The Beckham to Spurs saga was covered in huge detail this winter. But, as Georgina Turner argues, it's not all the player's fault

I manage to pour my breakfast cereal each morning without a plastic model of a member of the Beckham family dropping uninvited into my bowl. I've never found one of them sitting outside my building, holding a piece of cardboard upon which is scrawled "Will dance a jig for attention". I've yet to have a particularly tense episode of Spooks interrupted by a pirate broadcast from Beckingham Palace in which David, sporting oversized trousers and shoes, invites Victoria to smell a flower. Which has me confused, because Cirque du Beckham was supposed to be taking over the world. It said so in the papers.

There were plenty of reasons to disparage Beckham's attempt to sign on loan for Spurs during the MLS off-season. A few of them even made sense. But once everyone had grown tired of pretending he ever had pace to lose, and making out that Tottenham don't have any players who can't finish the 100m in under ten seconds, and berating Beckham's disloyalty to LA Galaxy (who, after all, just wanted an accomplished midfielder, not some franchise-enhancing global brand, oh no), they alighted on the charge that the "perpetual celebrity circus" surrounding Beckham would wreak havoc at the Tottenham training ground. Isn't that a bit like shoppers complaining that it's busy at Bluewater?

On Beckham's first day at Spurs Lodge, Sky Sports News had a camera trained so closely on him that you could almost smell the crumbs in his beard. His fetching chunky-knit cardigan looked like getting the full touchscreen tactical analysis. Nowhere outside of police control rooms does 30-second footage of a man parking his car get such a thorough going over. If we expect that of a channel whose breaking news ticker has tested the elasticity of the name to its very limits, the papers are kidding themselves thinking that they're any better.

"Beckham" featured in 243 UK national newspaper headlines in December and January: more than "recession" and "terrorism" put together (221, I checked on January 27). All eight major broadsheets and tabloids – including Sunday editions – featured articles on Beckham's possible return to English football. No one dared ignore it until something actually happened. Then half of them ran pieces that included criticism of Beckham for being on a disruptive publicity jaunt, as if he had been riding around London naked astride a Harley Davidson, a pack of reluctant photographers lassoed to 
his exhaust.

A great deal was made of the fact that New York Red Bulls and former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry was training with the Gunners at the same time without attracting anything like the same fuss. News outlets faithfully reported Arsène Wenger's musings on the positive influence Henry would have on the dressing room at the same time as they scoffed at the suggestion that Beckham might have a similar effect at Spurs. "You do not bring somebody in merely to be good in the dressing room," said Alan Hansen, in his Telegraph column, "especially with Spurs already looking to have created a fantastic team spirit."

Over on Twitter, Henry Winter (coincidentally another Telegraph journalist, but there were plenty of writers from elsewhere spinning the same line) also advised his followers that Beckham's signing would be disastrous for Tottenham's buoyant morale. The rest of the squad, he explained, would be thoroughly put out at constantly being asked questions about Beckham rather than the game, or their own performance. Unless this was a piece of irony par excellence, the fact that this scenario was completely beyond Beckham's control went unnoticed.

There's no denying that Beckham knows how to generate publicity – he earns more from image rights and so on than for playing, by all accounts – but the media make arses of themselves by slamming him for the entourage of Vauxhall Astras that chunters into Chigwell and back in his wake. He's desperately trying to play as much football as he can before the game is up; he's probably well over the days when his haircuts competed with Rachel from Friends. Most of the time he looks embarrassed by how giddy reporters become in his presence, at the circus that a simple trip attracts, but there are few editors brave enough to turn down a Beckham "story". Until people stop detailing his movements in hyperbolic Technicolor, at every single opportunity, we're the clowns.

From WSC 289 March 2011

Related articles

Natural: The Jimmy Greaves story by David Tossell
Pitch Publishing, £19.99Reviewed by Alan FisherFrom WSC 387, June 2019Buy the book...
A Trojan horse for gentrification? Local residents on Tottenham's new stadium
The regeneration of the area is undoubtedly impressive, but as one research project has found, not all local residents and businesses are benefiting...
Focus on Kasey Keller: The college keeper who starred for Millwall, Leicester and Spurs
His lengthy playing days were bookended by stints at Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, but it was in England that the Washington state-born...

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday