As England teenage football hero Jude Bellingham returns to the pitch in Qatar on Friday, friends and neighbors in his hometown of Stourbridge in the West Midlands are bursting with pride.
And none more so than his former elementary school keeper, who used to retrieve the player’s stray ball from the roof as a child.
“It seemed like a daily occurrence,” says Mark Williams The Independent. “You could tell then that he was a pretty good little footballer and was destined to be.”
“He seemed to do that more than any other kid. It became a joke. Every day the ladders were taken out. I kept them on hold for this reason.
He adds: “He was a very pleasant boy. He always asked you to get the ball down well.
Bellingham, 19, scored England’s first goal as the team kicked off the Qatar World Cup with a 6-2 win over Iran this week.
It made the midfielder the second teenager – after Michael Owen – to score for the Three Lions at a World Cup.
Bellingham grew up in Hagley, a village near Stourbridge. He now lives in Germany, where he plays for Borussia Dortmund.
Back in the West Midlands, he was remembered by former neighbours, teachers and sports coaches as a youngster always with his football.
‘They used to set the goals, set the cones and play day and night,’ says man The Independent.
He also remembers what the small patch of grass would look like on the road near Stourbridge in the West Midlands.
There would remain “large bare plots”, said the former neighbor, who did not want to be named.
Sarah, who lives on the same quiet residential street where Bellingham’s family lived, remembers him as a boy ‘knocking on the door and wanting to play football’ with his son. “He was always with his brother. They were always together,” she adds.
Another woman says Bellingham’s father, a retired police officer, “always played with the ball” with him.
“He didn’t do anything but play football,” said another neighbor of a young Bellingham.
His former 2nd grade teacher agrees. “He was a really lovely boy. Really genuine. Really friendly. Extremely courteous and polite,” said Suzanne Shackleton, who also worked at Hagley Primary School. The Independent.
“He was really dedicated to everything he did, not just his sport and football. In all areas of the program he was very motivated and gave his best in everything he did.
Again, she remembers a lot of football. “You would see him at every recess, at lunchtime, playing football on the playground with his friends.”
Mark Baker taught cricket at Bellingham for a short time when the teenager was already playing football at Birmingham City’s academy.
“He came in and tried to play fast and tried to hit the ball without really playing,” he said. the independent, calling him “raw talent”. He remembers the boy who once dived to catch a ball in the air that most wouldn’t have bothered with.
Bellingham may now be in Qatar for the World Cup and living in Germany – but his success still means a lot to the people of Stourbridge.
A mural even appeared of the 19-year-old footballer outside a shopping center next to a WHSmiths in the city earlier this year.
Clive Bucknall says he is “very happy” to see the teenager in the England squad for the World Cup.
“I think most Midlands football fans will appreciate that he’s a local guy. We don’t get many of those,” the 75-year-old adds.
Lee Newman, who runs a record store in the town centre, says he thinks Bellingham is on course to become the ‘greatest footballer in the world… which is incredible, given that he comes from of Stourbridge”.
“Everyone is really proud of him, even though we don’t know him,” says the 36-year-old. “It’s been a long time since I think Stourbridge has had someone of this level, even at national level. This guy is full all over the world.
Manchester United legend Duncan Edwards, from the nearby Black Country town of Dudley, tragically died in the 1958 Munich air disaster.
“This guy has a road named after him and everything,” says Record Culture’s Mr. Newman. “At some point you’ll have to name the ring road after Jude Bellingham or something.”