David Beckham is the talk of the week (when isn’t he?) These days, it only takes a few hacked emails to make everyone talk about anything but your professional life.
But before David was an all-around family guy who asked the BBC for private jets (sorry, allegedly asked), the football star was a young boy who dreamed of leaving his mark on Europe’s most popular sport and who dated Spice Girls-era Victoria.
Loaded interviewed the 22-year-old back in 1997, and Becks had a few interesting things to say indeed…
David Beckham is 22, will earn £1.5million over five years playing for Man United, a straight million for wearing Adidas boots over four years and another £1.5million for being the new Brylcreem boy for two years. He owns two cars and a big house, wears clothes by Gucci, and his girlfriend, Victoria ‘Posh Spice’ Adams, is one of the world’s most famous pop stars. In the United souvenir shop, gear bearing his features sells out more often than anyone else’s. His name is on the back of more kids’ shirts than any other British player’s. Like a boy who’s won the pools, he spends his never-ending supply of big cash on expensive, throwaway accessories. The Sun recently ran his life story over two days. It could have been two paragraphs. Born and brought up in Leytonstone, he wanted to play for Man United since he was as a kid and now he does. So what’s there to talk about?
When you meet him, he doesn’t instantly strike you as one of the greatest footballers of the moment. His frame is on the slight side and in his smart suit, he looks like a lad who wants to make sure be doesn’t get asked his age in the pub. By the look on his face when I greet him, there’ll be no exclusive along the lines of “Yes, I first made love to Victoria on Row F of Stretford End.” He seems tired. Squirting strawberry juice down his tie hasn’t cheered him up much. It doesn’t help that, by the side of us, is a boffin from Brylcreem to keep an eye on me so I don’t deviate from asking questions about football. Opposite me, a photographer is snapping away at Beckham’s every breath. I feel like I’m in a scene from The Bill where I’m accused of nicking fags from the local off-licence and some officers and my mum are stood around me.
The schedule for Beckham has been plotted to the minute. Every second of his evening has been filled with interviews and photos. With my time limited to just half an hour, I ignore any ice-breaking pleasantries and go for the obvious: that goal, the crowning glory of a 3-0 victory over Wimbledon at Selhurst Park on the opening day of last season.
“Yeah, life definitely changed after it,” he says somewhat excitedly for an event he must have retold about 500 times. “Front pages and stuff like that. Last year, I could walk about and not be noticed. This year, I’ve got people coming up to me. Little kids asking me, ‘How did you do it?'”
Did you think you were that close to being famous?
“I knew I had the dedication to get there. But everything’s come so quick. It’s frightening really.”
Can you keep up with it?
“No, not really. This last year has been unbelievable, pressure-wise. Not just football, but outside football as well.”
Where do you get away from it?
“I get borne to my house.”
Recently, his home’s not been such a great place to get away from it all, since his car was stolen from his driveway and found burnt out three miles up the road. His father’s car has been stolen as well. Some say that it’s violent fans of rival teams who’ve found his address, while others reckon it’s bigots who just don’t like to see someone from ‘down south’ in their area. Beckham isn’t making any guesses.
“I do get quite a lot of stick playing for United or for being up north and yeah, it is scary.”
Do you think you’ll be forced to move house, then?
“Well, I am looking for a new house at the moment, actually. But that’s not the reason I’m moving, I’m just looking anyway.” This seems to bother him more than he admits. He reaches out again for a strawberry and makes a conscious effort not to drip this one.
What do you miss about being a normal 22-year-old who does a normal job for a living?
“I miss going out and having laughs with my mates. With the places I go now, there’s a certain amount I can’t do any more. You’ve got to stop a lot of things when you’ve got the limelight on you.”
When was the last time you got pissed and had a curry?
“I never really go out drinking, to be honest. If l do, I’ll just go out with my girlfriend and have a nice quiet meal and a couple of drinks. I will go out with mates and have an Indian but I won’t get drunk. I like to stay healthy.”
Beckham was 11 when he first visited Old Trafford and witnessed a dull, no-score draw. From that day, he knew where he wanted to work. He trained for three years with Spurs until finally, at 14, he was signed up to play as a schoolboy for United. Leaving school with few qualifications, he worked through the ranks at United as an apprentice at £29.50 a week before eventually following the route of Butt, Scholes and the Neville brothers from a very successful youth team into an already successful first team. In his first full season, Man United won the Double, with Beckham scoring the goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final which set up that historic moment. Now, he’s being groomed to replace Gazza in the England line-up of the future.
To watch David Beckham on a football field when he’s on form is an amazing sight. He plays the game like it’s his football and his back garden you’re playing in. His strengths are what make him different from the rest. He has pace, not quite Giggs ‘s speed, but enough to place him where opponents wouldn’t want him running with a football at his feet. And his shooting ability is what splits him from your average midfielder, because he scores most of them from the midfield. He can thank his feet for a lot. Without those, he wouldn’t be on the threshold of replacing the most important footballer to play for Man United in 30 years, Eric Cantona.
Where were you when you heard about Cantona?
“I think I was on the golf range. Gary Neville called me and went, ‘Eric’s just retired,’ and I was like ‘Yeah right’. I couldn’t really believe it to be honest. I was gutted. We’d spent the whole season with him, so to see him go was terrible. We’re all gonna really miss him.”
Was it a case of proving to him you were good, as well as to yourself, when you played with him?
“I would look over to him if I’d made a good pass sometimes and he’d look pleased and say ‘brilliant’ or something. It’s great to have someone like that to look up to.”
Apparently after the half-way line goal against Wimbledon, Cantona went up to Beckham in the changing room, offered him his hand in congratulation and simply said, “Beautiful goal, David.”
Do you feel the spotlight’s on you now to replace him, seeing as you’ve inherited the No7 shirt?
“I don’t know if I’ve got his shirt yet, actually. Teddy [Sheringham]’s got No10 now and I’ve not got a new one yet, ha ha. But anyone at United who gets the No7 shirt is under a certain amount of pressure because of the players that have actually worn it. I felt under real pressure when I was given No10 because Mark Hughes wore it before me. And Mark Hughes to me was an unbelievable player… still is, sorry.”
The papers like to describe you as the new Gazza, would you agree?
“Well, the way Gazza plays and the level he’s reached, then I’d say if I could reach that, then I’d be a great player. But players like Glenn Hoddle, Bryan Robson, Alan Shearer, those are the ones I look up to.”
Your two managers, Hoddle and Ferguson, seem to disagree on where to play you. What do you think your best position is?
“Well, personally I think it’s in the centre of midfield. But I have been playing on the right all season for United and I’m not that bad there.”
When I mention Ferguson and the part he’s played in his upbringing, Beckham admits to having total respect for the man. Even when Ferguson made the decision, which at the time seemed irresponsible, of resting his midfield maestro near the end of the last season, Beckham thought it was a great idea.
“I came back a little sharper and, to be honest, the manager knows what he’s talking about.”
As for Man United itself, he admits that Gary Neville is his best mate, Roy Keane should be the captain, Juventus are the best team he’s ever played against and Andy Cole calls him ‘Superstar’, whilst the others call him ‘Becks’. Although for a while, Ferguson used to call him ‘Becky’ before he was corrected.
If you want the truth about any of the tittle-tattle reported about him, then you can try fishing in a pond with no fish or water while you’re at it. Ferguson, like Obi Wan Keno bi to Beckham’s Luke Skywalker, has taught him well not to say anything that could in some way harm his career. Which simply means in real terms that he’s taught him to say nothing at all. As for the basic stuff, he’s listening to Maxwell on his stereo at the moment and his favourite films are Mafia ones which feature Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. His favourite holiday destination is the south of France, and as for cars he admits, “I like nice cars,” referring to his BMW convertible with its number plate BECK 5.
And as for the questions my niece got me to ask him:
Do you actually need to wear glasses? (Beckham has taken to wearing very expensive spectacles at functions nowadays.)
Why don’t you wear socks?
“I’ve never worn socks with loafers.”
Was it true you first met Victoria from the Spice Girls after the match against Sheffield Wednesday?
Was it true about the £30,000 engagement ring you were supposed to have bought for her?
“Just the papers talking.”
At the mention of the Spice Girl, the hair grooming man steps in and proclaims that this is strictly a football interview. To his credit, Beckham butts in to help. “Depends what the question is really,” he says, “I’ll probably say ‘no’ to them all anyway.”
I looked down to my pad for the next two questions:
‘Which other Spice would you get off with if it wasn’t the posh one?’ and ‘Why do you always seem to be patting each other on the arse when your pictures are in the newspapers?’
I look up and turn back to him, “Erm, I think you might say no to most of these to be honest.” Hurriedly, I search for my tamer selection. What do you think of her lifestyle compared to yours?
“I think there are loads more comparisons being made of late. People are saying her life style’s very similar to a footballer’s but I don’t see it like that at all. We lead a totally different way of life, really.”
Do you think you two are like Liam and Patsy for the kids?
“Yeah, we are highlighted in the same way.”
So, are you getting married?
He smiles and shakes his head.
With my half hour reaching its end, I plump for a final question.
If your girlfriend’s nickname is Posh Spice, what would yours be?
He laughs and looks embarrassed, “I wouldn’t like to say. I’ve been called a few things in my time.”
Like what? I pursue an answer like a hound searching for the last bone in the world.
“Brylcreem Spice,” parps up our babysitter, and Dave takes this pause to offer me a handshake and apologise for rushing off. When you score a goal from 57 yards, people tend to sit up and listen.
Unfortunately, David Beckham doesn’t have much to say. But if I’d wanted chatter, I’d have interviewed Peter Ustinov, I suppose. Maybe in 10 years would be the best time to interview David Beckham. By then, he’ll have either become European Footballer Of The Year for the fifth time or be selling burgers out of a van in Blackpool.
What’s there to say now? He’s 22, some company are paying him £1.5 million to make his hair look sticky, he’s got a famous bird and he may be part of an England team who finally win the World Cup. If we don’t, at least his hair will look nice.