When England’s teenage football hero Jude Bellingham returns to the pitch in Qatar on Friday, friends and neighbors in his West Midlands hometown of Stourbridge are bursting with pride.
First and foremost his former caretaker at the elementary school, who fetched the lost ball from the roof for the player as a boy.
“It seemed to be commonplace,” says Mark Williams pleasemynews. “You could tell he was a pretty good little footballer and destined to be.”
“He seemed to do that more than any other kid. It became a joke. Every day the ladders were outside. For that reason, I kept them on standby.”
He adds: “He was a very pleasant boy. He always asked you to get the ball down nicely.”
Bellingham, 19, scored the opening goal for England as the team started the World Cup in Qatar with a 6-2 win over Iran in this week.
The midfielder became 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. Today he 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, set up the cones and played day and night,” says one man pleasemynews.
He also remembers what the small patch of grass at the end of the road near Stourbridge, West Midlands would look like afterwards.
“Big bald spots” would remain, says the former neighbor, who asked not to be named.
Sarah, who lives on the same quiet residential street where Bellingham’s family used to live, remembers him as a boy who “knocked on the door and wanted to play football with her son”. “He was always with his brother. They were always together,” she adds.
Another woman says Bellingham’s father, a retired police officer, used to “play around with the ball” with him.
“All he did was play football,” says another neighbor of young Bellingham.
His former 2nd grade teacher agrees. “He was just a lovely boy. Really real. Really likeable. Extremely courteous and polite,” says Suzanne Shackleton, who also used to work at Hagley Primary School pleasemynews.
“He was really devoted to everything he did, not just his sport and football. He was highly motivated across all areas of the curriculum and put a lot of effort into everything he did.”
Again, she remembers a lot of football. “You saw him every game time, at lunchtime, playing football with his friends on the playground.”
Mark Baker briefly taught Bellingham cricket while the teenager was already playing football at Birmingham City Academy.
“He would come in and try to bowl fast and try to hit the ball for miles without actually playing,” he says the independent, calls him a “raw talent”. He remembers the boy who once jumped to catch a ball in mid-air that most wouldn’t have cared for.
Although Bellingham is now in Qatar for the World Cup and lives in Germany, his success still means a lot to the people of Stourbridge.
A mural of the 19-year-old footballer even surfaced outside a mall next to a WHSmiths in town earlier this year.