Have just published a new book, Planet Football – here is an extract.
David Beckham: Cultural Icon
David Beckham is one of the world’s most famous footballers, but his high profile does not just stem from his achievements on the pitch. Beckham starred for the Manchester United team which dominated the English domestic game around the turn of the Millennium, before moving to Real Madrid, and then LA Galaxy. He was a regular member of the national team for over a decade, but Beckham’s displays for his country were often embroiled in controversy. The player has made as many headlines off the pitch as on the pitch, with these often emanating from his celebrity marriage to Victoria Adams.
Beckham was born on May 2 1975, at Leytonstone in London. The son of Ted Beckham, a keen amateur player, David became obsessed with football as a child, with many hours of practice. In December 1986, at the age of eleven, Beckham won a Bobby Charlton Soccer Skills competition, this being part of the coaching of youngsters organised by the former Manchester United player. Beckham, who was a United fan, received his award at Old Trafford. Beckham was given a trial by Manchester United in 1988, and signed with the club as a schoolboy the following year, when aged fourteen. Having become an apprentice in July 1991, Beckham was part of the team which won the FA Youth Cup in 1992. The line-up included Nicky Butt, Simon Davies, Keith Gillespie, Gary Neville, and Ryan Giggs, each of whom would star for United’s first team, and play international football.
Beckham made his first team debut as a substitute against Brighton and Hove Albion, in a League Cup match in September 1992. He signed as a professional in January 1993, but did not make any further appearances in the Manchester United first team until the 1994-95 season. He scored his first professional goal in December 1994, as Galatasaray were beaten 4-0 in the European Cup. During the Spring of 1995 United loaned Beckham to Preston North End, a Third Division club, to enable him to get extra first team experience, but the player was soon recalled to United, and made his first four appearances in the Premiership at the end of the season. Beckham became a regular in the Manchester United first team during 1995-96. At the end of the season, United won the Premiership and FA Cup double, with Beckham (who had just turned twenty one) playing in the 1-0 win against Liverpool in the FA Cup Final. Beckham’s progress owed much to Alex Ferguson, manager of United since 1986, who had revived the youth policy established decades earlier by Matt Busby, and was a great mentor to the youngsters who reached the first team.
On the opening day of the 1996-97 season, Beckham scored an amazing goal as United beat Wimbledon 3-0. Seeing that Neil Sullivan, the Wimbledon goalkeeper, had ventured forward, Beckham beat him with a lofted shot from the halfway line – later measured at 57 yards. Beckham and United continued to flourish this season, and retained the Premiership title. By contrast, in 1997-98 Arsenal won the double, with United taking second place in the Premiership. Playing on the right-hand side of midfield, Beckham set up many goals with his excellent crossing and passing. He was also brilliant taker of free kicks, scoring spectacular goals. As his play matured, Beckham became equally adept as a central midfielder. Besides replacing Eric Cantona as a focal point in the Manchester United team, Beckham became a mainstay of the England team. Off the field, Beckham began a relationship with Victoria Adams, better known as Posh Spice, from the Spice Girls. This coupling of two celebrities, nicknamed “Posh and Becks”, drew increasing media interest, which was fuelled by their engagement at the start of 1998.
Beckham made his England debut in September 1996, as Moldova were beaten 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier. He went on to play in all eight of England’s qualifying matches, but was omitted from the team by Glenn Hoddle, the coach, as England beat Tunisia 2-0 in their first match of the finals, held in France in 1998. Hoddle later wrote, in his infamous book My 1998 World Cup Story, that Beckham “wasn’t as focused and sharp as he might have been in our warm-up games” Hoddle added: “There had been a vagueness about him, on and off the pitch, and sometimes in training. I’m sure he was missing Victoria, who’s away a great deal”. Beckham appeared as a substitute in the next match, but England lost 2-1 to Romania. Hoddle put Beckham in the starting line-up against Colombia, and the player scored his first international goal, with a brilliant free kick, as England won 2-0. Beckham’s World Cup came to an abrupt halt in the next match, as he was sent off for retaliating when provoked by Argentina’s Diego Simeone. The match was drawn 2-2, following which Argentina won on penalties. Beckham’s silly act, which forced England to play almost all of the second half, plus extra time, a man short, severely limited the team’s attacking options, and was widely regarded as the cause of the team’s elimination.
Beckham was vilified by many in England, and abused by the supporters of teams that United played the following season. Beckham refused to be provoked, and concentrated on his game. Indeed the 1998-99 season proved to be the high point of Beckham’s career with United, as the club achieved a unique treble, winning the Premiership, FA Cup, and Champions League. The Premiership title was secured with a 2-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur, in which Beckham scored, following which Newcastle United were beaten 2-0 in the FA Cup Final. In the Champions League Final, United trailed against Bayern Munich for almost the entire match. Beckham later recalled his thoughts shortly before the end of normal time: “When I looked up and saw the big clock showing one minute I was convinced that was it. I don’t remember much apart from how gutted I was feeling. It was one of the worst moments I had experienced on a football pitch. I even saw the trophy up in the stands with Bayern Munich ribbons already on it. It was an unbelievable sight. I was almost sick”. United bounced back with a couple of goals during stoppage time, each following a corner from Beckham, to grab a sensational 2-1 victory.
David and Victoria were married on July 4 1999, at Luttrellstown Castle, in Ireland. A quiet wedding ceremony, attended by a small group of family and friends, was followed by a lavish reception – rumours suggested it cost £500,000 – in the grounds of the castle. Amidst tight security, the Beckhams sold exclusive rights to pictures of the wedding to OK magazine for a reported £1,000,000 fee. Their first son Brooklyn, named after the place where he was conceived when David joined Victoria in the USA immediately after the World Cup finals, had been born on March 4 1999. The extravagance, and celebrity lifestyle, of the Beckhams started to raise questions among the football community. Their opulent home in Hertfordshire was derided as Beckingham Palace. David was emerging as one of the most recognisable figures in advertising, as he endorsed a variety of products. He secured major deals with Adidas, Brylcreem, and Pepsi, and used his first payment from Adidas to buy a Porsche for £85,000. Beckham also became a fashion icon, wearing some unexpected clothes, chosen for him by Victoria.
At the end of 1999 Manchester United’s treble became a quadruple, as Beckham helped them beat Palmeiras 1-0, in Tokyo, to become the first British team to win the World Club Championship. Participation in the inaugural FIFA Club World Championship, held in Brazil during January 2000, was not a success. Beckham was sent off as United drew 1-1 with Necaxa in their first match, and the team failed to progress beyond the group stage. Although sometimes embarrassed by his wife’s pronouncements, Beckham was a devoted family man. In February 2000 he missed a training session at United in order to look after Brooklyn, who was unwell – and was dropped by Alex Ferguson from the team’s match against Leeds United a few days later. At the end of the 1999-2000 season United retained the Premiership title, with an eighteen point margin over runners-up Arsenal.
In the Summer Beckham played for England in the Euro 2000 finals. He had been a regular member of the team during a troubled qualifying campaign, which had seen Glenn Hoddle resign, and be replaced – initially on a temporary basis – by Kevin Keegan. England stormed to an early 2-0 lead against Portugal in their first match of the finals, but then fell apart, and lost 3-2. As the players left the field at the end of the match, Beckham directed an angry gesture towards England fans who had been barracking him. England recovered to beat Germany 1-0 in their next game, with Alan Shearer heading in a free kick from Beckham. A 3-2 defeat against Romania brought England’s elimination at the end of the group stage.
Massive public interest in David Beckham led Staffordshire University to announce in March 2000 that they were organising a course in football studies, with Beckham as a major focus. This would act as a module within a variety of degree courses. Professor Ellis Cashmole explained: “We’ll be examining the rise of football from its folk origins in the 17th century, to the power it’s become and the central place it occupies in British culture, and indeed world culture, today. We do have to concede that Beckham occupies a lot of our attention today. He’s the object of a great many fantasies, and he and his wife seem to mesmerise the population, so we will be looking at the reasons why this has come about. He married very well, and he’s a good-looking guy, and he’s gifted with a fair degree of technical skills. I think he embodies the spirit of the times, he doesn’t actually say much or do much – unlike icons of the past, he doesn’t take a political stand or engage with any kind of social issues of the day. But maybe that’s just we want in the early 21st century, a person who doesn’t actually do much, but onto which we can displace all our fantasies. He occupies so much of our attention, we write and we talk about him. He is a central figure in our culture at the moment, like him or loathe him”.
Beckham added to the interest in him with the publication of an autobiography, My World, which appeared in October 2000, with an updated version the following year. The front cover featured a lurid and red-tinted picture of Beckham, with this hair cropped – every inch the Red Devil. Equal coverage was given to the text, written by Beckham with a couple of assistants, and the photos from Dean Freeman, commissioned specifically for the book. The text was unusually revealing for a footballer, with many honest and brave revelations. Beckham recalls the abuse he received after the 1998 World Cup finals, saying: “The manager [Alex Ferguson] told me to ignore all the criticism that was coming my way but I did take note of some of the people who slaughtered me after Argentina. I’ve got a little book in which I’ve written down the names of those people who upset me the most. I don’t want to name them because I want it to be a surprise when I get them back. I know I will get them some day”.
England’s qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup opened in October 2000 with a 1-0 defeat against Germany. Beckham was England’s best player on the day, leading a second half rally after the team made a poor start to the match. The defeat prompted Keegan to resign as manager. Beckham captained England for the first time during the following month, being selected for the role by the caretaker manager, Peter Taylor, as England lost 1-0 to Italy. Sven-Goran Eriksson took over as manager during the early part of 2001, and retained Beckham as England captain. The World Cup qualifying campaign ended in October 2001, with a 2-2 draw against Greece at Old Trafford, by which England secured a place in the finals. Having led a fight-back with a determined personal display, Beckham gained the vital point for England by scoring a brilliant goal with a thirty yard free kick in stoppage time. This performance went a long way towards securing Beckham the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award at the end of 2001.
United won the Premiership title for a third successive season in 2000-01, finishing ten points clear of Arsenal. During the Spring of 2002, Beckham suffered a broken metatarsal, playing for United against Deportivo La Coruna, in the Quarter Finals of the Champions League. He missed the remainder of United’s season, and the club failed to win any trophies, finishing third in the Premiership, and losing on away goals to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League Semi Finals. Prior to his injury, Beckham had been in great form, scoring a personal best total of 11 Premiership goals this season.
Beckham managed to recover sufficiently to join the England squad for the World Cup finals, held in Japan and South Korea. England began with a 1-1 draw against Sweden, in which a tiring Beckham was substituted midway through the second half. The next match saw England beat Argentina, with Beckham scoring the only goal from a penalty, thereby exorcising demons from the 1998 match. Unfortunately the continuing effects of his injury hampered Beckham during the remainder of the finals. After drawing 0-0 with Nigeria, and beating Denmark 3-0, England exited with a tame performance against Brazil, who won the Quarter Final meeting 2-1. Despite some lacklustre performances on the pitch, the impression was that Beckham was one of the stars of the World Cup, as he received great adulation from the local public. He was already an established celebrity in the region due to advertising work.
Romeo, the second son of David and Victoria, was born on September 1 2002. During the following months speculation mounted that Beckham would be sold by United, due to a rift with Alex Ferguson, who was tired of Beckham’s celebrity lifestyle, seeing it as a distraction from his playing career. The Beckhams’ thirst for celebrity appeared to be led by Victoria, whose attempts to establish a solo singing career, following the split of the Spice Girls, had floundered. When United were eliminated from the FA Cup by Arsenal in February 2003, a dressing room row saw Ferguson hurl a football boot at Beckham, causing the player an injury. United’s Champions League campaign ended with elimination by Real Madrid in the Quarter Finals, as the Spanish club won the tie 6-5 on aggregate – Beckham was reduced to a substitute role in the second leg, but scored twice when he joined the fray. This contact with Real Madrid led Beckham to conclude that he would like to join the club. The 2002-03 season closed with United winning the Premiership, finishing fifteen points clear of Arsenal. This was the sixth time that Beckham was part of a title-winning team.
In June 2003 the award of an OBE to Beckham was announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours – upon the recommendation of Tony Blair. Five years after the sending off against Argentina, Beckham’s transformation into a football role model was complete. The award was rapidly followed by the much-predicted sale of Beckham by Manchester United. He moved to Real Madrid, for a transfer fee that was expected to total £24,500,000 once all of the instalments had been paid. Beckham immediately joined Real on tour of the Far East, where the club capitalised upon the merchandising profile of their new star. Indeed David and Victoria had recently toured the region as a couple, apparently earning millions by advertising beauty products.
Beckham published My Side, a more conventional autobiography than My World, in September 2003. The new book rapidly became one of Britain’s best ever selling football books, with sales of 100,000 copies in the first week. In a repeat of the dual release of My World, the initial hardback version of My Side was followed by a paperback update a year later. During the early part of 2004 it appeared David’s marriage to Victoria was under strain. There was speculation that Victoria was not happy with the idea of settling in Spain. The tabloid press carried lurid stories of an alleged recent relationship between David and Rebecca Loos, his personal assistant. Loos, who was openly bisexual, sold her story to the News of the World, and other media outlets, for a total of £700,000 with the backing of the publicist, Max Clifford – he proclaimed the story to be “the greatest tabloid expose of the past decade”.
Beckham scored four goals for England in the Euro 2004 qualifiers, but missed a penalty in the 0–0 draw with Turkey that made certain of a place in the finals – losing his footing, and sending the ball high over the crossbar. Beckham’s displays at the finals, in Portugal, fell well below his normal form. He missed a penalty in the 2-1 defeat against France with which England started the tournament. Victories against Switzerland and Croatia took England to the Quarter Finals, where they drew 2-2 with Portugal, after extra time. The match was settled on penalties, with Portugal winning, and Beckham being one of the England players to miss from a disintegrating penalty spot, shooting over the bar.
Over the border in Spain, Beckham had quickly established himself as one of the “galacticos” at Real Madrid, despite strong competition for places in the team. On the other hand, the club failed to live up to the reputation it had gained in winning the Champions League in 1998, 2000, and 2002. Real Madrid slumped to fourth place in the Spanish League at the end of 2003-04, Beckham’s first season with the club. Although Real Madrid reached the Spanish Cup Final in 2004, and Beckham opened the scoring in the match against Real Zaragoza, his team were eventually beaten 3-2, after extra time. Real Madrid finished second in the Spanish League in both the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. Real also under-performed in the Champions League, and were destined to be eliminated at the last 16 stage in each of the four season that Beckham was with the club.
Beckham’s form for England in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers was indifferent. In October 2004 Beckham scored a brilliant goal for England, as they beat Wales 2-0 in a qualifying match, at Old Trafford. Beckham picked up an injury in this match, which he thought would rule him out of England’s next World Cup game, a few days later. Carrying a yellow card from a previous match, Beckham now got himself booked with a rash challenge on an opponent, in order to serve a suspension for two bookings while out injured. Beckham publicly admitted the ruse, and was pilloried by many for perpetrating a cynical foul on an opponent, while being praised by others for his (rather twisted) honesty. A place in the finals was ultimately secured with a 1-0 win against Austria at Old Trafford in October 2005, but Beckham departed half an hour from time, being sent off as he received two yellow cards a minute apart. Each booking was unlucky, but Beckham’s petulant behaviour contributed to the dismissal. He now set the unenviable record of becoming the first player to be sent off twice for England. He was also left to serve a second suspension in the space of a year. It appeared that family worries had unsettled Beckham, with Romeo having been rushed to hospital suffering from convulsions a few days before the match.
Off the pitch, Beckham remained active on several fronts. At the start of 2005, a year in which he reached the age of 30, Beckham became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, building upon previous charity work. The Beckhams’ third son, Cruz, was born on February 20 2005. In July of that year, London’s bid to stage the 2012 Olympics was successful, with Beckham widely credited for an influential role in Singapore, where the decision was made by Olympic officials. In November 2005 Beckham opened football academies for children, which he had initiated, in both Los Angeles and London. Nearly two decades after his time with Bobby Charlton’s coaching programme, Beckham was passing his experience on to the next generation. In April 2006 Beckham surprisingly announced that he was suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In this respect, Beckham was following in the footsteps of Paul Gascoigne, a former England team-mate, who had revealed a terrible struggle with OCD, and other demons. During an interview for an ITV documentary about his life. Beckham explained “I have got this Obsessive Compulsive Disorder where I have to have everything in a straight line, or everything has to be in pairs. I’ll put my Pepsi cans in the fridge and if there’s one too many then I’ll put it in another cupboard somewhere. I’ve got that problem. I’ll go into a hotel room. Before I can relax I have to move all the leaflets and all the books and put them in a drawer. Everything has to be perfect”.
Beckham captained the England team at the 2006 World Cup finals, staged in Germany. England’s performances in the tournament were disappointing, and Beckham failed to provide the spark of leadership, although he did make some significant contributions. England beat Paraguay 1-0 in their first match, with a free kick from Beckham after three minutes leading to an own goal by Carlos Gammara. England subsequently won 2-0 against Trinidad and Tobago, and completed the group stage with a 2-2 draw against Sweden. In the Second Round, England beat Ecuador 1-0, with Beckham scoring from a free kick, but he struggled with the effects of dehydration, and vomited during the match. England’s campaign ended in the Quarter Finals, with a defeat against Portugal on penalties, following a match that was drawn 0-0 after extra time. A clearly distraught Beckham had departed shortly after half time, due to an injury. The following day Beckham announced that he was resigning as England captain.
A few weeks after the World Cup finals, Beckham was excluded from the first England squad selected by new manager Steve McClaren (who had previously been part of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England coaching team, and assistant to Alex Ferguson when Beckham was at Manchester United). McClaren said he wanted to move forward with younger players in the Euro 2008 qualifiers. Beckham was unable to command a regular place in the Real Madrid first team through much of the 2006-07 season, and the club announced at the start of 2007 that his contract would not be renewed. Beckham responded by agreeing a lucrative move to Los Angeles Galaxy, which would take effect in the Summer of 2007. Beckham was reportedly expected to earn £125,000,000 during a five year deal with the club, as massive advertising and merchandising income would be paid in addition to his salary. Beckham spoke about a new challenge, but many in the game felt that he was turning his back on top-level football, in return for a Hollywood lifestyle. David and Victoria soon purchased a mansion in Beverly Hills, California, for a reputed USD 22,000,000, and this became the family’s home when David moved to LA Galaxy.
Ironically the latter part of the 2006-07 season saw Beckham enjoy his best spell of form at Real Madrid, as he helped the club win the Spanish title for the first time since 2002-03 – the campaign immediately before his arrival. Beckham made clear his desire to play again for England and, after several months of speculation over a possible recall, the player was brought back into the fold by McClaren at the end of the 2006-07 season. Beckham returned as England played their first match at the new Wembley Stadium, a 1-1 draw against Brazil. A few days later Beckham gave a great display, despite struggling with an injury, as England won 3-0 away to Estonia in a Euro 2008 qualifier. England eventually failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals, and McClaren was sacked by the Football Association.
McClaren was replaced as England coach by Fabio Capello, who had recently managed Beckham at Real Madrid. With Beckham struggling at LA Galaxy, due to injury, he was omitted from Capello’s first England squad at the start of 2008. Beckham was soon back in the national team, making his one hundredth appearance for England in a 1-0 defeat against France in March 2008. During the early part of both 2009 and 2010, Beckham had spells on loan with Milan, to coincide with close-seasons for LA Galaxy. Given a new impetus by Capello, England played excellent football in the 2010 qualifiers, winning nine of their ten matches, and scoring 34 goals. Croatia were beaten 4-1 away, with Theo Walcott scoring a hat trick, and 5-1 at home. The campaign began with eight successive victories, this being England’s longest ever winning sequence in the World Cup. Beckham featured in nine of the qualifying matches – with all but one of these appearances seeing him arrive from the substitutes’ bench. An Achilles injury, sustained when playing for Milan in March 2010, prevented Beckham from becoming the first English player to participate in the finals of four World Cups. Beckham still travelled to South Africa with the England party for the finals, acting as liaison between management and players. Following the tournament, Capello announced the end of Beckham’s England career, after 115 matches in which he had scored 17 goals.
David and Victoria became parents to a fourth child, a girl named Harper Seven, born on July 10 2011. Within a few months, Harper was joining her mother and brothers in the stands, as David played for LA Galaxy. The club won the Major League Soccer title in November, beating Houston Dynamo 1-0 in the deciding match. At the start of 2012, LA Galaxy announced Beckham had signed a new two year contract with the club. Beckham, now aged 36, had made clear his aim to appear in the 2012 Olympics, for Team GB. The best of his playing days were behind him, but David Beckham remained one of the most famous, and fascinating, personalities in football.