At the age of just 17, England’s Euro 2020 hopeful Jude Bellingham is already a cult-hero at Birmingham City, Borussia Dortmund and Miche Bora school in a deprived area of Mombasa where the class act has been helping to raise funds and made personal donations – for two years
Jude Bellingham was such a cult-hero at Birmingham City the club ‘retired’ the number 22 shirt in his honour.
And in his new adopted city of Dortmund, walls are adorned with murals dedicated to the talented teenager Yet there is a third, more unlikely place, where the 17-year-old has a devoted fan club – a school in Kenya.
For the past two years Bellingham has been helping to raise funds for Miche Bora school in a deprived area of Mombasa.
He has also personally donated towards the construction of a classroom and given local football teams new kits.
More than 300 kids now attend classes at the school, which regularly achieves above-average exam results.
Bellingham is a cult-hero to the soccer-mad youngsters, who will be cheering on the player and England at Euro 2020. The school’s success is down to the UK-based Mustard Seed Project, which the midfielder is an ambassador for.
British founder Rita Fowler praised Bellingham for the help he has given them in raising much-needed cash. Rita, 74, from Market Deeping, Lincs, told the Mirror: “We’re ever so grateful for everything he has done for us.
“Footballers get some bad press these days but Jude is such a pleasant, down-to-earth young man.
“He’s so mature for his age. He’s just a really nice guy. He is the sort of son you hope to have yourself.
“When I first met him he wasn’t quite 16 but was so mature and polite. Not like most teenagers!”
Bellingham’s dad Mark, a police officer, works with Rita’s daughter and told him about the project.
It was started by Rita and her husband Geoff, 76, in 2009 after they visited Kenya on holiday.
“I was a teacher and wanted to visit a school out there,” she said. “I couldn’t believe the conditions and decided to do something.
“We’ve gone from 17 children in 2009 to over 300 now. The project has made such a difference to their lives.
“Jude’s help has been fantastic. He got some sports gear for us to take out for the kids on one of our trips.
“He also set up online fundraising pages for us, including a current one to support a feeding programme.
“And more recently he made a generous donation at Christmas to help with the building.
“Jude has also pledged to support us going forward, which was a really nice gesture.
“The kids all know who Jude is and the boys all want to be him. They all think they will be professional footballers.
“They live in a very poor community but some have old TVs, so if England is on they will be cheering Jude.”
In an interview last year Bellingham, who turns 18 during Euro 2020, spoke of his pride at supporting the Mustard Seed Project.
“It’s something I’m really passionate about,” he said.
“It’s not a very wealthy country and a lot of people go into a school without good facilities.
“It’s important to me to help that kind of community when I can. I’m trying to raise money and awareness through social media.
“I think it is something that I’m obliged to do being in the position that I am.
“I’m really eager to get out there at some point as well to see what I can do directly to help.
“I want to be remembered, not just for football but for my actions off the pitch.
“The only way I can do that is by carrying on doing what I’ve started to set in motion.
“The more attention I get from doing good things on the pitch, hopefully that will crossover to the charity.”
Rita said Bellingham’s maturity and kindness is a testament to the “fantastic upbringing” he had.
He grew up in Stourbridge, West Mids, with dad Mark, who works for West Midlands Police, mum Denise and younger brother Jobe.
Essex-born Mark, 44, was a stalwart of non-league football, scoring over 700 goals in a 22-year career.
Young Jude was kicking a football as soon as he could walk and spent his weekends watching his dad play.
When Jude was seven, his dad arranged for him to train with Birmingham City academy and he was instantly signed up.
Denise recently recalled: “There was never a doubt he would play for Birmingham City.
“He went there as a seven-year-old and never wanted to leave.”
The couple drove their son to training at the club’s Alvechurch base four times a week, where he pocketed £145 as an apprentice.
Denise said: “You don’t send your child to football training with the plan that he’ll one day turn professional.
“He was having fun, that was the most important thing.”
Bellingham was the star player for every age group and was being tipped as a future star before he was in his teens.
Birmingham City academy coach Kristjaan Speakman once described him as “the most sought-after 12-year-old in Europe”.
Birmingham enrolled him at Priory School in Edgbaston and his family moved to Bromsgrove to be nearer to the training ground.
In August 2019 he broke legendary Trevor Francis’s long-standing twin records as the club’s youngest player and scorer.
Bellingham, who has a sociology A-Level, was now a household name and his days in the lower-leagues were numbered.
Manchester United invited him for a tour of their Carrington training and a meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson in a bid to capture his signature.
But in the end it was German giants Borussia Dortmund who finally convinced Bellingham it was time to leave St Andrews.
They promised the ambitious teen first-team football, not to mention an eye-watering £50,000-a-week salary Bellingham broke down in tears as he was substituted in his final Blues game before moving to Germany.
In a poignant moment he spent time on the pitch with Mark, Denise and Jobe long after the fans had left.
He recalled: “I tried my best to hide it but sometimes it’s difficult. I love the club, I am a massive fan of the club.
“I fell in love with Birmingham City and then fell in love with football.
“So just to get a little bit of time out there on my own and with my little brother, mum and dad meant the world to us.
“We’ve shed a few tears.”
Denise moved to Germany with her son, while Mark has stayed in the UK with Jobe, 15, who is also on Birmingham’s books.
The proud family will be at all of England’s Euro 2020 games hoping to see Bellingham shine on the pitch.
And no matter what the future holds, he will never forget the role they played in helping him get there.
“My mum, dad, brother, grandparents – they are the reason I’m here today, because of all the sacrifices they have made,” he said.
- Donate to Miche Bora school’s feeding programme here.