|May 2, 1975|
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David Robert Joseph Beckham was born in Leytonstone, London, U.K. on May 2, 1975, to Sandra and Ted Beckham, a hairdresser and appliance repairman, respectively. His parents, diehard devotees of perennial British soccer power Manchester United, encouraged the boy's emerging football skills from an early age. Young David played with his neighborhood club, the Ridgeway Rovers, honing his skills at the Tottenham Hotspur Academy and for three summers attended Manchester's Bobby Charlton Soccer School. At age 11, he won the camp's national skills competition, earning the attention of pro scouts. Beckham saw all his dedication pay off when, in 1991, Man U chose him to join its youth team, where he helped them make it to the FA Youth Cup championship in 1992. At 18, he became a full-fledged member of the Man U team, making his league debut on April 2, 1995 against Leeds United. Mostly playing right midfield, he showed a deft touch with his free and corner kicks, highlighted by a game-winning goal in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea in 1996. In spite of Beckham's youth, English national team coach Glenn Hoddle selected him for the team that year. Thereafter, he would become a staple both on the club and international level, helping Man U win another Premier League Championship and advance to the semi-finals in the pan-continental European Cup in 1997, while himself being named Young Player of the Year by the Professional Footballers' Association.
His mounting fame netted a high-profile commercial endorsement contract with Adidas, not to mention the attentions of the celebrity world, notably in the form of debutante Victoria Adams, a.k.a "Posh Spice," so-dubbed by way of her membership in pop group sensation, the Spice Girls. Adams set her sights on the handsome footballer and they met in the wake of a Man U game in March 1997, soon thereafter becoming the buzz couple in the U.K. tabloids. Life as a sports hero came with a flipside, however. With the English national team for the 1998 World Cup tournament, he wowed his countrymen with a dazzling free kick to win the team's final match in group play. But during a second round game, after being fouled by Argentine player Diego Simeone, Beckham kicked Simeone and found himself ejected, with England losing the match on penalty kicks. In the U.K. media, he went from hero to goat, with some of the country's soccer-rabid citizens going so far as to send him death threats. He returned to Manchester United and led the team to a nonpareil "treble" championship in 1999, coming out on top in Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup competition. But friction had begun with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who would claim that Adams' swank lifestyle had negatively affected the work ethic of his star, notably one incident where Beckham allegedly begged off team business in order to take care of his and Victoria's first child while she hobnobbed in high society.
Beckham became as much a fashion plate as athlete, gracing ads and romanticized photo spreads, receiving as much buzz over his latest haircuts as his play, with some society wags pronouncing him a prototype "metrosexual" and the gay community making him virtually their patron saint. In 1999, Adams and Beckham wed in an appropriately posh gala at an Irish castle; the celebration was estimated to cost $800,000. Beckham continued his winning ways, scoring five goals for Man U in 11 wins, taking the Premier League championship again, and being named captain of the English national team in 2000, eventually paying off with his score on a last-minute free kick to tie the Greek team and qualify England for the 2002 World Cup. Man U made Beckham the highest-paid soccer player in the world, re-upping him to a three-year, $22 million contract in 2002, but the Beckhams' status as nouveau royalty drew some unwanted attentions. In November of that year, police arrested five people involved in a plot to kidnap Victoria and the couple's two children from their palatial $13 million estate, intending to hold them for a multimillion-dollar ransom. Beckham continued to clash with Ferguson - at one point the conflict reportedly turned physical - leading Man U to "transfer" its star's contract to the Spanish club Real Madrid in 2003, outraging English fans. Regardless, Beckham had continued his status as cultural U.K. icon, as imprinted by the title of an indie family film, "Bend It Like Beckham" (2002), the tale of a girl who eschews her Indian-immigrant family's strict adherence to traditional gender roles in order to pursue her dream of playing soccer.
In November 2003, Queen Elizabeth honored Beckham by bestowing on him the Order of the British Empire. Trouble rocked paradise again the next year when Beckham's former personal assistant alleged in a U.K. tabloid that the two had an affair, prompting a number of other women to claim trysts with the superstar. Though the Beckhams weathered that storm, David's fortunes on the soccer field waned in Spain. Real Madrid's coaching slot became a revolving door as the team only finished as high as runner-up in league play during Beckham's tenure there, his own playing time waning by 2006. He made his film debut with a cameo in the 2005 soccer-themed film "Goal!" and - despite a slightly high-pitched speaking voice - went on to slightly expanded performances in the film's 2007 and 2009 sequels. In the summer of 2006, he captained the English team to the World Cup's quarter final match, but an injury sidelined him for second half of the game; when they lost to Portugal, he resigned the captain's armband. With his Real Madrid future sketchy and with his wife's career faded to little but professional celebrity, the two stirred up fanfare again by making the jump to Los Angeles in 2007 - she to establish herself in the world of Hollywood and fashion design; he to sign with Major League Soccer's (MLS) Los Angeles Galaxy for $32.5 million over five years - conspicuous in the one country in the world where soccer did not draw big audiences live or on television.
The contract also gave Beckham an unprecedented merchandising deal and guarantees on endorsements that pushed the total estimated worth of the deal to $250 million, plus the option of buying his own MLS team at the point where he decided to leave the pitch for the front office. Beckham's actual on-field splash would be less than stellar, as an ankle injury sidelined him not long after his arrival, and his playing debut, broadcast with much fanfare by ESPN on July 21, 2007, drew only disappointing 1.0 national rating, meaning less than one million U.S. households watched the game. A concerted "reality" TV special about Victoria Beckham, aired on NBC a week earlier, had also failed to find much of an audience. The Beckham advent went over bigger with the U.S.'s own nouveau royalty than with sports fans, with a raft of celebrities attending Beckham's first soccer game, then a star-studded invite-only fete thrown at an L.A. museum by then-power couples Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. But later in the season he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him again, and the Galaxy would fail to make the playoffs in both 2007 and 2008.
In October 2008, the Galaxy struck a deal to "loan" Beckham to the AC Milan club, his attempt to maintain his Euro-bona fides so as to play again for England in the 2010 World Cup and, European sports wags mused, to combat accusations he had become more a Hollywood personality than a soccer player. He made his Milan debut the next January. Though Beckham and the Galaxy insisted it would not conflict with the MLS season, the team wound up extending the loan to Milan and Beckham did not return to the U.S. until mid-July - to the ambivalence of L.A. fans, many of whom saw him as exploiting his celebrity to receive entitled treatment. But Beckham played a key role in the Galaxy making it to the MLS championship game, and though he scored a goal in the game-ending penalty shoot-out, Real Salt Lake took the title 5-4. He did a second loaner stint with Milan starting in early 2010, a season that saw Milan lose to his old team, Manchester United, twice, before tearing his Achilles tendon in the next game. The injury would sideline him for the summer World Cup tournament as well as most of the Galaxy's 2010 season. The tabloids remained relentless in the U.S., with InTouch magazine reporting in September 2010 that Beckham had dallied periodically in 2007 with high-priced prostitute Irma Nici. The Beckhams denied the allegations and said they would sue the magazine. Despite a fair share of controversy, Beckham's reputation remained largely unsullied when he announced his retirement from soccer in May 2013.
By Matthew Grimm