By Paul Gardner
Hello there! Today, I am assuming, for a few minutes, my new role as Soccer America's Royal Court correspondent, my beat being to cover the British royal family wedding. However, I have let it be known that I find the royals a rather boring lot, and I have therefore been excused from even noticing them, and will report only on the royal wedding so far as it related to soccer.
Meaning, the presence of David Beckham. Just how he wangled an invitation, I don’t know -- probably because, a few years back, Queen Lizzy [EDITOR: check spelling] made him some big shot in the Order of the British Empire. I also don’t know which empire that would be.
Anyway, DB was there, in the elaborately decorated Westminster Abbey, looking very smart indeed. Not a sign of those stupid tattoos [EDITOR: can you wash those things off? Please check]. In fact he looked so, well, so aristocratic, that I didn’t recognize him. Accompanying him, in a stylish dress made from ... [EDITOR: can we skip the sartorial details -- who cares anyway?] was his wife Posh, with her head crowned by a prominent hat that looked like the sort of hat worn by the sort of people who want to be noticed. In that she was probably disappointed, as I saw several far more stridently noticeable hats -- worn by the sort of people who must be half barmy.
The scandal (there must always be a scandal in royal stories) was that DB should not have been in London at all. He should have been in the USA with his Galaxy teammates, preparing for a tough game against Dallas on Sunday. DB scoffed at that idea -- after all, royal weddings don’t come around too often, he smirked. So after the happy couple had gotten themselves hitched and been paraded off to Buckingham [EDITOR: careful with spelling] Palace, we had DB zooming back to Dallas, and doing another of his famous off-the-plane and on-to-the-field acts.
Actually, we have seen this before. Last time, in 2007 as I recall, it was a disaster -- DB did not actually, physically, fall asleep on the field, but he sure played like he had, and was visibly hobbling at the end of the game.
From that, a lesson must surely have been learned, no? Tuning in to last night’s game against Dallas [EDITOR: I’m now, more or less, reverting to my soccer columnist role], I quickly learned that the royal wedding guest was in the Galaxy starting lineup. I set aside a page in my notebook, a special Beckham page, to record whatever he did. At halftime, I couldn’t help but notice that the page was almost blank, so I gave up on that idea.
In keeping with recent MLS events, the most noteworthy action of the first half saw Dallas defender Jair Benitez being stretchered off the field, injured by his own goalkeeper. There was no scoring, and not much of anything else -- certainly not much for either soccer fans, or royal wedding fans, to get excited about. And poor Juan Pablo Angel, stranded up front for the Galaxy, did not seem to me to receive even one playable pass.
It got a bit better -- Fabian Castillo got a nice goal for Dallas, then Landon Donovan scored, and we had a 1-1 scoreline only five minutes into the second half. Beckham tried to score from about 50 yards, but was off target, as were a number of his passes and corner kicks -- though one corner kick very nearly resulted in a gol olimpico.
The big story of the second half was the monsoon, which eventually sent both teams and most of the spectators scurrying for cover. A straggly, very wet, almost drowned Beckham (they’d never have let this version into Westminster Abbey) plodded off [EDITOR: the tattoos do not wash off]. And when, about an hour later, the rain relented and the players came back, Beckham was not among them.
That was hardly a grand surprise, for Beckham’s performance had been, shall we say, restrained, more fitted to the gaudy dignity of the Abbey than the noisy raucousness of Pizza Hut Park.
The game continued for some 10 or so make-up minutes, during which Brek Shea fooled everyone into thinking he was hitting a cross, and then unleashed what seemed to be a shot that sailed merrily over goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts’ head and into the Galaxy net. An improbable goal, it provided a fitting end to this fragmented game ... a game, like so many of those graced by the wedding guest, that was billed as something special but turned out to be anything but.
I guess, then, that nothing has been learned. Neither Beckham nor his employers at the Galaxy understand that he can’t jump on and off planes and play like a superstar. But there’s the problem -- Beckham has never, not for a moment, played like a superstar since he came here in 2007. Even his behavior off the field has not been that of a superstar, but rather that of a celebrity.
It’s a great shame that this farce has dragged on for so long (incredibly, this is his fifth season with the Galaxy) and has produced barely a single memorable moment on the field. But then I’m talking like a soccer columnist, I’m making soccer judgments, and they are simply too parochial to take in the phenomenon that is David Beckham.
I need to acknowledge this, for a start: the average crowd at FC Dallas games this year is just over 16,000. For this game featuring David Beckham, OBE, over 21,000 fans showed up. Oh yes, the guy can play like a drain, but the fans still want to see him. Then I probably need to pose as a financial expert to assess the marketing advantages that the mere mention of the guy’s name has brought MLS. And all the media attention.
So here's my marketing contribution: Allow me to suggest that a unique opportunity has been missed. DB could have generated the greatest-ever publicity coup for MLS if he’d leapt to his feet in Westminster Abbey and pulled off his tux to reveal a Galaxy shirt. I can’t imagine that the Archbishop of Canterbury would have yellow-carded him, and, after all, royal weddings don’t come around too often, do they?