Credit: The Democratic Alliance, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Tell it like Beckham: Everything I learnt watching the Beckham Documentary

Netflix’s four-part documentary highlights one of football’s biggest icon’s journey to becoming the household name he is today, and his experience on and off the pitch.

The ‘Beckham’ documentary details the life and career of David Beckham, and what it took to become one of the greatest footballers of all time. Those close to him talked about how great of a player he was, always destined to represent England. The docuseries discusses some of the peaks and troughs in Beckham’s career and in his personal life.

One of the most eye-opening moments was Beckham’s red card in the 1998 World Cup. It was shocking how much abuse Beckham received in response to his kick on Argentina team captain, Diego Simeone. For years afterwards, he was a pariah. It became such an issue, that Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked his opinion on it. Beckham, in the docuseries, gets quite choked up and is visibly uncomfortable discussing that time of his life. He recalled feeling very vulnerable and alone and driving for long hours during the night. He had felt he had let everyone down, and I fear very little has changed in this regard. During the 2020 Euros, England players experienced racist abuse over missing penalties. I think that while conversations surrounding mental health in recent years have meant that we’re less tolerant of this abuse, it has still continued in the years following, just as it did for Beckham.

One of my favourite quotes from the documentary is Gary Neville describing himself as ‘not the beef, but the mustard on the side’ which encapsulates the socialist elements of football. It’s a team sport. When you get on the pitch everyone is the same; working to reach a common goal. The concept of ‘Galacticos’ i.e. superstars, I found to be particularly interesting. Real Madrid’s Galacticos consisted of a team famed to be the best players in the world. Following his relationship breakdown with Sir Alex Ferguson, this all-star team included David Beckham. His move to Real Madrid was a real culture shift from the environment at Manchester United. There, everyone was a ‘superstar’, not just Beckham. Ironically, I think it’s at Real Madrid where those socialist elements were a necessity since the players, so used to revelling in individual glory, had to do what was best for the team. It also raised questions to me about the longevity of a team composed solely of those considered the best of the best.

Beckham, throughout the docuseries, refers to Manchester United as a “family”. He had known the manager at the time, Sir Alex Ferguson, since he was a child. I think this captures the essence of what the sport means to fans. Most would consider the team they support to be their ‘family’ and have been supporting them for many years. Beckham’s own father was a huge Manchester fan, which motivated his desire for his son to play for them professionally. 

Beckham has of course been a trailblazer for men’s fashion as well. He wasn’t afraid to express himself on and off the pitch, oftentimes being at odds with Sir Alex Ferguson over it. He faced criticism for this, often being mocked for his fashion choices, the infamous sarong being one of them. I think his influence has contributed to football players becoming more mainstream celebrities. Players often are featured in magazines and brand endorsements in a way they wouldn’t have been before. ‘Posh and Becks’, the widely used nickname for Beckham and his wife, Victoria, was born out of how their fashion and public intrigue contributed to pop culture at the time. The couple faced a lot of backlash regarding this, with many thinking that Beckham should only be focused on football. However, since then, it’s become a lot more socially acceptable for individual players to be endorsed by brands and to venture into fashion.

The ‘Beckham’ documentary touches on many themes that intertwine with football. The career of David Beckham is filled with countless dramatic and pop cultural moments, which capture the attention of football fans and non-supporters alike.

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