Offside, 21 October
Never mind the Beckhamology.
Beckhamologists have had their work cut out this week decoding the cultural significance of the England captain’s foul on Ben Thatcher. Just picture them, hunched over their laptops, stroking their goatees, feverishly struggling to decipher the meaning of Beckham’s retaliatory foul, his confession of gamesmanship, and his subsequent apology. It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.
A ludicrous furore has raged all week over Beckham’s admission that he had deliberately fouled Wales defender Thatcher in order to engineer a suspension. Gamesmanship has been part and parcel of professional football for decades, yet when a player is caught bending the rules like Beckham there are always howls of self-righteous Corinthian indignation.
Former sports minister Kate Hoey called for the England captain to be charged with bringing the game into disrepute. ‘If Beckham is not punished severely’, argued Hoey, it would send a message to the world that ‘morality in football in England has been abandoned’. Since when did morality have anything to do with football? Football is governed by rules, not ethical principles. Players might violate or bend those rules to gain an advantage but this does not make them immoral. The objective in football, lest we forget, is to kick a ball into a net, not to create a good society.
Sir Geoff Hurst has also joined in the condemnation of Beckham. ‘What would Sir Alf Ramsey have thought if he said that he’d got himself booked?’, asked Hurst, who seems to think that scoring a hat-trick nearly 40 years ago makes him the custodian of the nation’s morals. Sir Alf may have been disgusted by Argentine gamesmanship during the 1966 World Cup quarter-final, but his team were far from wingless angels. Nobby Stiles specialised in kicking lumps out of the opposition but Ramsey refused to bow to pressure from the media and FA to drop the player.
Sven Goran-Eriksson has been urged to remove the England captaincy from Beckham. ‘Strip him of the honour now. Give it to someone who still believes it should not be sullied by cheating and gamesmanship’, thundered the normally sensible Oliver Holt in the Daily Mirror. ‘Give it to a solid professional like Gary Neville or Sol Campbell. Let Michael Owen keep it.’ Er, would that be the same Michael Owen whose theatrical tumbles earned England penalties against Argentina in two successive World Cups? Isn’t that also gamesmanship?
The FA have decided not to discipline Beckham but they have ‘reminded him of his responsibilities’. There are parallels here with Roy Keane’s five-match ban for admitting a premeditated revenge tackle on Alf Inge Haaland. ‘I’d waited long enough. I fucking hit him hard…. Take that you cunt’, were Keane’s immortal words (or maybe not so immortal as these words were excised for legal reasons from the second edition of his autobiography). The irony that honesty has become a punishable offence is lost on the morality brigade.
If anyone deserves the boot after this fiasco it is Beckham’s PR advisers who arranged for him to fess up to the Daily Telegraph. No amount of expensive PR management has prevented Beckham’s public image taking a real battering this year, after lacklustre performances on the pitch and allegations of lustful antics off it. After an impressive start to his Real Madrid career Beckham’s form dipped badly, prompting Spanish sports paper Marca to dub him ‘Forrest Gump’. ‘At first, Beckham played football and ran. Then, he ran and played football. After that, he just ran’, said Marca.
Beckham’s advisers have attempted to shore up his ailing reputation through a combination of carefully stage-managed public appearances and media interviews, and threats of legal action, but this PR strategy has only created the impression of an increasingly self-obsessed and paranoid individual – more Whacko Becko than Captain Marvel. It was even reported recently that Posh and Becks have ordered their friends and families to sign gagging agreements in an attempt to stem the tide of tabloid scandals. This story may be groundless but it no longer seems implausible.
Beckham should chill out a bit. Football fans don’t give a monkey’s about tabloid tales of text sex with his personal assistant or beauticians waxing his knackers – we care whether he performs on the pitch in an England shirt. Beckham says he wants to be remembered as a great footballer, but he is in danger of being seen as an underperforming narcissist. If he wants to realise his ambition he needs to keep his mouth shut and let his feet do the talking.
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