By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – When an 11-year-old David Beckham walked into a local newspaper office in east London with his mother in 1986 the trainee reporter summoned to reception could never have known he was about to meet a future international football and cultural icon.
Speaking in barely a whisper, the blonde-haired schoolboy, prompted by mum Sandra, said he had won the Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools skills competition and a trip to train with Barcelona, then managed by Terry Venables.
A story went out, one of a multitude that in years to come would chronicle a Roy of the Rovers tale that took the son of a plumber to fame and fortune beyond his wildest dreams.
Six years later, Beckham fulfilled his childhood ambition by making his first-team debut for Manchester United before going on to captain his country and become a Galactico at Real Madrid.
Beckham, one of the so-called “Class of 92”, went on to win six Premier League titles under Alex Ferguson at United alongside youth-team buddies Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, and Gary and Phil Neville.
Beckham also won two FA Cups and, memorably, the Champions League in 1999. He topped up his trophy collection with a La Liga winners’ medal for Real Madrid and added two MLS Cups during a north American adventure with LA Galaxy.
That barely begins to tell the story, though.
Midfielder Beckham, widely regarded as one of the sweetest strikers of a football in English soccer history, was destined for more than the sports pages.
In 1999, he married one of the Spice Girls, a British pop music sensation at the time, becoming one half of the country’s new Golden Couple.
Instead of “just” being a key cog in Manchester United’s dominant team of the 1990s and early 2000s, he became a brand, as big a name off the pitch as on it.
High-end companies fell over themselves to sign Beckham up. On billboards around the world, he modelled everything from expensive underpants to watches and sunglasses.
Actors Tom Cruise and George Clooney became pals and even Prince Harry was keen to socialise with soccer royalty.
“Bend it Like Beckham” became a box-office smash and Beckham was even credited with winning London’s bid to host the 2012 World Cup, his charm helping sway the IOC vote.
Even after his playing days, father-of-four Beckham is rarely out of the news. He part owns new MLS franchise Inter Miami as well as Salford City.
The door to all that, and an estimated net worth of $450 million, was opened by football gifts.
Venables recalled meeting that boyish Beckham at Barcelona’s Nou Camp,
“As we said goodbye I made sure I would not forget his name,” he said.
Had his grandfather got his way, Beckham would have signed for Tottenham Hotspur, then managed by Venables. The forms were already printed out, but Beckham only had eyes for United.
After helping them win the FA Youth Cup in 1992, Beckham made his first-team debut months later in the League Cup.
He returned from a brief loan spell at Preston to ignite his Old Trafford career, making his Premier League debut in 1994.
Ferguson’s decision to give his “fledglings” their wings at the start of the 1995-96 season initially raised eyebrows. Pundit Alan Hansen famously quipped “you’ll never win anything with kids,” after an opening-day loss to Aston Villa.
Instead, with Beckham flowering as United’s right-side midfielder, they scooped the Premier League and FA Cup double.
On the first day of the next season, Beckham launched a 60-metre shot from inside his own half over Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan and the world sat up and took notice.
Weeks later Glenn Hoddle handed him his England debut and he went on to earn 115 caps. From 2000 to 2006 he was captain.
Beckham’s celebrity status infuriated some, straining his relationship with Ferguson so much that the fiery Scot famously threw a boot at him in 2003 and cut his eye.
When he was red-carded for kicking Argentina’s Diego Simeone in the last 16 of the 1998 World Cup, fans and media lambasted Beckham for the defeat. A Beckham effigy was strung up outside a London pub, such was the venom aimed his way.
Yet out of adversity, Beckham grew. He led England to a famous 5-1 win over Germany in a World Cup qualifier in 2001 and his metamorphosis from villain to hero was complete when he curled in a trademark free kick against Greece at Wembley to clinch a place in the 2002 tournament.
Although England’s so-called “Golden Generation” never managed to land a trophy, Beckham went past Bobby Moore’s appearance record for an outfield player in 2009 before injury ended his hopes of playing at the 2010 World Cup and his international career.
Post-United Beckham never quite scaled the same heights at club level.
When he joined Real Madrid in 2003, 500 journalists turned up for his unveiling at the Bernabeu.
It was not until his final season in 2006-07, however, that Real won La Liga, by which time the Beckham circus was plotting a course for LA Galaxy and the Hollywood stage his fairytale career demanded.