On His Birthday, Here’s to David Beckham

On His Birthday, Here’s to David Beckham

Certain names in football transcend the game. Maradona, Pele… Lionel Messi.

For most, he’s probably not in the running for the title of greatest of all time - but David Beckham is undoubtedly one of those unforgettable names.

An icon beyond the pitch and, in his day, the pride of British football, we take a look today at the life of one of the most endearing football legends of all time.

The ups and downs. The head-in-our-hands red card. And THAT free kick in 2001 that secured England’s world cup spot.

Born on May 2nd, 1975, as a middle child between two sisters, Beckham rose from modest beginnings to become one of the most recognisable faces on the globe. He was a committed Man Utd. fan, from a family that were fanatical about the legendary English team.

In his youth, Becks was football through and through. In a 2007 interview, he quotes: "At school whenever the teachers asked, 'What do you want to do when you're older?' I'd say, 'I want to be a footballer.' And they'd say, 'No, what do you really want to do, for a job?' But that was the only thing I ever wanted to do."

A young David Beckham at Man Utd

In his youth he was already showing signs of promise, winning the chance to train at FC Barcelona in a talent competition at one of Bobby Charlton’s football schools in Manchester. 

After a spell at Tottenham as a teenager, Manchester United came knocking. Beckham signed the forms on his fourteenth birthday, thirty five years ago to the day.

He wasted no time getting to work in the Premier league - the world’s finest football league. By 1997, he was named Young Player of the Year by the FA, and was a familiar face in England’s World Cup squad the following year.

It wasn’t just the footballing world where Beckham was making a splash though. Say what you will, he was the first football icon to truly become a pop-culture star - cemented by his marriage to Spice Girls legend Victoria Adams in ‘97.

He had some of the lucrative sponsorship deals in the game, some of the most famous hairstyles of the time and it seemed he could do no wrong. But it would only take a moment to all come crashing down.

David Beckham's infamous red card against Argentina

During the 1998 World Cup in France - in the heat of the moment - Beckham would throw a petulant kick at Argentina’s Diego Simeone. For a usually composed player, it was a defining moment. 

Like a flick of a switch in that 47th minute of the match, he became the most hated person in England.

One newspaper led with the headline “10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy” and printed a  Beckham dartboard for fans to vent their anger. People sent bullets in the post. Fans lashed out, not just mocking Becks but going after his wife and kids. 

There’s a preconceived notion that Beckham was handed it all - the good looks, the fame. But in the aftermath of that game, we saw the real Beckham.

He owned up sincerely, apologised publicly. And most importantly, he bounced back. Yes, he was fallible, but he fought his way back - and few have worked harder.

Fast forward to the next world cup rolling around. It’s 2001, and I’m sitting in a Greek restaurant (of all places!) watching as Greece are leading England 2-1 in the final moments of the game. It’s almost certain that England are getting knocked out in the qualifiers by a team that are far inferior.

And then, a free kick on the edge of the box. Everyone knows who will take it.

I remember every moment of that free kick - it’s probably my first memory of football. Every blue shirt back behind the ball. The captain’s armband tight against Beckham’s billowing white sleeves as he sizes it up. The ark of the ball as it bends away from the wall into the left of the goal, past a keeper rooted to the centre of the goal in disbelief.

Arms outstretched, England’s number 7 runs to celebrate. He fist-pumps the air. No-one can believe it. 

Beckham is back.

You would be remiss to say that there were no more bumps in the road after that, but from that day forward we would never turn our backs on Becks again. 

His move to Real Madrid after the boot throwing incident at Old Trafford was controversial among fans. Like any star who moves to the U.S. to play, there were umm’s and aah’s. But Beckham captured our hearts and minds like no other.

As a rising star, he would famously spend hours taking those free kicks after training had ended. Alex Ferguson was quoted as saying he "practised with a discipline to achieve an accuracy that other players wouldn't care about."

That commitment to excellence extended throughout his life, and far beyond football. The pop-culture legend of a generation, he was never a diva - in fact, he was the opposite. A supporter of UNICEF since the Man Utd. days, he has done an incredible job for charity, never shying away from meeting those less fortunate and leveraging his influence.

Mature David Beckham

Admired even by his rivals, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger once said of Beckham, "What remains in your memory is his genuine commitment and dedication, his natural humility which he always had - that will stay forever."

It’s hard not to agree. Happy Birthday, Golden Balls - and thanks for everything.

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