June 12, 2021

Jack Grealish dream almost ended at 6 but car dealer’s £200 led to Aston Villa

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This grinning, bright-eyed star of Highgate United Youth Under-7s is now hoping to lead England to glory in Euro 2020.

And Jack Grealish should give thanks for the sponsor whose name is on that over-sized, orange United top when he pulls on his neat, white Three Lions shirt before England’s first match, against Croatia, on Sunday.

Because if it wasn’t for generous second-hand car dealer Martin Smallbone, Jack’s football career might have stalled when he was six years old.

In 2002, Solihull-based Highgate United were on the brink of folding before Martin paid the club £200 to sponsor the shirts.

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Age 6, Jack Grealish proudly poses in his under-7s strip with sponsor
Age 6, Jack Grealish proudly poses in his under-7s strip with sponsor

Weeks after this photo was taken, Jack was spotted by Aston Villa scout Jim Thomas.

Jack, now 25, joined Villa’s academy and progressed through the ranks to become first team captain, worth £100million.

Dad-of-three Martin, who still runs his garage in Selly Oak, was playing in a senior match at Highgate when he was asked to sponsor the under-7s.

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In friendly against Austria on June 2, 2021
In friendly against Austria on June 2, 2021

Aged 14, teenager Jack in Aston Villa strip
Aged 14, teenager Jack in Aston Villa strip

He said: “Jack’s friend’s parents asked me at the end of a match if I could sponsor the team.

“I could see their passion. So I bought the shirts for £200 half-way through the year.

“It was just before Jack got scouted.

“The picture was taken in February or March time, so it all happened quite quickly.”

Martin, whose dealership was founded in the 1920s by his great-grandfather, said, joking: “We didn’t sell any cars as a result of sponsoring Jack’s team – but we did do some servicing.”

Martin will be cheering on midfielder Jack if he gets picked by Southgate on Sunday.

Jack and his sisters Holly and Kiera
Jack and his sisters Holly and Kiera

Martin said: “Jack seems to be quite level-headed, not excitable. He keeps his feet on the ground and lets those do the talking.”

A diehard Villa fan, Martin had this message for Jack: “Good luck in the Euros, Jack.

“Keep doing what you’re doing and you will reap the rewards.

“We Villa fans are so proud to have you as one of our own.”

Jack Grealish's brother Keelan died in 2000
Jack Grealish’s brother Keelan died in 2000

Grealish is a Villa hero
Grealish is a Villa hero

Jack, who was born in Birmingham and grew up in nearby Solihull, started going to Villa matches with his dad Kevin when he was a toddler.

Kevin will be at Wembley on Sunday with Jack’s mum Karen, brother Kevan and sisters Kiera and Holly.

Another brother, Keelan, was nine months old when he died from sudden infant death syndrome in 2000.

In a SoccerBible interview last year, Jack said: “I have a brilliant family who have supported me since I was a kid.

“My dad travels everywhere to watch me, home and away, and my mum comes to most games too.

“It’s massive, I can’t emphasise that enough – you need that and people like that.

With parents Karen and Kevin in 2015
With parents Karen and Kevin in 2015

“Especially as a footballer with the limelight it brings.”

At times he has been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.

In 2015, when he was 19, he was photographed inhaling from balloons at a party, and months later was pictured sprawled on a street while on holiday in Tenerife with brother Kevan.

Jack Grealish of England runs with the ball whilst under pressure from Xaver Schlager of Austria during the international friendly match between England and Austria at Riverside Stadium on June 02, 2021
Fans hope Grealish can produce magic

He landed in court after he was caught on CCTV, wearing odd slippers, careering into two parked cars as he tried to move his Range Rover to avoid being clamped in March last year.

He also admitted careless driving following a speeding incident in October.

He got a nine-month driving ban and £82,499 fine for the offences.

Jack, who lives in a gated mansion in Barnt Green, Worcs, claims to have finally settled down.

He told SoccerBible: “You have to learn from those mistakes.

“I needed to grow up and mature and I feel like I’ve done that now.”

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