As the 2020 Euros went on, it was clear that Jack Grealish, a 26-year-old from Birmingham, who wears tiny little shin pads and socks, was going to be a star. Social media was suddenly filled with fancams of his calves, tweets about his hair and think pieces about wanting to be crushed under the weight of his legs. The only respite England got from losing to Italy was Darcie Philp, AKA “Mrs Grealish 69”, a woman so enthralled by Grealish that she got a football shirt made specifically.
Behold this TikTok of a seemingly drunk Jack Grealish, with his arm around a woman as he gently kisses her on the head and compliments her. It has over 30,000 likes and a flurry of adoring messages in the comments section. “I’d simply never wash that part of my head again,” says one. “She’s the luckiest woman on planet Earth,” writes another. “He’s just one of them people who are just it when they are drunk.”
It’s this – a combination of being good-looking enough that people who wouldn’t otherwise care about football know his name, as well as seeming like A Good Laugh on a night out – means that with a simple click of his huge thighs, Grealish has transported us once more into the era of The Celebrity Footballer.
Grealish certainly has all the markers of one: An attacker so impossible to stave off that he holds last season’s title of the most fouled player in the Premier League, a haircut that would make your uncle say “that man needs a haircut”, a long-term girlfriend who suffers at the hands of tabloids who either fabricate or fan the flames of cheating rumours.
He’s regularly photographed by The Daily Mail on nights out with other reality TV stars, wearing outfits that only a professional footballer can get away with (Gucci shorts, Balenciaga T-shirt and an insanely large bucket hat). Although Phil Foden had arguably the more interesting dye job during Euro 2020, it was Grealish that managed to inspire men, young and old, for better or for worse, to grow out their hair and start wearing headbands.
We’ve been here before. The chokehold David Beckham has had on us since in the late 90s is so strong that you almost forget that he had cornrows in 2003. The England captain appeared in adverts promoting for cars, alcohol, underwear and phones, and even made time to star in some of the decade’s most incredible paparazzi shots: him and Victoria out with their Dobermans, the holiday one where he’s wearing a cowboy hat and flip flops on holiday; that time he wore a durag. The list is endless.
This is Jack’s future: having unattainable talent and wealth, whilst also just about being within reach. He can wear head-to-toe designer and still give off the air of any other 20-something from Birmingham. He’s both one of the best athletes Britain has to offer and someone you’d bump into in a club; the boy next door who can deliver lines like “Yeah, every day, I have my afternoon nap … I ain’t the same man without it” in an interview.
He might be the most expensive Premier League player after his move from Aston Villa to Manchester City. He might be the only footballer both your mum and your nan recognise in the papers. But Grealish is still, somehow, One of Us. He once told the Guardian that he would be a club promoter if he wasn’t a footballer. “Tenerife or Ibiza,” he elaborated. “I would be getting everyone into the club." And yes, he absolutely has the energy of a man who could talk anyone into buying an entire tray of overpriced shots, a bottle of Grey Goose and a jug of too-sweet mixer before getting with no less than two of your mates.
Just like the Celebrity Footballers that came before him – the Gary Linekers, Ian Wrights or Wayne Rooneys – Jack Grealish’s legacy won’t be entirely down to his sporting abilities. He will remain firmly in your head for decades after he retires, because he will either go on I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! or start hosting his own game show. And even if he doesn’t, we’ll always have the memory of those huge thighs.