Sandra Beckham looks into the television camera and starts telling the story about how her son, as a young boy, had the chance to meet his favourite footballer. And, briefly, we are taken back to David Beckham’s childhood.
“I remember Glenn Hoddle was opening a shop,” Sandra recalls. “We stood for two or three hours. David was wearing his little England shirt with ‘Hoddle’ on the back. And he (Hoddle) never turned up. David was distraught.”
It is an early pointer in the new Netflix four-part documentary series (because why would Beckham settle for a measly hour?) that it is not just going to be one long slush-fest of happy stories. Not all the time, anyway.
Hoddle would later become England manager, giving Beckham his first cap for the national team, only to hang him out to dry with all sorts of public criticisms at the 1998 World Cup.
As such, Hoddle was never going to come out well in this documentary. Victoria Beckham makes it clear she cannot stand the bloke. Ted, her father-in-law, also has a pop. Then we go back to the retired hairdresser whose boy became the most famous footballer on the planet. “Glenn Hoddle said my son’s head wasn’t in the right place, didn’t he?” Sandra says. “I put him on my hit list, the people who have upset me.”
That hit list might be quite long given the story of the Beckhams, not just Goldenballs himself, which features exhilarating highs and excruciating lows.
What you won’t get in the not-very-imaginatively titled “Beckham” is anything hugely new or revelatory, but then again, is that really a surprise given the man in question has had almost 30 years with the paparazzi outside his front door?
Full marks, though, to the producers for making the most of Beckham’s contacts book and bringing together an impressive list of talking heads from Manchester United, Real Madrid and all his other clubs.
Sir Alex Ferguson might have not had any involvement in the 2019 biopic about Sir Matt Busby’s life – an absence that may or may not have had something to with the fact he was planning his own film at the time – but he does appear here to wallow in the nostalgia, such as how much he disliked Victoria’s presence and the almighty rage, straight after losing to Arsenal, when United’s occasionally terrifying manager kicked a stray football boot and watched it bounce off Beckham’s head.
(One interesting sidenote: Albert Morgan, then United’s kit man, mentions that the resultant photographs of Beckham with his hair up and a surgical strip above his eye were, he suspects, stage-managed for the media. It is also mentioned, knowing he had not needed stitches, that Ferguson suspected Beckham had deliberately made the “graze” look worse for the cameras).
Roberto Carlos recalls Beckham’s first summer with Real Madrid and the sheer bedlam, almost Beatlemania, of a pre-season trip to Japan. “On the advertising billboards there were 40 Beckham ones,” says the Brazilian, one of the Galacticos, “and only one of me.”
There is a classic piece of comedic Roy Keane recalling the scene when Beckham, with his Gucci leathers, Rolex watch and array of sports cars, started showing off his last buy. “He came in and said, ‘I’ve just bought a fancy pen’.” Even Keane is laughing. “Who buys a f****** pen? Clothes and cars, I get all that. A pen!”
Diego Simeone pops up to give his version of events about the infamous red card against Argentina and, sure enough, there is a gleam in his eye to make it absolutely clear he is not repentant for a second. “Football,” he says, “is all about deceiving,” comfortable enough in his own skin to admit he had fully set out to get his opponent in trouble. This guy is absolutely on Sandra’s hit list.
As for Gary Neville, his quotability is never more apparent than when he recalls the early stages of his team-mate’s relationship with Victoria, aka Posh from the Spice Girls. “He was in the bathroom with the light on, all night, speaking to her. I’m like, ‘What the f*** are you talking about?’. Come on, mate, seriously, we’re playing Liverpool on Sunday.”
Overall, it makes for an entertaining watch, even if it goes on too long in places and there are a few moments, inevitably, when it strays dangerously close to being the television equivalent of an interview with Hello! magazine.
In the process, we get to see the soft-focus Beckham, the restless Beckham, the weepy Beckham (several times), the OCD Beckham, the ultra-ambitious Beckham and, by his own admission, the occasionally selfish Beckham.
As devoted as he clearly is to his four children, who knew that he missed the birth of his third son, Cruz, because he had a photoshoot that day with Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce? Well, Victoria did, of course. She came round from the caesarean section to find one newspaper carrying the picture of her husband in between two of the most beautiful women in the world and the headline: “What will Posh Say?”
“Let me tell you what Posh will say,” Victoria tells the documentary. “Posh was p***** off.”
What is not always clear is whether Beckham understands the irony that some of his toughest moments have come about because he desperately wanted to be in the public eye. He chased that fame from a young age and, boy, he got it when he, a Hollywood-handsome A-lister, got together with a pop star.
But that fame had its downside and those are the moments that leap out rather than just going through the usual Beckham portfolio: the goal from the halfway line, the free kick against Greece, the ups and downs with Fergie, and on and on.
In one scene, he and Victoria recall the kidnap and death threats around the time their first son, Brooklyn, was born. Beckham was a hate figure at the time, for reasons that seem entirely disproportionate a quarter of a century on.
He had been vilified because of the red card against Argentina and, if you want to know how crazy it got for him, his mum remembers a West Ham fan inviting her to step outside and settle it with a fist-fight, the old-fashioned way, if she didn’t like the abuse he was getting on his first game back from the World Cup.
“The moment he (Brooklyn) came out, I thought, ‘How am I going to protect him?’,” says Beckham. “That night, I slept with my head against the door. I was paranoid someone was going to steal him. It was meant to be a happy moment – and it was a happy moment, of course – but I was worried.”
It is uncomfortable to be reminded at times about how poisonous the English media could be. Beckham’s fame was developed in an era when there was no such thing as “Be Kind”, very few newspaper journalists or editors seemed to care about mental health, and even fewer realised Beckham had been driven to the point of depression.
Ted talks at one point about finding out that the tabloid press were bugging his phone calls and the Spanish media could be brutal, too. Fast-forward a few years to Madrid and the paparazzi can be seen following Beckham on the school run, driving like lunatics to keep up. When he leaves the Bernabeu one night, Brooklyn is in the back seat terrified because of the number of fans banging on the windows.
The move to LA Galaxy follows and it is quite something to look back and see how undeveloped MLS was in those days. Beckham had left Madrid for a team that included a pool cleaner and a gardener. Fabio Capello, Madrid’s manager, told him he was joining a league with no worth. “I couldn’t agree with it (the move),” echoes Ferguson, seemingly forgetting that he and Beckham were not on speaking terms at this time. “If he’d asked for my advice, I’d have said, ‘Not on your life’.”
Neville, who was best man at Beckham’s wedding, doesn’t sound like he was waving the Stars and Stripes either. “I couldn’t get my head around the fact that in American restaurants they expect you to give them 25 per cent of the bill (as a tip). So I couldn’t get my head around Americans, let alone playing football in America.”
What the documentary does not contain is any form of explanation about why Beckham took Qatar’s money – obscene amounts of it, inevitably – to be an ambassador at the World Cup last year in a country where he, once a campaigner and friend of the LGBTQ+ community, would surely have realised it would attract intense scrutiny and criticism.
Perhaps that omission should not come as a surprise bearing in mind the purpose of this Netflix series, as with everything contacting Beckham’s fingerprints, is almost certainly to make him look good. But it is not a whitewash – they do, for instance, bring up his alleged extra-marital affair from a few years back.
It would have been a spectacular piece of television if they had invited on, say, Joe Lycett, the pansexual British comedian who challenged him publicly over Qatar and did the most to highlight what looked, to many, like elastic principles.
David Beckham, the interview: Miami, Messi, Manchester United – and more
Instead, the film-makers stick to a more positive script and, post-United, the most controversial it gets is Landon Donovan being invited on to explain what was, at times, a pretty bitter fallout between the two in Los Angeles. Donovan had the distinct sense that Beckham did not want to be there and, to begin with, he was probably right.
They made friends in the end, though. Beckham being Beckham, there is often a happy ending. And so, almost five hours of television culminates in Beckham explaining the creation of Inter Miami, Lionel Messi joining him in his brave new world and, back in England, some genuinely sweet moments with his children.
He and Ferguson seem cool, too, or the former United manager would never have agreed to take part in a documentary that begins, unexpectedly, with Beckham’s beekeeping. He has a name for the honey he produces: “Goldenbees.”
(Top photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)