England starlet Jude Bellingham is set to take his first step onto the international stage, but only a few years ago he was still warming up the goalie for his dad’s non-league team.
Dad Mark, 44, was a star-turn in the amateur leagues, scoring more than 700 goals, and he finished his career at Paget Rangers in Sutton Coldfield, where Bellingham junior and his younger brother, Jobe, would come to watch.
Now a mainstay of the Borussia Dortmund team at only 17, Bellingham has gained a reputation as a box-to-box midfielder, who admits he likes ‘to get stuck in’.
Jude Bellingham is already a regular starter for Borussia Dortmund aged only 17
It is a grit and guile style partly informed by watching the lads at Paget, where one stand adorns the touch line of the tidy, little ground.
‘It’s crazy to think a kid, who was warming up the goalkeeper and kicking a ball around on a non-league ground is picked for England,’ Matthew Dainty, 33, Paget’s former chairman, told Sportsmail.
”It’s mad how quickly it has happened.’
Dainty would see Jude and his equally talented brother at Paget’s matches each week.
‘They would join in the warm-up and destroy the goalkeeper’s confidence by firing the ball past him 400 times,’ joked Dainty. ‘It was good fun to watch.’
Bellingham is in line for his first appearance for England’s senior side after playing for the U21s
At age 13, Jude was selected for England U15s and in September, he became the youngest player to represent England U21s, scoring on his debut against Kosovo.
He is now in line to become England’s third-youngest player ever behind Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney after he was promoted to the senior squad ahead of matches against the Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Iceland, following an injury for James Ward-Prowse.
‘We always knew he would be good,’ said Dainty. ‘Even at 13, Jude was better than the whole of my team. I am really pleased for him. It is an amazing achievement.’
Bellingham joined up with the senior squad after an injury to James Ward-Prowse
The Bellinghams are Birmingham City supporters and Jude grew up in Stourbridge, in the West Midlands.
He joined the Blues aged eight, by the age of 15 he was playing for the club’s U23s, and he started his first senior game just 15 months ago, a Carabao Cup first-round match away to Portsmouth.
In the process, Bellingham became the club’s youngest player at 16 years and 38 days — breaking the record set by Trevor Francis, the legendary Birmingham striker, in 1970.
Birmingham City decided to retire Bellingham’s No 22 shirt when he left as a teenager
Bellingham went on to make 44 appearances for Birmingham, where he was on a schoolboy contract worth £145 per week, before making the £30 million move to Dortmund.
He has now made 11 appearances for the German side this term, playing in a more central role than he had for much of his time at St Andrews.
Bellingham is marked out by his appetite to learn the game, first from his dad, who is a police sergeant, and later from his coaches, as well as watching on the non-league grounds of the West Midlands, where he saw his father destroy defences week-in-week-out.
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“I used to watch him play all the time,’ Bellingham told The Guardian. ‘It’s where I started to get that love for football.
‘I think you can see in the way I play that I’ve watched the game from a young age. That non-league style of toughness and being gritty when you need to be is reflected in my game, and I do think that comes from watching my dad play – even though he never tackled!’
In the Bundesliga, he won the ‘Rookie of the Month’ award after shining in his first few games
Dainty recognises that description of Bellingham senior.
‘His dad didn’t have to make a tackle,’ said the former chairman, suggesting Mark’s sure touch meant the ball was never far away. ‘And he was never a runner for the ball, either.
‘Danny Carter [Mark’s strike partner] would do all the running for him. They were like Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole for Manchester United.’
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