by Ben Nolan
Before he played on the England team, Bellingham had to navigate the dark and dangerous world of Dudley and Bromsgrove football. Reflections based on my career as a professional footballer.
It was a cold Saturday morning. I had been woken up at 6am and whisked off to Belbroughton football club after a brief 2 hour warm up. I was terrified and could barely sip at my pre-workout. Today was the big day, all eyes were on us as Belbroughton under 5’s were to play the under 7’s. I was to play centre-back.
To the right of me was Liam, built like a brick wall, nothing got past him or in front. We used to call him ‘yellow jacket’ due to the number of cards he could receive in a single season. The enemy team feared him. We were terrified.
To my Left was Gareth. He was a miserable chap no matter how much Lucozade was shoved into his system. He played well enough but without any passion.
In midfield lay Tim, Adam and Jarret. There wasn’t much to say about them apart from their collective obsession with part time oranges.
The real star of the show lay in the two forwards. Tom was speedy and focused. Often too focused. He went entire weeks without sleep due to concentrating solely on the match. You couldn’t talk to him about anything else. He was dedicated to the goal, devoted to the art of the ball and dependent on the slight chance he could be scouted by the fat cats at Stourbridge FC. Bellingham was a different breed. We all knew there was something special about him. He set up and scored most of the goals. We used to talk of our team as the Belbroughton under 5’s. He was the Belbroughton under 5’s.
It was a tough game. All eight of the under 7’s put up a strong, stalwart defence. Yet they were no match for Bellingham. He ran circles around them, threw them off guard. Their keeper could barely contain his shock at the speed with which Bellingham was able to set up goal after goal. We simply watched with bated breath. Then the tides turned.
Tom took an elbow to the eye and was knocked to the ground. He lay there motionless. Bellingham was pale with fear. He ran to his fellow striker with the worry pressed firmly into his heart. He turned him over so that his face gazed plainly upon the chill morning sky. His eyes were touched with a look of sweet release. Bellingham looked upon his comrade with disdain. Tom began to cough. Through bated breath his eyes penetrated deep into Bellingham’s soul as he stated ‘Please… Bellingham… One day… Win the world cup for me.’ His eyelids shut as the gateway to his soul came to a close. Tom was gone and Bellingham was left to reflect upon his final request.
Tom was rushed off to the hospital and diagnosed with a fatal case of dizzy head and rumbly tummy. He survived but vowed never to take up the game again. He instead placed his focus on achieving tour guide status on club penguin, something be achieved with flying colours.
That same day Bellingham was scouted for Stourbridge football club. He never forgot the words of his great friend Tom.
We all moved on from that day and took it in different ways. Some of us got married. Moved into relationships of convenience to achieve the straight and narrow only to find the infirm and wobbly. Some of the midfielders used calpol to deal with the stress of the event. They were discharged from the team for snorting a sachet before a game. Others simply forgot to remember and never talked about it again. I simply stopped playing. It became all too much for me. I wasn’t made of the same stuff as Bellingham.
Whether shaking with cold in a West Midlands calpol-den, living the married life or simply existing we were all equally Belbroughton under 5’s. We all hold that moment so central to the development of the great Jude Bellingham deep in our souls.