Bellingham determined to inspire the next generation of footballers
Jude Bellingham hopes to help inspire the next generation of footballers to take up a sport that the teenage sensation surprisingly admits he did not like growing up.
The 19-year-old is one of the greatest talents in the world and was this week crowned Bundesliga player of the season after going agonisingly close to winning the title with Borussia Dortmund.
Bellingham has established himself as a key figure for country as well as club, shining in England’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals in Qatar during the winter.
But if it had not been for a light-bulb moment as a kid, things could have been so very different.
Despite regularly going to watch his father, Mark, score goals aplenty for non-league clubs around the Midlands, football initially sparked indifference rather than excitement in Bellingham.
He said: “I just wasn’t really having it.
“My dad would take me to his non-league games and over time it kind of clicked but it did take a while.
“I think it was frustrating for him for a while, but when it did I was addicted and I still am, thankfully.”
Bellingham cannot pinpoint the exact moment of football enlightenment but says his time at boyhood club Birmingham made him “fall in love with it”.
He fondly remembers the “wide-eyed happiness” he felt going to training at Blues – the same kind of joy he is now looking to bring to others.
Bellingham has joined McDonald’s Fun Football as an ambassador – a programme that provides free, inclusive football coaching for children aged five to 11 across more than 1,500 locations in the UK.
Speaking after his first taste of Fun Football, he said: “It was a pleasure for me to come here and play with the kids and have a kickabout with them and see what it’s all about.
“It’s obviously my first time experiencing the things that McDonald’s are doing and how they want to ensure everyone has the opportunity to get into football.
“For me, it’s so important because the game is showing that it’s becoming more inclusive.
“You know, what the (England) women did last year (winning the Euros) kind of put women’s football on the map essentially, and you had such a great mix of boys and girls today from whatever backgrounds.
“They all just come and have a great time and they’re playing. When they’re having fun and laughing, that puts a smile on my face and is exactly what it is all about.”
Bellingham feels “a lot of pride” knowing he can “make an impact on the next generation” and spent time signing autographs and posing for photos long after the session.
Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney were the kind of players he idolised growing up and the teenager finds it surreal to now be the subject of similar adulation.
“Days like today are really humbling, to be honest,” Bellingham said. “You come in and there’s people with your shirt on and they know who you are straightaway, and they can’t wait to play football with you.
“I think, for me, it’s a feeling that’s priceless to be honest. You do what you do on the pitch and you hope that people enjoy watching it but their love for you is so genuine, it’s so pure.
“They really enjoy being around you, not because they want something because it’s just a fun day for them. I wanted to repay that and make sure that they had as much fun as possible but, yeah, it’s all come very fast.
“It still feels a bit surreal but I’m trying to enjoy it one day at a time.”
:: Jude Bellingham was speaking at a McDonald’s Fun Football session to announce his role as an ambassador for the UK’s largest grassroots participation programme for 5-11 year-olds. Find your nearest free session at www.mcdonalds.co.uk/football.