Beckham's picture-book world


Gobble, gobble, gobble. Christmas is coming. You can tell from the turkeys. Go into any bookshop over the past week and you'll have seen giblets all over the place. Primarily these are to be found in the area marked Autobiography. It seems like everyone from Barbara Windsor to Ronan bleedin' Keating has themselves convinced that not only is their story worth telling, but that we will listen to it.

Stashed amongst these dreary tomes are, increasingly, similarly conceited offerings from the world of sport, football in particular. Ever since tens of thousands of us bought into Tony Adams' confessional life story a couple of years ago, publishers have scattered money around with a Ronny Rosenthal sense of direction. Paul Merson is the best player I have seen in the Premiership this season, but do we really need to have two - that's 1, 2 - autobiographies dealing with his various addictions?

Maybe we do. The success of Merson's books and other big-sellers from Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson over the past few years has shown the appetite for football tales, even those that are not kiss and tell. The last month has seen Barry Fry, David Ginola and Kevin Phillips doing the radio and television promotional tour promoting autobiographies of differing quality. Not to be outdone by his new Aston Villa colleague Merson, the humbly-titled Le Magnifique is Ginola's second effort at persuading us to part with cash.

Amazingly, Phillips is also on to his second book, despite the gigantic mistake on the opening page of his first. Phillips writes that he will never forget a certain date. Pity it's the wrong date. Fry's autobiography - Big Fry - has the exact same anecdote told word for word in two chapters.

Bad editing can hardly be blamed on the players or managers - or can it? - and so whether David Beckham can be criticised or praised for the exquisite presentation of his coffee table work, My World, is up to you. Fortunately or unfortunately, more than half of Beckham's world is revealed via photography, quite a bit of which appears designed to appeal to either adolescent girls or gay men. As someone who says "I have a camera up my backside almost 24 hours a day", Beckham should be comfortable in front of the lens, and as someone who was once encouraged by his pop star wife to see how many gay men he could attract in a club, presumably Beckham also knew the aim of some of his coy poses.

Initially this was only going to be a picture book, but gradually Beckham was worn down by the publishers to write down some of the details of his short life. Despite having the assistance of the football correspondent from the Times, some bright spark in the office made the cynical decision to put some of the sentences in Beckham's everyday grammar: "The goal wot I got" sort of thing.

That jars, as do some of Beckham's thoughts - "I even want to go to the moon one day," he says sincerely of life after football - but those who would tear into Beckham for the vacuous nature of this product are not choosing the most difficult of targets. Anyone who can say in print: "I'm not sure if I believe in life after death. I haven't made up my mind yet," possesses either the insight of a Buddhist monk or the gullibility of a child.

Much derision has descended upon Beckham, and the chief gripe seems to be the latter: that he is less articulate off the field than he is on it. What exactly were people expecting? And anyway, so what? Beckham crosses a football for a living. Those who criticise usually forget they have had the benefit of a better education.

"I didn't like being in the classroom much," Beckham says of his limited academic interests, before adding: "I don't want it to be like that for Brooklyn."

Brooklyn is Beckham's son, not a district of New York, and the empty celebrity lifestyle which that name reflects is part of the annoyance factor surrounding the Beckhams. But Beckham is clearly stating that he wants his son to receive a more rounded education than he did.

Beckham's childhood appears to have consisted of him practising free-kicks in the park under the eye of his father, a man, according to Beckham, with "a similar personality to Alex Ferguson". "I think I was programmed by my dad to some extent," is the third line of My World.

Perhaps the absence of a normal childhood is an explanation for some of Beckham's child-like utterances. He is yet to have his. But what excuse do the others have?