Saturday, 9 June 2007

Is Beckham Really The Equal Of Sir Cliff Richard?

What is the best way to reward David Beckham's resurgence, a knighthood or re-naming him Big Ben?
By Russell Brand

I've not done my column for a couple of weeks on accounts of me workload here in Hawaii, making this film. I still read the Guardian, though, even when I'm not in it (what dedication) and got off on reading "Russell Brand is away" at the bottom of the page, like "Jeffrey Bernard is unwell". It conjured in me a reverie in which I were a wandering correspondent slumped in a Kasbah having traded my typewriter for gin.

It's been interesting to view the latest instalment of the Beckham saga from American soil, his reinstatement first to the team then to his position of national darling and soccer-Christ. I didn't see the game against Estonia but he was predictably instrumental setting up the second two goals and I bet he looked dashing into the bargain.

But, remotely viewed, the ensuing hyperbole becomes evermore preposterous - I've read in English papers, honestly, HONESTLY, that he should be knighted and ought now be emblazoned on banknotes. Where do we go from here? What if we qualify for the championships, will we make him head of state? And if we reach the final ought we demand scientists flood the globe with his oiled and shaven clones craving as a nation just a moment at his teat, an army of unctuous, bald, genetically engineered gods lactating ambrosia into our awed Pac-man gobs?

Now I yield to no man in my adulation for David Beckham: he's handsome, vain, talented and from Essex, all the things a man ought be, but can he replace Dickens on a tenner? Or be Sir Cliff Richard's equal in the title league? Perhaps he can. Our opinions oscillate as regularly as the mechanism within Big Ben (which I'm campaigning to have renamed "Big Beckham Clock"), a fact from which Frank Lampard is said to draw solace having been relentlessly harangued throughout the friendly against Brazil.

'Tis said that it's an accepted part of international football, the ol' vilification and victimisation of a selected player and as a West Ham fan (have I mentioned that?) "Lamps" ought be the very kind of player I'd delight in loathing: he's an ex-Hammer, he's moved to a bigger club and gone on to be a successful member of the England set up; he's detested at Upton Park and was sporadically despised even before he left, initially because of Frank senior's presumed influence and then because of perceived inconsistency and for some barmy reason being fat. It must be really horrible, I'm sure he's trying his hardest.

It's a daft element of the game and I just did a quick scan of the ol' noggin to see if I'd ever been involved. The scan results were positive. I joined in this season with a chorus of "Jermain Defoe is a c**t" against Spurs, but he's on an opposing side and, again, is ex-West Ham. I yelped approvingly when, last time West Ham were relegated, a bloke behind us viscerally screamed "Roeder you c**t, you've killed West Ham", but Roeder had appallingly mismanaged the club. And I have been complicit in the awkward silences that have greeted Nigel Reo-Coker's name over the course of the season, but he was adored and wanted to leave.

In all three examples I can think of justification and Lampard has said in his case it's probably because he's stopped scoring. I think it might also be because people think he oughtn't be automatic choice to partner Gerrard in the middle and that there is a perception that Steve McClaren has "undroppable" players of which he is one.

I've been reading Boys of '86 by Tony McDonald and Danny Francis, which documents the season in which West Ham achieved their highest league position and I almost drowned in nostalgia. The book is lovingly compiled and a joy to read, especially if you witnessed Frank McAvennie, Tony Cottee and Alan Devonshire play. What is astonishing is how the game has changed in such a short period of time; top-flight football was seemingly founded on egg and chips, beer and travelling to matches on the tube.

The players interviewed within speak of camaraderie and loyalty, which is anathema in the game just a few years later. I was touched by the testimony of Alan Dickens who I remember as a very skilful good passer of the ball (my mate Jack said he liked how he played with his head up like a giraffe, I said Thomas Hearns) who now drives a cab and kind of drifted out of the game after an unfulfilling move to Chelsea.

After the tremendous season that the book covers, West Ham's fortune, along with Dickens' form, dwindled and I can remember being at Upton Park, aged about 12 and feeling antipathy towards Dickens. I don't recall if there were any hollering but had there been, I would certainly have meekly joined in. I felt a bit guilty when I read that he was actually a very sensitive man and that it had really hurt him when the crowd turned. Of course today's players are all billionaires who can purchase glee by the barrel if they so choose but they are still human, with sparks of divinity glowing beneath the layers of Prada and Bentley and I for one will be offering compassion to the c**ts.

Guardian column

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