Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Zoe Tidman

Jude Bellingham’s neighbours, teachers and friends reveal what he was like growing up

Zoe Tidman/The Independent

As England’s teenage football hero Jude Bellingham returns to the pitch in Qatar on Friday, friends and neighbours in his hometown of Stourbridge in the West Midlands are bursting with pride.

And none more so than his former primary school caretaker, who used to fetch the player’s lost ball down from the roof when he was a boy.

“It seemed to be a daily occurrence,” Mark Williams tells The Independent. “You could tell then he was quite a good little footballer and he was destined to be.”

“He did seem to do that more than any other child. It became a joke. Every day the ladders were out. I kept them on standby because of that reason.”

He adds: “He was a very pleasant lad. He always asked you to get the ball down nicely.”

Bellingham, 19, scored the opening goal for England as the team kicked off the Qatar World Cup with a 6-2 win against Iran this week.

This made the midfielder only 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, former neighbours, teachers and sports coaches remember him as a youngster always with his football.

“They used to set up the goals, put the cones down and play day and night,” one man tells The Independent.

The midfielder celebrates scoring England’s first goal in their rout of Iran (Reuters)

He also remembers what the small patch of grass down the road near Stourbridge, West Midlands, would look like afterwards.

There would be “big bare patches” left behind, the former neighbour, who did not want to be named, says.

Sarah, who lives on the same quiet residential street where Bellingham’s family used to live, remembers him as a boy “knocking on the door and wanting to play football” with her son. ”He was always with his brother. They were always together,” she adds.

Bellingham grew up near to the town of Stourbridge in the West Midlands (Zoe Tidman/The Independent)

Another woman says Bellingham’s father, a retired police officer, was always “playing around with the ball” with him.

“He didn’t do anything else but play football,” another neighbour says about a young Bellingham.

His former year 2 teacher agrees. “He was just really a lovely lad. Really genuine. Really personable. Extremely courteous and polite,” Suzanne Shackleton, who also used to work at Hagley Primary School, tells The Independent.

“He was really dedicated to everything he did, not just his sport and football. Across all areas of the curriculum he was well-motivated and tried hard with everything he did.”

Suzanne Shackleton taught Bellingham at primary school (Zoe Tidman/The Independent)

Again, she remembers a lot of football. “You’d see him every playtime, lunchtime, playing football out on the playground with his friends.”

Mark Baker taught Bellingham cricket for a short spell while the teenager was already playing football at Birmingham City academy.

“He came in and tried to bowl quick and tried to hit the ball miles without really having played,” he tells The Independent, calling him a “raw talent”. He remembers the boy once diving to catch a ball in the air that most would not 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 popped up to the 19-year-old footballer outside a shopping centre next to a WHSmiths in the town earlier this year.

A Bellingham mural has been painted outside a shopping centre in Stourbridge (Zoe Tidman/The Independent)

Clive Bucknall says he is “very pleased” to see the teenager in the England World Cup squad.

“I think most football fans in the Midlands will appreciate he is a local lad. We don’t get many,” the 75-year-old adds.

Lee Newman, who runs a record store in the town centre, says he believes Bellingham is on track to be the “biggest footballer in the world... which is amazing, considering he is from Stourbridge.”

Lee Newman says everyone from Stourbridge is proud of Bellingham (Zoe Tidman/The Independent)

“Everyone feels really proud of him, even though we don’t know him,” the 36-year-old says. “It’s been a long time since I think Stourbridge has anybody of that level, even on a national level. This guy is full on worldwide.”

Manchester United legend Duncan Edwards, from nearby Dudley in the Black Country, tragically died in the Munich air disaster in 1958.

“That guy’s got a road named after him and everything,” Mr Newman from Record Culture says. “At some point, you’re going to have to name the ring road after Jude Bellingham or something like that.”

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.