The new Netflix documentary opens with a young David Beckham preparing for what would become ‘the goal of the century’—an inadvisable kick from the half line with unbelievable results. If any of us forgot how good David Beckham was, this series quickly reminds us. I was too young to care about David Beckham in the early days—instead, I was absolutely obsessed with the woman who would become his wife. But after watching this series, I’m now obsessed with the man himself.
The series is that good. I recognise that biopics made by the subject are going to be skewed in their favour. This one definitely has the famous Beckham spin, but in this case it’s worked out for them. It comes almost a year after Netflix released a similar brand-builder, the Harry & Meghan series—let’s just say Harry and Meghan didn’t come off the way they’d meant to. For a start, you can only fake talent and charm so far. Beckham has those in spades, as well as humour, humility and good nature. He’s just a geezer from east London with the most prized right foot in the world.
But regardless of what Posh and Becks are like in real life, the public’s impression of them is what matters—and this impression shows them to be utterly charming. Beckham is the most watchable documentary I’ve seen in a long time. It is pure joy to watch his half-line kick and hear the crowd react as they witness the best goal of their football-watching lives.
After the goal, one fan of the other team just looks around open-mouthed—‘what the hell?’ Beckham smiles, just walks with his arms outstretched, gracefully accepting the adoration. He isn’t surprised, he could see the ball was going in. Modern-day Beckham reflecting on that kick says, ‘I just thought—why not?’ Half this man’s success must be his sheer audacity. He sees opportunity where other people see only lunacy, and he trusts in his own abilities.
Beckham is as much an entrepreneur as he is a footballer, and that was true from the start. After that kick he was offered endless advertising gigs, and he took them. His manager didn’t like it, but that didn’t stop Beckham. Indeed much of the rest of the series charts his repeated run-ins with various different angry and envious managers, whose egos were threatened by a player better and more important than the rest of the team put together. For all this Beckham really doesn’t seem arrogant. Sure, he had a young footballer’s swagger, but he didn’t welcome or enjoy the level of public and media attention that was to come.
The Beckham series interviews all sorts from David’s personal and professional life—his mum, his dad, Posh, as well as his famous managers and teammates. Fans of Real Madrid must have wept at the exclusive footage of these ageing legends recalling their heyday. I had no idea who Ronaldo was until two days ago but it was a pleasure to watch him and Figo and Salgado talk about their Madrid days with Beckham. They laugh a lot. They poke fun at David and his hair-dos, though when they quietly admit their respect of him, you know it’s well-deserved.
Manchester United players also feature a lot, especially David’s buddies Gary Neville and Eric Cantona, who says of him, ‘he’s like an artist in front of his canvas.’ A little less reverent, Gary Neville admits that he himself was just a supporting act for David: ‘I’m not the beef. I’m the mustard on the side.’ David’s happiest days were playing with them for Manchester United, before the whole happy era ended with Alex Ferguson throwing a football boot at his head. Part of Beckham’s charm is that he’s an open book—you can see the devastation on his face, in his whole body, when he leaves Man U for Real Madrid. He wanted nothing more than to play for Man U and England. His brand simply got too big for one league to handle.
Even for those of us who weren’t Spice Girl fans it is fun to hear from Victoria. Perhaps her reputation for being a pouting, cold fashionista is unfair—we all know the media wants beautiful women to smile all the time, and she doesn’t feel the need to—it doesn’t mean she’d cold. In fact she comes across earnest and enthusiastic, and touchingly protective of David. It’s clear they have both suffered from the negative side effects of their global fame.
But it isn’t a tale of victimhood and finger-pointing (unlike another tell-all Netflix series). It’s probably the first time either Becks or Posh have spoken at length about their gruelling years of fame and early parenthood, when the whole world scrutinised them with their infant son and speculated about the state of their marriage. It’s been twenty years since those days, and they haven’t ‘opened up’ about it until now. Harry and Meghan could learn from the Beckhams about how to do that with grace and integrity.
I know two different people who have met David Beckham in person, and they say the same thing—you wouldn’t believe how nice he is. Thankfully, that comes across in this documentary. You’ll finish it feeling like he’s an old friend who just happens to be the best former footballer in the world.