David Beckham: The east end boy who became football's first global superstar

The 38-year-old changed the concept of a football 'icon' during a glittering career which will be remembered as much for his impact off the pitch as the important goals he scored
By Greg Stobart

There is barely a person left in east London who has not, at some point, tried to claim a piece of David Beckham. If you didn’t play against him when he was at Chase Farm school or Ridgeway Rovers, his sister once cut your hair; if you didn’t once take him home in a taxi, his dad’s mate installed your kitchen.

The working class boy born in Leytonstone, raised in Chingford, a superstar throughout the world.

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Beckham announced his retirement from football on Thursday at the age of 38, bringing an end to a glittering career during which he became an icon, celebrity and national treasure.

He changed the face of the game during a career that started with a substitute appearance at Brighton in 1992 and ended with him holding 115 England caps - a record for an outfield player.

For all his ability with a ball at his feet, Beckham will always be equally remembered for the razzmatazz that followed his every move, the cult of personality that made him one of the most recognisable faces on the planet. Brand Beckham.

It is fitting that a career that took him to Manchester, Madrid, Milan and Paris also included a five-year spell in Los Angeles, where he was signed to export soccer to the North American masses.

He was genuine Hollywood, right down to his mansion in the hills, his marriage to a Spice Girl and his children with silly names. When television cameras scanned courtside seats at the LA Lakers for famous stars, Beckham would be there.

The appearances, the haircuts, the clothes - he was glamour, cherished even by those who knew nothing about football. Beckham-mania reached near hysteria when England played in Japan during the World Cup in 2002. Locals would flock to hotels where Sven Goran-Eriksson's side were staying just to get a glimpse of the then England captain, his name adorning the back of their replica shirts.

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A marketing dream, he racked up endorsement deals and the millions that came with it. Beckham played alongside some of the finest players in the history of the game, yet he was the man everyone wanted to see. When Real Madrid went on pre-season tours of Asia, it was Beckham and not Zinedine Zidane who induced girlish screams, noses pressed up against fencing and mad scrums for autographs.

Beckham redefined the idea of a football icon and played more of a role than anyone in transforming the sport. He combined sporting talent with celebrity culture, became a symbol of football's growth as a business and commercial juggernaut, not least in the Asian and African markets.

And while Beckham's love of the limelight sometimes became a sideshow, English football now is crying out for someone to energise the fans, an icon and leader to rally around. There is no-one with his X-factor, no stars who people can relate to or who can capture an audience.

By all accounts, Beckham stayed true to his east end roots. On and off camera, he would have time for anyone with no trace of arrogance; he would always make sure to sign every autograph even if it took several hours.

Post-retirement, he will continue as an ambassador with his a variety of organisations including adidas and Unicef, and he will promote football in emerging markets such as China.

While he will no longer be curling home his trademark free-kicks on the pitch, there is nobody better for his new roles. Beckham will still attract the attention of the front pages around the globe. Everyone wants a piece of him.