Birmingham lay claim to favourite son Bellingham
A mural close Birmingham City’s stadium serves as a reminder of the talented young midfielder. “He will not play for any other English club, only here when he returns,” they say.
On Cattell Road, to the south-east of Birmingham, a mural depicting Jude Bellingham serves as a great tribute for the fans who saw him emerge and develop before leaving for Dortmund. For those Birmingham City supporters, the 19-year-old midfielder is, along with another legend, Trevor Francis, two iconic figures of a club with 148 years of history and currently battling to stay afloat in the Championship, the second tier of English football.
For the Blues, Bellingham is an idol. His name continues to be mentioned among fans, who remember him with affection and true adoration. He is a home-grown player. An idol. “We don’t want him to play for any more English clubs, just ours... when he decides to return home,” says John, a long-time supporter strolling through the club shop. If given the choice between Bellingham ending up at City or Real Madrid, there is no doubt - he’d be much better outside of England than at another English club. “He can adapt to any league and any team. He is proving it in Germany. He’s a huge player,” says another fan, Rob, while taking a photo of his already iconic mural.
Just a stone’s throw away is the mythical St Andrews stadium, built in 1906 and the pride of a fan base that has spent the last few years living in the shadow of the city’s other great team, Aston Villa. Birmingham, which now belongs to the Chinese Wenqing Zhao, was one of the classic English top flight clubs up until the 1990s. After that, they struggled to adapt to the fiercely high competition and alternated between promotion and relegation. The last movement occurred in 2012, when the tea, dropped from the Premier League to the Championship where it has remained. Only a year earlier, they had beaten Arsenal at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final - without a doubt the greatest success in the club’s history.
But stuck in the second tier, Birmingham have seen countless players fail to make it back to the Premier League. They have also lost various talented stars from their academy - Bellingham being the most well-known. At 16 years and 38 days, he remains the youngest player to debut for Birmingham’s first team. He had such an impact during that single year with the senior side, that by the end of the season, Manchester United and Dortmund fought between them to whisk him away.
In the end, it was Dortmund who won the teenager’s signature, paying a fee of 28 million euros, the highest amount paid for a 17-year-old player at the time. Birmingham decided to retire number 22 forever and remember one of their academy’s greatest talents. No one will ever wear the No.22 shirt at St Andrews. It’s a gesture that speaks volumes about what Bellingham meant for the team where he started out and made his debut, the one that will remain in the shadows if Jude decides to come home and join another English club.