Growing up, all I ever wanted to be was a footballer. The bright lights and deafening roars of thousand-seater stadiums. The rapturous acclaim, fame and glory. The ecstatic eruption of emotions that come with scoring a goal, a last-minute winner, as crowds of adoring fans chant your name. This was all I ever dreamed of, the only thing I wanted in life.
However, this childhood fantasy would come to a bitter and crushing end at the age of 12 when my local team were entered into a tournament in Barcelona to test our ability against Spanish opposition. We lost the first game 27-0. It was after the 19th goal sailed into the net that I realised I probably wasn’t going to become a professional footballer. It was all over. The dream was dead.
Humbled, I soon moved on to other lofty ambitions, like being a writer for The University Times. The notion of becoming a footballer would forever in my mind seem implausible, unattainable, impossible. Until I heard about Jude Bellingham.
For those of you who may not know, Jude Victor William Bellingham is a professional footballer from England who plays for Spanish side Real Madrid, the world’s preeminent football club. He recently transferred to Real Madrid from German club Borussia Dortmund for a fee of around €103 million and scored 13 goals in his first 10 games for the team, breaking a club record previously held by Cristiano Ronaldo. He is unanimously considered to be one of the best players in the world and a drunken Spanish man compared him to Jesus a few weeks ago on a night out. Oh, and he was born on June 29th, 2003.
I, too, hold the distinction of being born in 2003, only I was brought into this cruel, dark and unforgiving world 94 days before young Jude. If it wasn’t already evident at this point, my name is not being sung by thousands in the Estadio Bernabéu and I am not being likened to spiritual deities by inebriated Spanish gentlemen. No, instead I’m just me. A pathetic excuse of a man utterly unworthy of love or affection, at least that’s what my girlfriend calls me in the bedroom.
I always contextualised age with football when I was growing up. I remember being at my cousin’s 29th birthday and thinking ‘this guy’s only got a few more years left in his prime’. Anyone aged 36 or above seemed absolutely ancient, almost on their last legs like Gerrard or Giggs. Now, I’m struggling to find the will to go to my 9am lectures while a guy younger than me is the star player for the biggest football team in the world. He even has an Irish passport as well.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I find it hard not to compare myself to him in some sense. Not that I could have ever reached his heights or achieved what he already has at such a young age, not in a million years. Nevertheless, I can’t help but daydream of some sort of alternate timeline in which our places are swapped. Jude Bellingham is living the life I always dreamt of, the life that so many dream of. He made it his reality, through hard-work, determination and a blessing of immense natural talent. He is everything I ever wanted to be, and I am not. And that’s OK.
Dreams change, ambitions change, people change. Though I am not a superstar millionaire footballer, I am more than I ever thought I would be. More than I ever thought I could be, at a certain point in my life. I reminisce sometimes. I remember a little boy scampering around the house causing havoc for his poor parents. Kicking a ball against his bedroom wall, an oversized jersey falling past his knees as he pretended he was Messi or Ronaldo or any of his footballing idols.
While he never got to be quite like any of his heroes, I hope that he would still be proud of the man he has become.