Thank You David
Watching scenes in Paris, as David Beckham exited the field of competitive top flight football for the last time, I am struck by how much this season have changed for many of us.
I wrote recently that with the changing of the guards at Manchester United, things may not have necessarily changed all that much. News would later break of other retirements of other players and personalities (in the case of Beckham, an argument could be made that he is both, sometimes at the same time).
Paul Scholes retired at the same time as Sir Alex Ferguson. I felt this, but not as much as I did when he did it the first time. The second time around certainly pulled at the heart strings more than a little, but it brought no tears this time around. Memories of when he combined superbly with Beckham to hit Bradford with an absolute thunderbastard is as clear as if it happened yesterday.
Going beyond the Old Trafford alumni club, Jamie Carragher himself announced his retirement from active football duty over at Anfield. A stalwart defender for Liverpool, he always made up for his noticeable lack of pace (though he wasn’t really slow, mind you) with a healthy dose of proper, proper and even more proper defending. If anything, he reminded me of Steve Bruce in that regard. Not entirely unlike Steve Bruce, the deserved amount of international recognition eluded him; I bet Roy Hodgson wouldn’t mind having a defender of Carragher’s caliber at his disposable now.
Over in Holland, Mark van Bommel got sent off in what turned out to be his last ever match in his professional career. Making it even more surreal, PSV Eindhoven themselves got a new coach, Phillip Cocu. The departure of these players and manager, allied with the new transition of former professionals making their mark either as a coach or manager makes me feel slightly older than I really want to feel.
Steve Harper, being released by Newcastle after almost twenty years and almost 200 games of service. Think about that. 200 games over twenty years. That’s only around ten games per year. How does one deal with that? Yet he still stayed there, loyal all the way through to the end.
Stillyan Petrov, retiring because of illness. Owen, I’ve paid tribute to before, but the hope that he makes a final dash of glory, to roll back the years at least for a few games or so, was dashed.
And of course, Beckham. The man, the myth, the legend.
I remembered vividly his impressive efforts over the years, many of them with Manchester United, of course. However, the most famous of them all, the one which launched him into stratosphere…I missed that completely.
We were on a family trip to Scotland, my family and I. This was the first time we went up there, and my mother would love it so much we would return much later. This time around, though, it was fairly soon after Euro 96, and the football fever is still in the air; it was on this trip that I would be acquainted with Rangers Football Club for the first time, via a VHS copy of the 1995/1996 season review. It was the penultimate triumph to the ninth and record equalling title in a row. Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne were in the ascendency, while Gordon Durie arguably had the most productive season of his career.
But I digress. We had stopped at an R&R on the way up there, and it was on that evening that I heard about Beckham scoring an absolutely amazing goal. Of course, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about, but it certainly sounded exciting enough on the radio. I urged my parents to drive a bit faster, so that we would reach the Travelodge in time for me to catch Match of the Day on the telly and see what it’s all about. We didn’t, and I didn’t.
And it would stay that way for quite a while. Of course, there were no such thing as Youtube back then, though the Internet were beginning to make their mark; our first Internet subscription package was with Demon Internet, who sponsored Fulham a while back.
Every single opportunity I tried to catch the goal, either by way of news and such, did not come to fruition. So upon returning to school, I did what a future lecturer would do: I faked it and pretended to have seen the goal.
Ah, the pressures of youth. You wouldn’t want to be left out when it comes to that, and so I would continue to mumble in vague terms about what a great goal it was, when, by this stage I still had no clue what it was like. The weekly Match supplements I bought religiously failed to provide a strong enough visualisation of what it was really like.
Luckily, at the time, Manchester United were in the habit of releasing VHS video magazines. They would do this on a monthly basis, and on these videos are interviews, behind the scenes moments and highlights from their game from the month. It was a fantastic way for fans to get close to their club, so while it toted along official lines, it was good enough for me at the time.
And it was good enough for me to finally witness the goal. I remembered Jordi Cruyff making his full competitive debut at the time for United. I failed to realise the significance of just who he was, but by the end of the match, that was not to matter.
Beckham, near the halfway line, looked up, saw the Scottish goalkeeper Neil Sullivan some way of his line, and shot. And it went in.
The irony of the goalkeeper being a Scot, while I was in Scotland as the goal happened, only struck me later. Much later on, I was to learn that the connection stretches further; he had asked for new boots from Adidas, but the only available size they had for him were custom made for Charlie Miller, who played for the aformentioned Rangers team at the time (didn’t really make much of an impression, unfortunately).
His boots certainly did, and the goal most definitely did.
I felt privileged to have witnessed a great professional football player strut his stuff for us for many years, and can’t help but feel sad as I see him leave the pitch in tears Saturday night in Paris.
Thank you, David.