Daddy, who was David Beckham?

by Stuart Howard-Cofield

We have all heard the announcement that David Beckham is going to bring his American adventure with LA Galaxy to a close after the MLS Cup Final on 1st December. Alongside that, we have also witnessed the subsequent hullabaloo and excitement about where his global brand is going to turn up next.

Beckham has not been short of offers, apparently, and debate has raged on radio phone-ins about whether he could still cut it in the top leagues in Europe, despite his advancing years.

Although a talented footballer, Beckham truly transcended the boundaries of sport and it could be said that his global fame was disproportionate to his footballing ability. At 37, then, what can he still bring to teams? Each person wheeled out to comment claims that the Englishman could still “do a job” for their team as he has “looked after himself,” but none of them fail to mention what having a name like Beckham in the ranks could do for their club. So how much is it ability that the clubs want to buy and how much is it his name?

Football has become an all-encompassing trip in our lives. Players like David Beckham have grown up before our very eyes, on pictures beamed incessantly in to our living rooms. Top flight footballers are no longer the blokes that wore our colours once a week and and dreamed of a retirement spent as landlord of the local pub. They have become virtual movie stars in unscripted dramas played out for millions.

With this greater presence comes greater rewards and greater recognition – and the formation of players as global brands. Beckham’s marriage to a Spice Girl expanded the column inches written about him much further than the sports pages and he became more than just a footballer. The media distractions that he enjoyed and courted will have been one reason that Sir Alex will have been happy to shuffle him off to Real Madrid when he did.

When England captain (and a hero for the national team in some games), he managed to become that rarest of beasts – a Manchester United player that was almost universally popular. His move to Spain sealed the deal. Even the Spanish media fell in love with “Sexy-Becksy,” detailing the minutiae of his life in numerous daytime discussion shows.

Hollywood certainly seemed the ideal destination for him and his family – the move to LA Galaxy being seen by most as his last stop before football retirement. Looking back now it sounds like he was, himself, believing the hype that he helped to create when he said that he hoped to “to change history, really” with his presence in the MLS. Well, the profile of football in the US is higher now than it was, but not solely down to one man and changing history was probably beyond even he.

That he has been plying his trade in the US has actually made him a little bit of a forgotten man on these shores. However, despite calls that the Premier League is “the best league in the world” do we really have a similar superstar character in the English game at the moment? So, probably propelled by the force of nostalgia, the excitement is tangible in some quarters.

I am the same age as David Beckham, and in the last few weeks, he has popped back in to my consciousness a couple of times to remind me of the sad fact that time is no friend. Not even for an all-pervading global superstar.

In March 2000 (thank you Google), I recall seeing the cover of The Face magazine, which  featured a picture of a moody looking teenager with the words “Daddy, who were the Stone Roses?” scrawled on it. Back then, it hit home quite hard. The insinuation was, what has the last decade produced to rival their debut album?

Well, the answer that is subjective, but the scary thought was: a band and scene that was so much a part of our lives were now historical artifacts – time had hurtled along so quickly that teenagers across the country would would probably have no clue who the Stone Roses even were, unless their flame had been kept burning by conscientious music-aware parents.

Another twelve years on – The Face no longer exists, but our nostalgia-driven culture has brought about the reforming of the Stone Roses (amongst many others) – cue me explaining to my own moody teenage daughter just who they were and why the fuss, in an acting out of the scene captured on the magazine.

The link with David Beckham is tenuous, but even though there are large sections of the world getting excited about his next move and clubs are trying to buy in to the man that became much bigger than the parameters of the sport he plays usually allows – is this nostalgia-driven?

The march of time affects everyone. This was highlighted by a couple of experiences my wife related to me from work recently.

A small group of eleven year old children were engaged on a reading programme designed to hold their interest in books longer than a tale of Janet and John would do. They were reading a football story with our hero, named Bockham, and another character named Dick E. Bird.

Poor Dick had to have his name changed to protect the the teacher and her assistant’s sanity, the group not being able to cope with the hilarity of his name and its alternative meaning.

To regain control, the question was asked of the children whether they could crack the complex code and work out who Mr. Bockham might be based on.The children stared back nonplussed and shrugged. On being advised that it was a corruption of the name David Beckham, a slight flicker of recognition occurred – the name registered. Just.

A week later, a related book was read, in the hope that the previous week’s tome would be recalled by the kids and the words would click. This book was a short biography on David Beckham, some aging bloke that used to play for Man United and Real Madrid. It was greeted with the type of reception usually reserved for dusty old textbooks on the history of Mesopotamia. Not the reaction that the publishers would have imagined when obtaining the licence to use his image.

My wife was surprised at the reaction. Although the children are young and they have a lot of distractions other than football, surely David Beckham was famous enough for them to know? Perhaps that particular group were bigger fans of the X Factor and WWE wrestling?  In a strange moment of synchronicity, a larger group was provided just a few days later.

A charity attended the school, with its promotional material designed to inspire and act as a rallying call to kids. When those sparks failed to materialise at the sight of a poster of Beckham, off-the-cuff remarks were made that this was not unusual, it was occurring more often and perhaps a new celebrity would have to be sourced as the age-groups being targeted just did not recognise their man. (His wife and the rest of the Spice Girls also drew blank stares).

I quite liked to hear that the kids didn’t know him. It was nice to draw David Beckham back in to the football fold and think of him as one of our own again, back on an even footing with those less famous contemporaries and rivals that he shared the pitch with.

We watch and wait for word on his destination. The player says that he still has something to offer prospective suitors. What exactly that still is – and for how long – is debatable.

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