‘So,” said my wife the other day, “it’s the 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs – guess who’s the castaway? “The Queen,” I replied right away, thinking that nothing less than the monarch herself would do for one of the BBC’s crown jewels on its big birthday. “No,” she sighed, “it’s David Beckham.”
My wife loves DID but doesn’t much care for football. This works out well because footballers hardly ever get invited on to the show where the great and the good and, once, Gary Glitter, talk about their lives and what they’d take in the form of music, books and a single permitted luxury for the one-way ticket to a small clump of land in the middle of the ocean. We agreed they could have chosen someone better – her because he’s a footballer and me because he’s Derek Beckham.
I used to call him this, hoping it would catch on. On an early promotional trip to America he stepped off the plane and was mis-named. When you’ve got exciting plans for world domination, that must rankle. But despite me calling him Derek at every available opportunity, and even some unavailable ones, nobody got my joke. Sub-editors would pounce, thinking they’d found an error in my copy for once. My father-in-law, having dutifully read a book I’d written in which Beckham was a key player even though he too had diddley interest in football, fretted over how to tell me about my monumental clanger. I should have been impressed he knew Derek was really David, given that he used to think Pele was called Pepe, but I guess that’s a tribute to Becks’ omnipotence and omnipresence, dammit.
It seemed to my father-in-law and just about everyone else an irrational dislike. He’s such a nice boy, they’d say, apart from the tattoos. By then – the 2006 World Cup – he had 13, including his wife’s name in Sanskrit, which actually translates as “Vihctoria”. He’s the Painted Fool, I ventured. At the last count, there were 40 including a quote from his rapper mate Jay-Z: “Dream big, be unrealistic.”
OK, but what about Dave-B’s free-kick prowess? Almost entirely built round the one against Greece, I retorted. His crosses? Decent at first, but they dried up when he couldn’t run anymore. That astonishing goal from behind the halfway line against Wimbledon? The astonishing thing about it was how he could call himself an attacking midfielder operating that far back.
Mean? Uncharitable? I pressed on with my theory: that, somewhat incapacitated, he liked to stop the play because a dead-ball situation was just about all he could handle. He gave himself a quasi-quarterback role and tried to turn football into American football. Or merge it with golf. The invention of the wheel and the discovery that the earth was round were big moments. Here was a dire threat to civilisation: Beckham was trying to stop the ball moving. He’d spreadeagle himself – “Oo, I’m a starfish!” – to win the right to fling over a cross which Peter Crouch would still need to hoist himself on an opponent’s dreadlocks to reach. And when team-mates scored – it was rarely him anymore – he’d be the first to leap on their backs to make sure he was prominent in the photos.
When it wasn’t about football with Derek – and latterly it wasn’t, very much – it was about celebrity, hair (57 different varieties), underpants, his “friendship” with Tom Cruise, toilet bowl-licking Japanese obsessives, fatherhood (he invented it, didn’t you know – there were no dads before him) and lots of other guff which would make an old-school manager take a flying kick at some cast-off gear on the changing-room floor. Predictably – depressingly – there was a spike in sales of alice bands after Becks used one to show off his “wound” from Sir Alex Ferguson’s outburst, being careful to drive v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y round Manchester with the smoked windows rolled down.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: all of this should make Derek juicy subject matter for Desert Island Discs and Kirsty Young, a brilliant interviewer. And it’s true that if you look at the bald facts of the show’s archive you might deduce that footballers are rarely selected because they tend to choose golf clubs as their luxury.
They were the choice of Danny Blanchflower, the first football castaway in 1960, Trevor Brooking and Bobby Robson, although when the latter was invited back he had the good grace to change his luxury to a sun-lounger. Jack Charlton is the only other double-castaway in this exceedingly select band. First he opted for a spyglass, then a fishing rod. September Song by Frank Sinatra was the favourite of his songs both times.
You can catch up with Gary Lineker’s turn on the show (aagh, Simply Red) and also that of Tony Adams (bit more interesting: an obscure Jam track plus the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book for reading material), but sadly nothing seems to have survived from football’s only other representation. In April 1965 Bill Shankly, pictured below, was the castaway. For the record, his luxury was a football and his book was a biography of Robert Burns. His musical selection included Mario Lanza, a burst of Chopin, Jim Reeves singing Danny Boy, Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye’s version of When The Saints Go Marching In – and of course You’ll Never Walk Alone – but picking a favourite he went for Kenneth McKellar’s rendition of My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.
Follow that, Becks. He followed his and England’s failure in Germany in 2006 by blubbing and standing down as captain. This deflected attention from yet another dismal showing from the team and their megastar and by the time he achieved a century of caps the hard-nosed hacks who’d been critical of his dimishing contribution joined in the acclaim. The event was like a coronation, which of course the English love, and also like a major tournament had just been won, which of course remains a problem for the men in white shirts.
When Frank Lampard got to 100 they forgot he could never play with Steven Gerrard. Now that Wayne Rooney’s reached his milestone there are calls for a statue. Becks had the movement of a stone edifice by the end but could yet play a blinder on Desert Island Discs today if he sends up his own daft circus. Damn him again.