In 1998 David Beckham became a figure of hate for most English football fans, his Red Card against Argentina in the second round of France ’98 for kicking out at now Athletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone had, in the eyes of most fans cost England the game, as ten men held on for most of the second half and all of extra-time. Such a striker of the ball Beckham would have almost certainly replaced one of Paul Ince or David Batty who both missed on the Penalty takers list instead the run down remains of England’s midfield bravely stepped up and in the end ultimately failed. Beckham received death threats for his error but this one costly mistake would light a fire in the young Manchester United winger. It would be a full 3 years before he would be redeemed.
“10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy”
For the next year at least Beckham’s card was marked, he was booed at every away ground and even by sections of the home support with Manchester United but he responded in the best possible way. In United’s treble winning season following the 1998 world cup Beckham was immense, more determined than ever to prove he was a great player and boy did he set about making a point. So successful was he in making his point he would come second behind Rivaldo in the FIFA World player of the Year vote that season for his excellent play.
His play with Manchester United would elevate season on season but winning around the hearts and minds of the England fans was a long way away. At Euro 2000 after 3-2 defeat to Portugal, in which Beckham set-up England’s two goals he flipped the bird at the angry England supporters still heckling him. It became clear at that point that the abuse had gone to far, Beckham had matured into one of the worlds best players by that point and the papers that once vilified him pleaded with their readers to call off the Dogs.
The Tables turned for Beckham after that, following the Resignation of Kevin Keegan after a 1-0 defeat to Germany sent the old Wembley stadium out with a fizzle, the then temporary international boss Peter Taylor made Beckham captain of a youthful side that took on Italy. His appointment was confirmed when Sven Goran Eriksen took over as England Manager on a permanent basis and slowly but surely the fans began to come around. The Qualifying campaign for the 2002 world cup in Japan and South Korea picked up after that including a magnificent 5-1 win in Germany.
Redemption would come for Beckham at the end of the qualifying campaign however. October 6th 2001 England needed to beat Greece or match Germany’s result against Finland which was happening at the same time in order to qualify for the Tournament in the far east. The game got off to a bad start and England went behind on 36 minutes and were not having the best of the game, they were too deep and struggled to wrestle control of the game from the Greeks, what possession they did Enjoy was squandered. What followed was one of the single best halves of football by a single player in an England shirt. Beckham took the game by the scruff and got after the Greek players, his uptempo marauding unsettled the opponent and they thought they had got back into the game on 68 minutes when Teddy Sheringham, who had replaced Robbie Fowler not 10 seconds earlier headed England Level.
There was a sense of relief around Old Trafford which lasted all of a minute when the Greeks worked their way in front from a free kick after some sloppy English defending. Beckham got after the Greeks again, recognizing this manager Sven Goran Eriksson sent on Steve McManaman on 78 minutes for Ashley Cole which allowed Beckham to move further inside and get into the heart of the Greek midfield. England were on top in the game but behind in the scoreline and despite worrying Greek goal keeper Nikopolidis on several occasions they remained behind until news filtered into the stadium around 90 minutes that Germany were still drawing 0-0 with Finland and England only needed the one goal to be certain of qualification.
Beckham had already missed 5 of his trademark long-range free kicks when Teddy Sheringham was brought down 26 yards out Beckham stepped up again. With the Sun casting a long shadow from Old Trafford’s west stand, cometh the hour, cometh the man and the rest as they say is History. The crowd would go wild, and when it was confirmed that Germany had failed to beat Finland and England’s qualification was complete fan’s were still in the stadium celebrating a full hour after the final whistle.
Beckham would finish second to Luis Figo in the world player of the year running that year and would go on to win BBC sports personality of the year for 2001 also.
The transformation from villain to hero was complete. There hasn’t been a goal like that for England fans to celebrate since.