David Beckham on that England goal v Greece: “All of the pain, all of the bitterness, all of the hatred… had come to an end”
Days after Sir Alex Ferguson released his autobiography, the most iconic footballer in recent English times is set to challenge his former manager at the book store.
David Beckham is on the verge of releasing a new illustrated book, and on Tuesday leading UK newspaper The Times have serialised the passage in which Goldenballs scored that goal against Greece.
Beckham’s excellent short story reveals how the former England captain remembered shoving Man United legend Bryan Robson away from a free-kick as he shoved Teddy Sherringham away from the set play, while the relief Beckham felt after finding the top corner is a message which comes through loud and clear.
Read the extract from David Beckham’s new book below.
I could hear the banging of a drum. It was as if it was the only sound in the world. Just one drum, banging out a beat, the sound carrying directly on to the pitch.
The rest of the stadium seemed completely silent, as if every single fan knew that the next kick of the ball would decide the match.
Bang, bang; bang, bang; bang, bang.
Teddy Sheringham, my England team-mate, tried to pick up the ball and place it on the spot where Emile Heskey had been fouled by a Greek defender a few moments earlier. I felt a rush of adrenaline. The match was in the 93rd minute and England were trailing 2–1. Unless we scored now, we wouldn’t qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
It didn’t bear thinking about.
I grabbed the ball away from Teddy and replaced it myself. He wasn’t too keen on my interference. He shoulder-barged me away, gently but firmly. “I’ve got this, David,” he said. “I know I can make it.”
But nothing was going to stop me taking that free-kick. I felt confident, calm, certain. I knew I could make it. I had missed a few already in the match, but my confidence was still sky high.
I had tons of energy left, despite the fact it was in extra time. “It’s too far out for you, Teddy,” I said. “Trust me. I’ve got it.”
I had done almost exactly the same thing as a teenager. We were having an A Team match in one of my first seasons at United. Bryan Robson, the United captain, was training with us because he was coming back from injury. We got a free-kick on the edge of the area and Robson stepped forward to take it.
He was also the England captain and one of the best players in the world, but I grabbed the ball off him. “Sorry, but I usually take these,” I said. People couldn’t believe my cheek. Robson gave me grief about it for years afterwards. But I think it demonstrated my confidence even as a youngster. I trusted in my ability to deliver.
Teddy could see that I was not going to back down and, even though he was older and wiser than me, he stepped away. It was just me, the ball, and the 25 yards separating me from the top left corner of the goal.
But this kick was not just about England; it was also about me. It was about drawing a line under four years of abuse. Four years of bitterness.
Four years of England fans — not all of them, but enough to make it hurt — shouting the most horrible things at me while I was playing for my country.
Four years of pain.
I took two deep breaths, eyed the top corner of the net, and emptied my mind of everything except one thought: “I am going to score.” There was a single focus: getting England into the World Cup finals. There was no doubt in my mind, no negativity. Just a sense of complete reassurance.
Confidence is a funny thing. People often say that you need a lot of luck to win. But, for me, confidence comes down to preparation.
When you have practised something so much that it has become a part of who you are. Second nature. When you have done everything possible to give yourself the best chance.
I had taken lots of free-kicks over the years.
Not just the free-kicks for Manchester United; not just the free-kicks that I took for the youth teams I played for growing up in East London.
There were also the free-kicks I had taken in my back garden and at the local park with my dad, almost every one of them to send England into the World Cup finals or to win Manchester United the FA Cup.
I must have taken tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. I would go to the local park, place the ball on the ground, and aim at the wire meshing over the window of a small community hut.
I would take 50, a hundred, I lost count of how many. The time just seemed to fly by. It didn’t even seem like hard work.
When my dad got home from work, we would go over to the goalposts together. He would stand between me and the goal, forcing me to bend the ball around him. People looking on must have thought we were mad. We kept going even when the sun had gone down, playing by the light coming out of the windows of the houses that surrounded the park. My legs would ache, but my dad always told me to keep going, to keep fighting, to keep striving.
I would carry on playing when I got home. I wasn’t allowed a football in the house, so I would practise by kicking the Care Bears in my sister’s bedroom. My mum thought it was funny, but it showed how much I loved football. I couldn’t get enough of it. If you had given me the choice to skip school and play from morning till night, I would have jumped at the chance.
I guess when you have practised like that for twenty years, when you have put yourself on the line for so long, self-belief comes along as a by-product. You know you can do it because you have prepared to do it all your life. Michael Johnson, the legendary Olympic sprinter, once said: “If you have done everything possible to prepare for your event, confidence will stick.” And he is right.
And that is why I felt so confident stepping up to take that free-kick against Greece. It was as if all the years of commitment had prepared me for that one single moment.
Time seemed to slow down as I sized up the goal, hands on my hips. The drum was still beating and the tension was still rising.
I stepped slightly to the left and then began my run-up. I felt the ball on my boot and — in that strange way that sometimes happens in football — I knew instantly it was going into the back of the net.
There is something incredible when you strike a football in just the way you want to.
It feels so satisfying, the tiny thud of the ball against your boot, and then the fizz of the ball as it speeds away. When you get it right, you hardly feel the impact. It is like kicking a feather.
As the ball flew towards the top left corner, before it had even hit the back of the net, I was off, sprinting towards the touchline, shouting for joy. The silence had been replaced by a huge, almost deafening roar. The stadium just erupted.
England were in the World Cup finals.
England were in the World Cup!
I jumped into the air and landed on both feet, then flung my arms backwards and embraced the crowd. It felt incredible to score the goal, but especially so at Old Trafford, a stadium that had become a home to me.
But I could sense something else, too. I had worked like crazy in that match. For some reason, I had endless reserves of energy. I ran, I tracked back, I tackled, I charged forward. Everything seemed possible. I was even trying things that I had never attempted before, and they kept coming off. People could see how much it meant to me to play for my country.
But the goal was the icing on the cake. It was as if all the lingering doubts about me as a player and as a person vanished in an instant. All of the pain, all of the bitterness, all of the hatred, all of the recriminations. I knew that one of the most difficult chapters in my life had come to an end.
I was forgiven at last.