Jude Bellingham

Jude Bellingham shows England hopes sit squarely on his shoulders

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes, ready to do everything to help the country win this tournament."

Is it possible to genuinely love a 20-year-old man you've never met? Over this next month, we could very well find out.

It's a fair question we can probably already pose to plenty of people up and down the country - a good few dozen in a never to be revealed West Yorkshire pub would answer yes, if being really honest with ourselves.

Yes, I watched England's win over Serbia in a pub, while on the clock. One pint only, I promise.

From the moment Jude Bellingham hugged, kissed and high-fived his team-mates after the anthems, he dominated the conversation, as much as he did the opening 45 minutes of the match.

It's remarkable to think he won't turn 21 until the round of 16, a stage of the tournament England now appear almost certain to reach thanks to his thumping 13th-minute header.

All hell would've broken loose regardless of who had scored - no one was pausing to check before climbing on tables and chairs, then quickly, sheepishly climbing down - but the fact it was Bellingham certainly added extra buzz.

As did his, let's be honest wholly unnecessary, gladiatorial chest bump midway through the first half.

But we need that. We fucking love it.

Jude Bellingham
Jude Bellingham was chosen as UEFA man of the match for his match-winning display against Serbia on Sunday

It epitomised his display: utterly fearless, utterly dominant.

Yes the second half wasn't as impressive because England were, basically, a bit shit, but for anyone listening to the nervous pub chatter in an attempt to play some kind of "Rooney 2004" / "Gazza Italia '90" style bingo you'd have had a full house before the interval, with bonus points on offer per grown man spotted yelling "Juuuuuude" at an out of sync TV screen.

For England fans, that love of a player goes beyond footballing ability, it's the ruggedness that gives that extra connection we secretly crave - for want of a better phrase, an "Englishness" to the way they play the game. Without doubt Bellingham has now challenged the levels of excitement and belief Wayne Rooney provided 20 years ago.

In the build-up to this tournament, I felt as though there hadn't been the same level of anticipation you'd normally expect, but all of a sudden the crap weather, general election bore-athon and realisation that, yet again, we're allowing ourselves to be hurt by what will likely be another crushing major tournament disappointment, doesn't seem so bad.

Now it's time to hitch all our hopes to one man, make him our undisputed hero.

Because this is England at a major tournament, and that is what we do.


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