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DEAD BALL
- An icon and a tragic hero

David Beckham: My Side By David Beckham, CollinsWillow, £ 12.50

Let there be no illusions about it: the success of My Side will not depend on what the reviewers have to say about it. This autobiography is now part of the David Beckham merchandise, indistinguishable from the signed T-shirts and coffee mugs. If there are any doubts about this, the sales figures should be enough to dispel them: My Side sold over 86,000 copies in the first two days after its publication, second only to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

David Beckham is far from being the most talented footballer England has produced. George Best would be ahead of him by a few miles, even Paul Gascoigne. And yet, Beckham is the sporting icon that England has always dreamt of having, but never managed to have: both Best and Gascoigne proved too self-destructive to become one. To Beckham goes the credit of almost singlehandedly transforming the Barmy Army — the famed soccer hooligans of England — from a tribe of wife-beating, drunk, aggressive rabble-rousers to a much-mellowed, almost normal, group of fans.

So what does Beckham have that Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes or Gary Neville doesn’t' Looks that endear him to teenage girls and to gay men alike' A right foot that just loves the dead ball' A celebrity wife' Just the dash of volatility that people love' It pays for the Beckham-machine — or the Beckham industry — to keep the answer elusive. The hunt for the answer is on, nonetheless, with football making an entry into the culture studies section of the university curriculum in England.

The Beckham phenomenon has influenced more people in his own country and elsewhere than his football has. Gascoigne once lamented that he had never been in the papers “for sitting at home with a takeaway and watching the telly.” Beckham might well lament that he cannot escape the media glare even when he is indulging in such mundane things. That he does not for once do so strengthens his claim to iconhood. Tom Watt, Beckham’s ghost-writer for all practical purposes, makes sure that the “family” — and that includes his wife and children as well as his gas-fitter childhood friend and physically challenged children like Kirsty Howard — jostles for space with the on-field encounters, and sometimes wins.

This is Beckham’s “side”, after all. The choice of the title is interesting. At one level, “my side” is Beckham’s team — Ridgeway Rovers, Manchester United, England, and now Real Madrid. At another, perhaps more important level, “my side” is Beckham’s defence. On leaving Manchester United (“The only reason I’d ever leave United is if I could see they wanted me to.”), on getting the red card against Argentina during the 1998 World Cup in France (“I was provoked, but almost at the same moment I reacted, I knew I shouldn’t have done”), on missing a United training session to babysit Brooklyn in February 2000 and earning Alex Fergusson’s wrath (“It’s not that I didn’t want to be here at work but, as I see it, my first priority has to be my family. My son was ill and that’s why I missed training.”), and of course, on getting hit above the eye by a boot kicked by Fergusson (“I was trapped. And I swore at him. Something no player, certainly no United player, should ever do to the manager.”).

None of the controversial episodes in Beckham’s career has been left unmentioned, some of them are recounted with a great deal of candidness and in greater detail than his free-kicks. Strangely enough, as more and more bitterness creeps into his relationship with Fergusson, the importance of Fergusson as a father-figure becomes more apparent. “Dad knew how to get to me and so did Alex Fergusson. What he [Fergusson] told my mum after that West Ham game was his way of saying the same thing Dad had years ago,” Beckham writes about January 2003, when the rift in the relationship was more than evident.

Was Beckham becoming larger than the institution he was representing' Or is it that “the gaffer” never managed to get reconciled with the time and attention Beckham decided to give his personal life — to Victoria, first girlfriend and then wife, and Brooklyn and Romeo, their two sons' Going by the reports emanating from the British media, it would appear that the former was the case. Of course the Beckham-Watt duo attribute the falling out to the latter reason, and it must be said that they do a good job of it by making a tragic hero out of Beckham.

But this is the closest Beckham seems to have come to tragedy. The 28 years of David Beckham’s life, if My Side may be believed, is nothing short of a fairy-tale, where the modern-day prince meets the pop star “with the great legs” that he has always fancied, and of course, they fall in love, get married, have kids — all before the reader has a chance to register his incredulity. At the risk of sounding cynical, it must be said that the emphasis on familial bonding and conjugal bliss seems a tad overdone. Granted, the larger-than-life image of Beckham as a lovable son, loving husband and doting father may have changed British football forever, but it has also meant that while Beckham can come out into the open with his fracas with coaches and teammates, he cannot afford to be candid about any disagreement he may have had with his wife.

In the curious tussle between the public and the private in David Beckham’s life, the private must give in to the demands of the public realm, and perform exactly as the latter would require it to perform. This is a chicken-and-egg scenario: is it Beckham who has shaped the desires of the people, or is it their demands that must dictate his every move' Perhaps the answer is a bit of both: the Beckham phenomenon taking the market in its grip initially, but the market hitting back with a vengeance later. Beckham’s story is indeed that of a tragic hero.

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