Jude Bellingham has put the market town of Stourbridge on the map
‘Jude Bellingham has put Stourbridge on the map’: Sportsmail visits the Midlands market town that made England’s global superstar… as he prepares for the Three Lions’ crunch World Cup clash with France
- Jude Bellingham has been a standout performer for England at the World Cup
- His performances have helped England move into the quarter-finals
- Bellingham was born and grew up in the Midlands market town of Stourbridge
- Sportsmail’s Tom Collomosse visited the town to gauge public opinion on Bellingham who is preparing to face France on Saturday
- Click here for the latest World Cup 2022 news, fixtures, live action and results
Opposite St Thomas’s church, towards the southern end of Market Street in the main shopping area, England’s best young footballer for a generation stares down from a wall, ready to lead his country to their first World Cup since 1966.
Jude Bellingham does not turn 20 until June but already he is one of the most famous children of Stourbridge, a market town in the Midlands located 15 miles west of Birmingham. When he locks horns with Kylian Mbappe and France at the Al Bayt Stadium in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final, Stourbridge will hold its breath for their home-grown global superstar.
Birmingham artist Gent 48 has created a 12ft-high mural of Bellingham in his home town, where fans are already drawing comparisons with one of the Black Country’s finest players.
Jude Bellingham has been in sparkling form for England during their run in Qatar
There is a 12 ft mural of Bellingham in his hometown of Stourbridge
Duncan Edwards, the former Manchester United and England midfielder, died aged just 21 after the Munich air disaster in 1958, yet is still considered one of the greatest footballers the country has ever produced.
Those who have followed Bellingham’s career from an early age believe he has similar potential, and there are striking resemblances between the two.
They were born less than three miles apart, Bellingham in Stourbridge, Edwards in Brierley Hill. Both broke into the England team as teenagers, and had scored before they reached the age of 20. Both were all-purpose midfielders who excelled in every aspect of the role.
Hurrying through town on a bitter Tuesday morning, locals are nonetheless happy to stop beside the mural as they leave the Ryemarket Shopping Centre.
‘He’s on the cusp of becoming the next Duncan Edwards,’ says Steve Hutchinson, 70. ‘It’s quite surprising in some ways because his dad, Mark, used to play for Stourbridge and scored a lot.’
‘It gives the kids in the area someone to look up to,’ adds his wife Janet, 65. ‘If they can see someone from the town doing this well, it gives everyone a lift.
Bellingham is adored in the Midlands market town that he grew up in
‘Football is not really my thing but of course I appreciate it when we have a talent like this from the town. He seems a good role model, too, not “up himself”.’
On the corner of Talbot Street, the length of a Bellingham midfield charge away from the mural, the Cafe Express is doing a roaring trade. Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody blares from the radio, accompanied by the clink and clatter of cups and cutlery, and the chatter is of Christmas plans and the Earthshot environmental prize backed by Prince William. For some patrons, the festive season has already become a bore. ‘It seems to start earlier every year,’ complains one.
At least they have a World Cup to distract them, and if a local boy is shining on the global stage, then so much the better.
‘We have had a few people here during the last few days, saying that Jude Bellingham has put Stourbridge on the map,’ says the owner. ‘It is fantastic for the town.’
The world’s elite have noticed, with Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi revealing on Tuesday that his club have set their sights on Bellingham.
‘Everybody wants him, I’m not going to hide it,’ said Al-Khelaifi. ‘England are lucky to have him. He’s one of the best players in the tournament.’
With a population of about 65,000, Stourbridge is one of the most affluent parts of the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley. Snooker great Ronnie O’Sullivan was born in the Wordsley district of the town, and writer and poet Samuel Johnson lived here.
‘I’m dead proud of Jude Bellingham,’ says Mark Stanley, 58, as he sips a black coffee. ‘There are a lot more people asking about Stourbridge now. Playing for England looks like it will be the making of him.’
‘My son is 16 and is really keen on football,’ remarks another customer. ‘He and his friends have been watching all the games and they’re mad about Jude. He is so talented and it’s great for the area. He seems a lovely lad, too — polite and articulate.’
Bellingham has been going from strength to strength out in Qatar for Gareth Southgate’s side
Tickets have already sold out for the TV viewing of the quarter-final in the Glassboys Bar at the War Memorial Athletic Ground, home of Stourbridge FC. It is table service only and the 150 spaces available have been quickly snapped up.
An England flag is draped in front of one of the three televisions in the bar, whose walls are adorned with signed red-and-white shirts worn during Stourbridge’s greatest games.
Outside the bar, bordering the outfield used by Stourbridge Cricket Club during the summer, is where it all began: the half-size pitch where Bellingham experienced competitive football for the first time. Though he joined the Birmingham City academy aged seven, the family still have strong links to the local club.
Father Mark hit the 700-goal mark in non-League football and spent time at Stourbridge, and Jude played for Stourbridge Juniors, which was set up by his dad and coach Phil Wooldridge.
‘When you first put a football in front of him, he was not really interested,’ Wooldridge told the BBC. ‘But then you’d see him play and think, “Yeah, that kid’s definitely got it”. The only part I had in his development was trying to get him to enjoy football.’
Those who work behind the scenes at the Southern Premier League Central club, who compete in the seventh tier of English football, do so largely on a part-time basis and have many other concerns, notably whether the predicted freezing temperatures forecast for the weekend will prevent fixtures from taking place.
‘We all have day jobs and we do this in our spare time,’ explains club secretary Clive Eades. ‘We are a community club, a beacon club. We have men’s and women’s teams and boys’ and girls’ development programmes.’
Bellingham, though, is the hottest act around. Since his barnstorming performance in the last-16 win over Senegal, the club have been inundated with media requests from the UK and beyond. Unfortunately for the overworked staff, these are unlikely to stop any time soon.
Bellingham produced arguably his best performance in an England shirt against Senegal
Stourbridge is renowned for the quality of its glass, which has been made in the area for four centuries, but Bellingham has spent his short career smashing through barriers.
In the Birmingham first team aged 16 where, captain Harlee Dean says, ‘he was the best player in training every day’. Sold to Borussia Dortmund for £25million at 17, when he had barely turned professional. England and Champions League debuts at the same age. World Cup star and — depending on the timing of his inevitable move from Dortmund — holder of the British record transfer fee at 19. And by the end of next week…world champion?
The teenager is three steps from sporting immortality and ready to assume the legacy of Edwards.
‘I’ve never seen anyone like Jude,’ added Dean. ‘He was a cut above. You get young players who come to train with the first team and you think, “Oh, he’s good”, but they lack a certain something — Jude had it all. He deserves everything he gets.’
Judging by Bellingham’s rise, there will soon be a statue, rather than a mural, to pay tribute to him in his home town. Perhaps raising the World Cup to the sky.
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