the holy grail for Bermudian fans. The whole island seemed to come to a standstill when Bradford took on Arsenal and Villa.
“A lot of lads on the island will have played with or against him and a lot of people know his family. So he’s not put on a pedestal the way players can be in the UK. He’ll always be Nahki.
“However, that said, there is huge pride and recognition for what he is doing. When he was last back, he attended Bermuda’s game against England C and spent most of it greeting people around the stadium.
“The whole island is behind him and he’s already secured his place as one of its greatest-ever footballers.
“Aside from his football ability, he’s also well-mannered, dedicated and loves his family. He’s a genuine role model for youngsters in Bermuda, where there is a growing problem of gang violence.
“Nahki is regularly held up by leading members in the community and politicians as an example of what can be achieved with hard work.”
Shaun Goater and Clyde Best remain the most famous modern-day Bermudian exports to follow in the intrepid steps of Arnold Woollard, the first islander to make it in England with Newcastle. But according to Burton, last season’s Wembley exploits saw the profile of City’s talisman rocket.
He said: “It was huge. Everyone got the significance of it because playing at Wembley is something only two Bermudians, the Goat and Kyle Lightbourne, had done previously.
“For Nahki to reach Wembley twice in one season was incredible and then for him to become the first Bermudian to score there was genuine history in the making.
“I was lucky enough to be at Wembley for the cup final and there were loads of Bermudians there to cheer on their man. The pubs on the island were also rammed for both games.”
His Bermuda fans reckon the time is right for Wells to leave Valley Parade and make the next step. The transfer rumours are daily news.
Lightbourne believes Wells could prosper at a “lower-half, top flight club” like his old team Stoke or one with tradition and the capacity to go up like Nottingham Forest – or Leeds.
Burton said: “I think the speculation has been going on for such a long time now that most people expect him to leave.
“Bradford fans won’t thank me for saying it but the general consensus here is he’s ready. I think, more importantly, he thinks he’s ready for a jump up in standard.
“The next thing is whether a team come in for him that have enough cash to tempt City and offer Nahki the challenge he wants.
“I think most Bermudians would be underwhelmed if he ended up at somewhere like Huddersfield.
“With all due respect, clubs the size of Peterborough and Huddersfield are not that enticing. In terms of support and history, City have more to offer.
“I think he’s aiming higher and if the right club make a move, he’ll want to go.
“What’s always been evident when talking to him is that he loves City but that he is also highly ambitious and aware of a footballer’s short life span.”
Having scored goals for fun in the bottom two divisions, Bermudians have few doubts that Wells could crack it at the next level. His pace, they believe, is capable of unlocking any defence even if his all-round game will need to improve.
Burton said: “Top sides will back themselves to improve everything else. Speed across the ground is something you either have or don’t.
“Nahki, who was a fine athlete in his school days, definitely has it. But he’ll have another learning curve to go through.
“He needs to get stronger – he was in the gym a lot in Bermuda over the summer – and he’ll need to impose himself more on better defenders.
“There’s also the fact he’s played a lot of his football alongside James Hanson, whose aerial ability and strength is the perfect foil.
“Many top clubs play with one up front and Nahki will have to learn the art of leading the line on his own.”