But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Beckham Incident

I know its a topic that has been widely covered in the press, but as a fan who was at the game who needs to completely vent himself of his feelings on the issue and the sole editor/contributor to this blog, I am going to tackle the already well-documented incident from my point of view.

First of all, here are a series of articles that discuss various parts of "the incident" that I thought were particularly interesting.

AP Story (on CNNSI) that is one of the first to include Beckham's post-game comments.
Reuters: Boo Him Like Beckham, the American Dream is Over
Paul Oberjuerge: SB Sun writer has a take I agree with
Michael Ventre: doesn't seem to get it
Josh Peters: knew where to find "the jumper" - in a bar
New York Times: a good short history of past criticism of Beckham
LA Times: featuring yours truly
John Ireland gets it

On to the reading. Let me start by getting a few things out of the way. First, I am writing this as someone who sits with the Riot Squad. Despite what journalists have written, there is no such thing as a "member" of the Riot Squad. People sit with the Riot Squad or they don't. Having said that, I clearly do not speak for the Riot Squad or anyone in the Riot Squad even when I use the terms "we" and "us" and "our". In fact, despite the image that has been promoted in the press, the Riot Squad has become somewhat boring to me in the last year and I will likely be sitting with a different group frequently during the remainder of the season.

So how did we get here? Well. as you know, way back in 2007 the Galaxy signed GoldenBalls for what was then being called a 5-year/$250 million deal (most of the dough coming from endorsements). I said from day one that I would be happy to have him as long as he contributed more than a circus. Besides the motivation of the almighty dollar, back in 2007 Beckham was not seeing eye-to-eye with the manager at his current club, Real Madrid, and was out of the pool more-or-less in the eyes of then England coach Steve McClaren. So why not take the money, come to Hollywood with your starlet wife, and "save American soccer"? Despite the circus, it seemed like a good deal for all.

It went bad almost from the start. Based on the news stories and excerpts that I read about Grant Wahl's book The Beckham Experiment, it was clear from the start that Beckham and his handlers, 19 Entertainment, wanted more control over team operations than is standard in any sport. Wahl wrote about one conversation over dinner between Beckham, Landon Donovan and then coach Frank Yallop in which Donovan said "On successive days [Donovan] had met with Yallop and Galaxy president and general manager Alexi Lalas, and each had told him that "people above me" -- meaning Tim Leiweke, CEO of AEG, which owned the Galaxy -- thought Beckham should be the team captain." I want to make sure you get that. The management of the team was promoting the idea that Beckham should become captain from day one - no earning it, no player vote, not even the coach's decision outright. It gets worse. Wahl went on to say that "after a lunch at Beckham's house, the host stayed inside as Byrne [Beckham's best friend, manager and employee of 19 Entertainment] walked Lalas and Yallop onto the porch. 'What are you doing about the captaincy?' asked Byrne, who felt that Beckham should wear the armband as soon as he joined the team." According to this account, the plan to make Beckham captain came from his own people, not Galaxy management. It also became clear that they had their eyes on picking their own coach. Byrne was given a paid position with the Galaxy and their choice for coach, Ruud Gullit, was hired. Who made the announcement? You would guess general manager Alexi Lalas. Nope. Beckham's man Byrne, without himself being introduced to the team, told the players that this was their new coach.

To say that Ruud Gullit was a failure as a coach is like saying saying Barry Bonds was a failure at natural muscle development - a bit of an understatement. The Galaxy had a record of 6-8-5 under Gullit while allowing a league-worst forty goals in those nineteen games. In Wahl's book, he tells the story of Peter Vagenas going to Gullit with a complaint that all they did in training was 11v11 scrimmaging, no training on things like set pieces. Wahl points out that this was the point where Pete began to ride the bench. Come August, Gullit "resigned" and Lalas was fired along with Beckham's buddy Byrne. It was also at this point that Beckham seemed to stop giving his all to the team.

Let's skip to this year. The Galaxy had made the playoffs in the first ten years of their existence, but have failed to do so in the last three. Meanwhile, as I mentioned previously, Beckham is back in the mix for England's squad going to World Cup 2010 and it has been made clear to him by England Coach Fabio Cappello that he expected Beckham to be "playing in a far better standard of football than in Major League Soccer" and he was off too AC Milan on a loan deal to play for them during the Galaxy's off-season.

Here's where I began to lose him. Shortly after joining the Rossoneri Beckham made it clear that he wanted to stay. I made it clear that I was OK with that. The Galaxy made a deal for Beckham to stay in Milan on loan until the end of their season. That, of course, went about halfway into the Galaxy's season. This is why the Riot Squad went after Beckham on Sunday. It had very little, if anything at all, to do with the quality of play that he brought to the team.

So what happened Sunday night? I'm assuming you've heard several versions of this, but I am giving you my view of what happened. From the moment Beckham stepped onto the pitch for warm-ups, the Riot Squad made t clear what they felt about him. The most common criticism came in the form of the song "Who the fuck is David Beckham?" to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I joined a little at first, but I have no interest in chanting against anyone wearing the Galaxy colors. Some people in the front of the section were "giving him the business" especially hard. Its these people, two in particular, that drew Beckham's attention just before halftime. When Ronaldinho (who will be playing for the Galaxy in the next two years) went to retrieve the ball Beckham smiled and rolled it to him, possibly making a comment. Now, I thought nothing of it, but clearly these two did and made comments about playing the game and not being friendly to the opposition - especially since Beckham had just finished a stint with this same team and had made it clear that he wanted to go back. After Ronaldinho took the corner and halftime was called, Beckham approached the stands pointing at these two and yelled something. Nobody that was further from Beckham by more than 20 feet could hear what he actually said. In any case, words were exchanged and Josh jumped onto the dirt at field level and went to confront Beckham. He was, of course, tackled by security and pinned down while Beckham left the field.

At this point we have different stories. Beckham claims that he was simply trying to shake hands. As I stated in my e-mail to the LA Times, that is nothing short of a complete lie. He clearly came with angry intentions. If you watch the video you will not see a handshake offered until Josh was already pinned to the ground.

Here's what I think happened. Becks wanted the Riot Squad to shut up and thought that if he challenged someone to "man up" and that person did not then he could call us cowards (more like pussies I assume) and he would win the battle. I'm sure he was stunned to see someone accept his invitation and thought of the handshake as a way to show that he was innocent. As you can also see in this video, his language was far from innocent and his intention was never a handshake.

The fallout is this: The fan, Josh, was banned for life from the Home Depot Center. However, since I started this long post, the ban has been lifted at the request of the Galaxy. Beckham refused to apologize for his actions and went as far to say that its the "other people that have to change" and not him. He also said that his concern was about his sons hearing that type of thing. from the luxury box next to Tom Cruise his kids would only have heard the boos, which they have to be used to by now. MLS fined Beckham $1,000, which I think would be like fining me about a buck and a quarter. Kind of bullshit, but the symbolism is more important than the amount. Also, Beckham has another confrontation with a fan in Kansas City after which he called that fan and the Riot Squad a "disgrace".

In the end, I imagine most fans around the US and certainly a large number around the world really see Beckham as the disgrace. A professional athlete needs to expect that he will be boo'd and heckled at some point in their career. Beckham has seen himself hung in effigy, has had people wish cancer on his sons, and even had a bullet sent to him with his son's name engraved. Maybe he expected it from English fans who are used to seeing the world's best players and don't consider him special, but thought that his magic Goldenballs would make us forgive him instantly. Although the teenage girls and soccer moms would gladly offer their first born to get him to sign their brand-new jersey, the real fans know better.

For my part, I am done wasting my breath on this guy. I wanted to vent, and I've done it. It is my policy to not cheer against someone wearing my team's colors. I feel that although David Beckham brings a lot of talent to the Galaxy, he does not care about the success of this team. He will likely be gone by the end of the season. If he helps us win the cup you will not find a happier fan than I (outside of the money that I will need to spend on adding a new tattoo for this title). Wherever he goes, however, I hope he and that team fail miserably.

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