Bellingham says of the reaction to Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford’s missed penalties at EURO: “You’re English for 7 games and then… you’re nothing.”
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Jude Bellingham is leading the latest generation of young black gamers to come to terms with the game’s inability to protect them from racism.
Despite being one of the most sought-after players in world football, at just 18 the Borussia Dortmund England midfielder had to deal with the kind of hate his mother Denise and weary players far older endured for decades. Now, for the first time since last summer’s European Championships, Bellingham has openly revealed his shock at seeing the abuse targeted at then-teen Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, then 21, and 24-year-old Marcus Rashford in missed penalties Final.
“When you look at getting into this final, it feels like the country has come together,” Bellingham said, recalling the growing momentum around the national team at the time. “As soon as they missed a penalty, they weren’t English, they were black. Anyone can miss a penalty. Everyone can make mistakes in their job. But being criticized like that should never happen. You are human.
“They are all top, top characters. It was disgusting to see her so downtrodden. As a teammate, it’s hard to take because it could have been me too. What if I missed a penalty? You’re English for seven games and then suddenly you’re nothing.
“I know, of course, that these are chosen idiots and it’s not the whole nation that’s turning against them. I’m sure they probably had a major comeback of support. But the only support they should need is to miss the penalty, not for the racism they got afterwards.”
Bellingham highlighted the support of England boss Gareth Southgate, who has condemned the abuse, defended his players and continues to make the Three Lions squad an open, welcoming forum for players to express their concerns. “To be fair, Gareth Southgate was brilliant,” he said.
“He’s always brought it up as an issue in meetings when we’re aware we’re going to do it [a country with a history of racism]. We went to Hungary just after the EURO and the same thing happened again but we felt better prepared. We felt more supported by what Gareth had set up. As a black player you are very grateful for that.”
Bellingham’s own experience came last December when, after Dortmund’s 3-2 defeat by FC Bayern Munich, he had feelings running high about the appointment of referee Felix Zwayer, and responding to the official’s six-month ban over a match-fixing scandal in the year 2005 Days later, Bellingham was fined £34,000 by the German FA. However, he believes there are inconsistencies in the way football’s governing bodies approach racism by comparison.
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“There isn’t a single job in the world that deserves to be criticized with racism,” he said. “I’ll never forget the first time I got a lot of messages right. My club quickly sent someone to text me and make sure I was ok and I really appreciate that. I’ve had teammates and family members message me.
“I didn’t get anything from the DFB or FA. And I always kind of compare that to when I said the referee thing in December. They got in touch with me very quickly to give me my fine, give me my sentence and make it a big drama in the media.
“I learned from that. I know what I can and can’t say. I know that sometimes I need better control of my emotions. But you know, if you give this more energy than the situation I was going through, well — I felt, “Maybe we’re alone. Maybe they’re not interested, maybe they don’t care. And maybe it’s up to me and us to work independently to spread our message.’”
Mum Denise and dad Mark were inspirations for the midfielder whose confidence beyond his years has already made him a key figure in the Dortmund squad. While his footballing idols are Wayne Rooney and Zinedine Zidane, none compare to Bellingham’s mother.
“I talk a lot about my parents and the people who raised me in football, not just in football but in life,” he said. My mom and dad are two big role models for me because of the way they’ve obviously carried themselves, because of the things they’ve had to face in their own travels.”
Bellingham, whose 16-year-old brother Jobe is learning his trade in Birmingham, continued: “My mother always taught me a lot about how people sometimes perceive me because of the color of my skin. sometimes the way we are stereotyped.
“I think she does a lot of the things she did just to make sure me and my brother never have to be short of anything – I can’t put into words how much it means to me.” My mother is certainly one of my off-pitch heroes, if not my greatest.”