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Published: 24 February 2000

The Becks Affair - Conciliation or Confrontation? by OUR SALFORD LASS

I don't usually respond to debates on the various internet mailing lists about topics such as the alleged rift between Alex Ferguson and David Beckham because I believe it gives credence to the sensationalisation by the press of anything that happens at Old Trafford/Carrington. But this time I had been getting really p***** off by some of the things that had been said - not just by the press, but also by some United fans, and on the morning after the Leeds game, I "went off on one", as they say.

Basically, my view at the time was: First, we fans don't know what happened, so we shouldn't be pontificating about what Fergie should or shouldn't do. All we had was a fuzzy picture in the Sunday papers and the report of a journalist who may or may not know more than we did. Second, many journalists and fans were comparing this situation to the situation with George Best. I thought this ridiculous and insulting to David Beckham. As far as I could see, Becks had done nothing wrong, other than to miss training once - if the stories were true - because his child had been ill the night before. He had informed the club and turned up the following day as normal. To compare Beckham's misdemeanour to the mess that Best got himself into was plainly ridiculous. He might have a celebrity lifestyle, but everything I've heard about Beckham, leads me to believe that he doesn't drink to excess, doesn't take drugs and spends most of his free time at home with his wife and baby, that is he is an ideal professional footballer. Third, there's always more than one side to any story. It is possible that Fergie might be being unreasonable - he might be letting his dislike of Posh and Becks' lifestyle colour his judgement.

So on Monday morning I said:

"Whilst I agree that no one player is bigger than the club, I would like to see some loyalty shown towards Becks from United fans. He's one of us, we supported him after the fiasco at the World Cup and we should support him now. At the very least we should be doing what Fergie has asked and leave it to him and the club to sort it out, in private. Let the rest of the world and his wife discuss it as much as they want, but can't we at least get behind one of our own?"

By Tuesday, having read a fair amount of what both fans and press had had to say, and having heard the statements from Posh and Beck's publicity agents and from Fergie and various "sources" at the club, I was beginning to wonder just who's agenda we were following. Just who was trying to drive David Beckham not only out of Manchester United, but also out of England?

There were a number of candidates:

First in line, of course, were the press. A lot of papers make a lot of money out of David Beckham, and have been doing so for a long time. The sensationalising of everything he does, whether good or bad, has become a fact of life - it is almost impossible to pick up a tabloid paper without there being at least one big feature on Beckham, whether he has been doing anything newsworthy or not. Even the Guardian, usually fair-minded on this sort of issue, ran a double-paged spread on Tuesday morning, with a whole-page picture of Beckham watching the Leeds game in the stands on Sunday. The less restrained of the press were, of course, making even more of the story - one paper even referring to Beckham as a "fallen idol". David Beckham quietly sitting out the game and then getting on with his career wouldn't sell papers. David Beckham leaving United and moving to Arsenal or abroad, certainly would sell a lot of papers. The press these days don't simply report the news, they contrive it and manipulate it to suit themselves.

Of course for many United fans, the real criminal was Posh Spice - the woman who dared to step outside the role of the footballer's wife. In the sexist world of football, the club is all and women are there to cater for the players' sexual needs, nurture their children, do the housework and generally ease the path of the player, so that he can concentrate on his football and his club. Woe-betide the woman who steps out of that role and woe-betide the man who lets her. Even the World Footballer of the Year, Zinedine Zidane, has been pilloried by the press, the fans and even his own club because he allows his wife to have the sort of input into his career that everyone else in society takes for granted. Ever since he met Posh, David Beckham has been presented as being under her control - she is supposed to tell him what to wear, where he should live, what housework he should do. Presumably, it is too threatening for the macho men of the football world to face the fact that David Beckham might actually prefer to live this way. That he might be a genuine "new man" - a man who wants an equal relationship with his wife, who is brave enough to dress as he wishes, who doesn't want to be like footballers have always been in the past. If this is so, then he has been on a collision course with his manager every since he met Posh, whether he wanted it or not. One paper on Tuesday morning even referred to the Beckham affair as "Fergie's stand against girl power".

Which brings us to Sir Alex Ferguson and his role in this latest Beckham saga. For most United fans, Fergie has become virtually untouchable, impossible to criticise. This is entirely understandable, he has brought the glory days back to Old Trafford, not only in terms of trophies won, but also in the way that he has nurtured youth and demanded that his United teams play the game as it should be played. Fergie is not, however, and has never pretended to be, a God. He is simply a man like any other, with faults and foibles. The main reason he has been so successful has been his single-mindedness, some would even say his ruthlessness - from the day he came to the club, he has had one vision, to make Manchester United the best club in the world. That has always come first and whilst everything I have heard about him or seen of him, convinces me he is an honest and honourable man, he does occasionally make misjudgements, and has admitted this himself. Fergie shows obvious distaste for the celebrity lifestyle of Becks and Posh. More than that though, Fergie is a traditional footballing man. I'm sure that he would have preferred David Beckham to have married a nice, quiet girl who would be the traditional football wife. Unfortunately, he didn't. He married an independent and feisty woman with her own successful career, and he supports her in that career and in the upbringing of their son. In this situation, we have to wonder whether if Fergie had been a little less inflexible from the start, if he had behaved less like David's old-fashioned dad, and tried to work with David, rather than lay down the law, then perhaps this situation might have been avoided.

And what of David Beckham himself - the centre of the storm - around whom all the bickering and the accusations are flying? What I see when I look at him is a bewilderment. This lad has given his all to Manchester United since he was a kid. He has been a United fan since he was born, he has never wanted to play for anyone else and his heart is as Red as yours or mine. Throughout the years he has been a model professional. He has never been caught brawling in a bar. He has never beaten up his wife. He has never taken drugs. He has trained and honed his gifts almost to perfection, becoming one of the best players in the world today. On the pitch, he is the one player about whom no-one can ever say he hasn't given of his best. He is also one of only a small band of players who truly recognises the importance of the United support, even in defeat. And yet over the past 2/3 years he has found himself being pilloried by the press, the ABU's and the football authorities. Throughout that time, the club and the United fans have supported him. But now it must look to him as if he has lost that support as well. Not only has his manager seemingly turned against him, but so have many of the fans and there are even some rumours that he is being set up by the PLC so that they can sell him and make the profit they will lose if he goes on a free transfer in 2002. He must be asking himself what he has done to deserve all this, and why indeed he should continue to put up with it.

And this brings me to the nub of the matter. Unless this whole sorry mess is sorted out soon, a tragedy would seem to be working itself out. A tragedy for David Beckham, who will be forced to leave the club he has always loved and a tragedy for us fans who will lose a player and a hero who is one of our own. But the biggest tragedy will be for Manchester United Football Club, who will lose the talents of a player who is potentially one of the best players the club has ever had. The club (and Alex Ferguson) were prepared to go the extra mile to keep Eric and to keep Keane, I would like to see them both go the extra mile to keep Beckham. To attempt conciliation instead of confrontation. As a mere fan, I will probably never know the true facts of what is behind this whole affair, but if Manchester United allow David Beckham to be driven out of the club, it will leave a very sour taste in my mouth indeed.


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