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Football News: Sporting Villains 3: David Beckham

Sporting Villains 3: David Beckham
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David Beckham


For those not around at the time, to even suggest David 'Goldenballs' Beckham as a villain will seem quite simply insane. This is a man who was so beloved by Manchester United fans he was voted their 'greatest ever player' despite clearly not even being the greatest in the team at the time! He became the golden boy of a whole England generation, but first he had to go through a period of vile abuse and hatred to get to that point. It took over two years for him to win back the fans and all because of just one moment of madness, one tiny little flashpoint moment that, in retrospect, does not even look that bad.

The year was 1998 and young 23 year old Manchester United starlet David Beckham was the focus of massive media attention with his Spice Girl WAG Victoria making headlines on an almost daily basis. Beckham played in the World Cup qualifiers and helped England to qualify, despite the media attention surrounding he and Victoria constantly. However, the media circus is not welcomed by manager Glenn Hoddle who sees it as a distraction the team do not need in a World Cup finals tournament.

Despite Beckham helping England through the qualification campaign and into the finals, Hoddle dropped him for the tournament proper, as they opened Group G with a 2-0 win over Tunisia. Hoddle stuck by his decision and left Beckham out again for the second match in the tournament, as England faced Romania. The decision backfired as Romania won 2-1 and left England facing elimination from the World Cup at the group stage. Now Hoddle faced a media outcry and huge pressure to put Beckham back into the team for the final match against Colombia.

Whether it was the pressure that made him decide to put Beckham back into the team or if he just realised that the media attention did not have an adverse effect on the midfielder's performances or it was just desperation for a result we will never know, but Hoddle turned to Beckham to rescue his team. Whatever the reason it worked and England won 2-0 with Beckham scoring his first goal for his country with what would become his trademark, a direct free kick.

That put England through to a 30th June grudge match with Argentina, with the prospect of a chance of avenging the 1986 defeat, which still rankled in England. For some people it still does today. England had the likes of Alan Shearer, Pauls Ince and Merson, Darren Anderton and a teenage Michael Owen to take on an Argentine side with Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron and Javier Zanetti. It was not a vintage Argentina team by any means, and they lacked the individual superstar to pull them to victory as in 1986, but they were still a very good side and a tough ask for England to beat.

The game got off to a difficult start as Argentina won an early penalty through Diego Simeone, which Gabriel Batistuta slotted away in the 6th minute. England quickly hit back and Shearer scored a penalty in the 10th minute to level before, just over five minutes later, Owen scored the goal he is most remembered for, as a terrified Argentina defence could not cope with his pace and England were ahead in the 16th minute. The lead was not to last though and Argentina equalised through Zanetti in injury time at the end of the first half to take the two sides in for the break equal.

Early in the second half Simeone brings down Beckham and referee Kim Milton Nielsen awards England a free kick, but Beckham petulantly swung his leg out in Simeone's direction, with little to no force, but Simeone went down like he had been hit with a hammer blow. He admitted he overreacted deliberately to convince the referee to send Beckham off and then the whole Argentina team surrounded the referee, who gave the red card they were asking for.

England's ten men hung on to a draw, and nearly won it with a golden goal right at the death as Sol Campbell headed the ball into the back of the net in the dying seconds. As the England players celebrated with Campbell, most never noticed that the referee has ruled out the goal for a foul by Alan Shearer on the Argentina keeper and the Argentines took the free kick quickly breaking up field only to be stopped, surprisingly, by one of the very few England players who was not caught out, Darren Anderton, whose last ditch tackle saved a certain goal.

The game went to a penalty shootout and Sergio Berti and Alan Shearer both converted before Crespo and Ince failed to score theirs. Veron, Merson, Marcelo Gallardo and Owen all scored to leave it all on the 5th and final penalty. Roberto Ayala scored meaning David Batty stepped up to keep England in it, only to miss, and miss badly. With Beckham being one of England's chosen penalty takers, he was to become a scapegoat, but this was to go beyond merely being heavily criticised for being sent off. This was to become a nationwide campaign of hate against a young player who made a silly mistake in the heat of the moment.

The press were not shy in vilifying Beckham, the Daily Mirror's headline the next day was, "10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy". They even printed a dartboard with Beckham's picture as the bullseye. An effigy of Beckham was burnt outside a London pub and he was subject to horrible abuse and death threats at every away ground he visited with his Manchester United team and taunted by England supporters even as late as Euro 2000 during the 3-2 defeat to Portugal, where Beckham captained his country. Channel 4 ran one of their polls to create a 100 Worst Britons TV show, Beckham came in 91st.

I cannot personally remember one person being targeted the way he was during this period. He was a constant figure of hate and it was not just rival clubs that saw him given stick. It was literally every other English ground than Old Trafford saw nasty chants and songs aimed in his direction. The abuse was personal and vile but he did finally win over the fans during 2001, after the appointment of a foreigner, in the shape of Sven Goran Eriksson, as England manager gave the bigoted English media a new target to aim at. His free kick goal against Greece also went a long way towards reconciling him with the fans.

Now retired, Beckham went on to become a star of epic proportions, a hero to be worshipped and adored by England fans in later years and he, maybe surprisingly, puts this period of hate forward as a contributing reason for his later success. He even listed it in an interview for GQ magazine in 2016 as one of the top 5 moments in his career saying that it "was difficult for me as a player, and as a person. But it made me mature very quickly". Though he did criticise the England set up for not offering him much sympathy or empathy following the sending off.


Requested by 1985mikey1985

To read the previous episode in the Sporting Villains series, Harold Schumacher, click here.

Written by Tris Burke April 08 2019 05:21:29


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