Script it like Beckham

7 December 2011

Written by: Erdem Koc

It didn’t take much to convince my friends to come along to what was dubbed an all-star showdown in Melbourne.

One of world football’s biggest names, David Beckham, was to face another big name in football, Harry Kewell, in a friendly game between their two clubs – Melbourne Victory and LA Galaxy.

Being a Victory fan, there was no question of who I would support.  But instead of watching from the comfort of my couch, I decided to go and soak up the atmosphere.

The first disappointment of the night came almost as soon as we walked into Etihad Stadium.  Our eyes glanced across the field to see Kewell in a polo shirt and tracksuit pants, a clear indication that he wasn’t going to play. So much for the all-star showdown.

Irish striker Robbie Keane didn’t disappoint however, bagging two of the goals scored by LA Galaxy from spot-kicks.  LA’s goalkeeper Josh Saunders was undoubtedly the star performer of the game (though the man-of-the-match committee didn’t seem to agree with me).  Kudos to our own Archie Thompson and Danny Allsopp also.

Beckham was, well, Beckham; an excellent football player who showed the 34,000-strong crowd that he still has some fuel left in his tank.  His pinpoint passing and superb crossing techniques were on display, not to mention his extraordinary first-half attempt at goal from beyond the half way line.

But it was the whole atmosphere of the game that didn’t quite cut it for what seemed like the few football fans that were there. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise I guess, as this is often the case with such international friendlies.  Prices are usually inflated to ridiculous levels, and only those who are starstruck tend to want to pay so much to attend.

The early goals by Melbourne Victory and what was, in my opinion, an unfair penalty call by referee Srebre Delovski, ensured my vocal cords got a good workout.

The four teenage girls who were sitting in the row in front of me gave me the ‘just be quiet’ glare.  Ironically, the same four girls went beserk themselves every time Beckham happened to run our way.  I won’t even go into the state they were in when, at the end of the match, Beckham ran over to where we were sitting, took his shirt off and gave it to a yelling fan.

Predictably, the media pack immediately surrounded the young girl, trying to get a picture of her with Beckham’s jumper, asking for her name, where she’s from and that question I ban my students from asking in interviews: ‘How does it feel?’  I could already see the story in the morning’s papers.

A bare-chested Beckham then hurried off the field, and I was left to hip-and-shoulder my way through the flock of people who followed him for as long as they could with their smartphones.

Exhibition games can often underwhelm football fans, and this was certainly no exception.  The man-of-the-match award for Beckham was predictable but truly undeserved.

In the end, it was all about the British football icon for everybody involved: the fans, the sponsors and even the players, who rushed over after the penalty-shootout with their phones to get a photo with the world’s most bankable athlete.

And the show was over. One that a sport already struggling to gain momentum in this country didn’t need.

Erdem Koc teaches journalism at La Trobe University.  You can follow him on Twitter: @erdemkoc