David Beckham looked at his lower jaw and his chin wobbled. He’d come face-to-face with his statue and it was a shocker. Besides the Desperate Dan jut, he wasn’t overfond of his erse, equally oversized. And where were his front teeth? What on earth had happened to the world’s most beautiful man?
But the statue was a prank by his showbiz mate James Corden. Beckham had been looking forward to the unveiling of an official edifice but this wasn’t it. What a pity. I would have travelled to see it, paid money for a good gawp and giggle. The really funny thing about this Goldenballs gargoyle, though, is that it could pass for a serious commission. Too many of the statues thrown up to footballers are rubbish. In Beckham’s case I don’t mind but other legends of the game are being woefully misrepresented. You squint at some of these sculptures and think: “I’ve no bloody idea who that’s supposed to be.”
Maybe Corden’s wind-up will prompt a pause among sculptors and the clubs who rush to commemorate with such “likenesses”. They need to take a hard look at the hard looks, in stone or bronze, which they’re giving football’s greats, up on these plinths outside grounds, and ask themselves: “Are we doing justice here? Did our hero really run up the wing on legs this spindly or chunky? What about that nose? It makes our hero resemble Jimmy Durante. Or Eric Morecambe replicating Durante’s hooter with a polystyrene cup.” That’s Jimmy Durante – the old American song ’n’ gag man – and not Ian Durrant. Durante had an unmissable shnozz. Some sculptors can’t do noses the way some painters can’t do hands. Legs seem to be a problem for sculptors, too, which is surprising if the subject is a player in an action pose.
Trousers present significant problems for sculpturing. Managers in trousers can look like they’ve borrowed Robbie the Robot’s metal legs. Danny Baker, the muso, wit and Millwall fan, maintains that when men stopped wearing robes and gowns and switched to breeks, good statuary began its slow decline. But there’s no excuse for a sculptor not being able to carve the athletic hurdies of a top-grade footballer with definition honed on sand dunes or, these days, down the gym.
And there’s another problem. What’s a footballer from “these days” doing with a statue in his honour while he’s still playing? Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of yet another Champions League hat-trick last week, has a statue. Actually, more than one. Good luck trying to persuade this super-ego that waiting until his career was over might have been the decent thing. When you look, though, at the bust originally on display in his Madeira birthplace you can say: serves him right. It’s hideous, capturing next to nothing of his character or, yes, his vanity. This is a man who, you imagine, has mirrors in every room. He must have an epic beauty regime the equal of any Tinseltown glamourpuss or woman called Kardashian. And yet the carving makes him look glaikit.
Or rather made, for it was later removed, presumably after Ronaldo sought a Portuguese translation of glakit. There’s also a full-length statue on the island and the most striking thing about this one is that it’s liable to strike unwitting passers-by on the side of the head. The work, you see, emphasises the Ronaldo crotch. Difficult to think that anyone would wander in the vicinity of an effigy of the great man unwittingly but there may be one or two who’ve never heard of him. Anyway, Ronaldo seems to like this statue more, perhaps for the obvious reason. Women who come to inspect the statue are often photographed groping it. This has caused the sensitive area to change colour, much like has happened to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh. Years of tourists rubbing the wee dug’s nose for luck have turned it white. Cristiano’s Nobby is going the same way.
In Scotland, the statue of Jim Baxter in Hill of Beath maybe isn’t a dead-ringer facially but the arrogant, strutting come-ahead pose is great. The same could be said for Jimmy Johnstone’s statue outside Celtic Park. This was how Jinky stood over the ball, teasing the lumbering full-back, before jinkying it past the clodhopper. Jock Stein nearby is more successful facially, perhaps because he possessed quite rectangular features, and of course he’s not wearing shorts. But that European Cup? It seems too slim, more like a glass for a giant knickerbocker glory, and the handles are too big and flappy.
Though there are plans for statues of Jim McLean and, across Sandeman Street, the league-winning Dundee team – and maybe Aberdeen will want to commemorate Gothenburg when they move to their new stadium – we haven’t gone statue-crazy in Scotland and we should keep it that way. Leave the self-glorying to other leagues. Big Jock, Slim Jim and Wee Jimmy are certainly deserving subjects for statues. They’re immortals and we have so few flickering images of them, so it’s not like they’re grinding us down with their sheer omnipresence like Ronaldo and Beckham.
Beckham has hung up his boots but has not retired his shimmering, perishing godliness. There’s a proper statue of him at the home of LA Galaxy and it’s a better likeness. Rendering him motionless seems fair enough, given that he always preferred when the ball wasn’t moving.
Ronaldo is still running and still prancing, so it seems a crime to bring him to a juddering halt with these inanimate tributes. We hardly lack images of him. This is the selfie age and he loves the camera. He may merit a statue later but doesn’t need one now, not least if they’re going to be this risible.
And maybe footballers simply shouldn’t have statues. Maybe they’re better suited to writers hunched over their desks and generals sitting on horseback, watching their men march to near-certain death. Perhaps the only time football should get involved with these ornaments in parks or at road crossings is when fans drape scarves to brighten them up, such as happened to old, boot-faced Queen Victoria at the bottom of Leith Walk when Hibs finally brought back the Scottish Cup.