David Beckham: An Innocent Phenomenon

There's always been a vague air of innocence about His Immortal Daveness, says Andi Thomas as his route through football stops at the David Beckham sideshow...

Last Updated: 09/11/12 at 14:23 Post Comment

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Blonde-haired leafleteers pressed Chevrolet propaganda on the sweltering passers-by. Home team shirts and scarves mingled pleasantly with colours from Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, England, Wales and Croatia. Traditional rivalries had been set aside for the day: the Newcastle fan was living with the Sunderland, the Real Madrid sitting with the Barcelona, the Liverpool and the Everton and the Manchester United together. One very lost Benfica fan with one very fine moustache wandered the food courts. He was searching for the perfect plate of Super Nachos; everybody else was here to see Him.

Earlier, the crescendos of the national anthem had been joined by unexpected fireworks - nothing says 'land of the free' like the crack of gunpowder - and now LA Galaxy were on the way to a comfortable victory. As the game wound down, FC Dallas's Brek Shea fell to the floor, thrutching like a indelicately abbreviated heron. His protests that a sharp elbow had done sharp things to his features were ignored by the referee, and in the stands a well-watered man rose to his feet and screamed "Get up, Dakota Fanning". The sun was shining on the court of King David. All was right with the world.

Well, sort of. It's slightly depressing, watching David Beckham grow old. The long clipped passes still have that alluring parabola, and the consistency of his set-pieces is an embarrassment to the Premier League and its ongoing war with the face of the first man, but the viciousness and fizz has subsided from his delivery. A faint sense of sparky petulance still lingers, but while the moustache is willing, the legs have retreated. Finally ensconced in that quarter-back role he coveted for so long, he shambles around the field like a beloved hunting dog rearranging himself in front of the fire.

But then his football has only ever been half the point. That he is the most important footballer of modern times is both inarguable and inescapable, and we only need to look at what happens to the clubs he leaves. AC Milan, robbed of the prospect of those fleeting loans, have gone mad and sold all their good players. Real Madrid managed to stumble to one more title before limply surrendering to the power of Barcelona's frenetic goblinoid knife-dancing, a malaise so severe it required exorcism-by-Mourinho. Manchester United, meanwhile, were so distraught that they retired the very concept of a competent corner-kick.

Or look at England. When Beckham took over the captaincy, he did so at the behest of Peter Taylor; a temporary appointment by a caretaker manager. Then, at the behest of a man with a notable weakness for famous people with yellow hair, he kept it. Six years later, with tears in his eyes, he relinquished the role, but by then the armband had become The Armband, imbued with a desperate celebritarian significance. It was, and still is, a Very Important Thing, craved by players, panted over by journalists, fretted over by managers, forever trailing devastation in its cursed wake.

For better or much, much, much worse, more than any of the crosses or goals or that game against Greece, Beckham's gift to the world is the current incarnation of modern footballer-as-tabloid-celebrity, and all that shuddering nonsense that goes along with it. Yet despite this, there's always been a vague air of innocence about His Immortal Daveness, a sense that while he is responsible for the haircuts and the tattoos and the lounging around in the pants, the decision of the world to go mad around him is hardly something for which he can be blamed.

Perhaps that, too, is just another cynical piece of image management, but then all the truly great celebrities - Marilyn Monroe, George Best, Jesus Christ - have suffered from that same peculiar tension, the sense that they have to happen to the world as quickly as possible, if only to stop the world happening to them. But where they chose suicide, alcoholism, and faking-your-own-death to escape the bind, Beckham is disappearing in a gentler fashion, recasting himself from a sportsman into a twinkly-eyed tuxedo at events of televisual significance. On one side of the Home Depot Center, a banner proclaimed 'WE <3 BECKHAM', a reminder of the good days. On the other, a teenage girl held up a homemade sign. 'DB 23', it read, 'my Mom <3's U'. Age is a terrible thing.

Andi Thomas

Andi also writes for SB Nation and The FCF, and is on Twitter. He also contributed to the Surreal Football Magazine #1, which is out now, and available here.

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