An unlikely hero

For his stoicism if nothing else, we should admire Becks

I used to say, when asked for three heroes, Glenn Hoddle, Alfred Wainwright and Paul McCartney. I can hardly believe I used to worship Glenda, turning up early at White Hart Lane just to see him tie his bootlaces. My love affair ended when he was England manager, producing that diary about players he was still in charge of.

The Blessed Wainwright is no more, but he's up there, oh yes, grumpily looking down on us. Macca still goes strong. It wasn't just his fab music but his decision to start Wings, and bring Linda in on spoons, knowing he was going to invite ridicule and mockery, that made me admire him. He didn't have to go back in time, tour remote places, but he'd worked out that it was his best fun, so bugger what people might think.

I have a terrible feeling I am developing a soft spot for another multimillionaire global figure with fame and riches and a body beyond most people's wildest dreams. Someone who has been willing to subject himself to failure and humiliation, just because he still wants to do what he has always done, though he certainly has no need to, someone I have ridiculed for years. Please prance forward, the one and only Becks.

Everyone assumed when he went to America that that was the end of it - his lovely wife and his lovely hairstyle would not be seen again. Yet he overcame the booing at every ground after being sent off for England in the 1998 World Cup. And he rose again when apparently he was dead meat at Real Madrid, reappearing to help them with the Spanish title. Now he seems on the edge of a recall for England.

Through all his setbacks he didn't moan, lash out, blame it on others or go loopy with the stress, as Rafael Benítez seems to be doing. The lad's got something: balls, golden or otherwise.

Some cynics say that A C Milan have taken him for his PR value, which must be a factor, but he wouldn't be getting in the team, scoring goals, clearly getting on with his colleagues, if he wasn't contributing on the field.

Other cynics are saying it's all a desperate attempt to keep up his income, that he needs to carry on playing for some team, anywhere, in order to keep all his sponsors happy. It's the money and fame that motivate him, not the footer. This is bollocks. I bet you that when he does retire from kicking a ball about, his income will be astronomical for years. His contracts will not contract.

Uniquely among our footballers - and I am thinking back to George Best, Stanley Matthews, Dixie Dean, Billy Meredith, Steve Bloomer - David Beckham has a global following, is considered cuddly by girls, and by more than a few boys, of all ages, everywhere. As a male model, he's got many years left.

And from his football career, he'll make even more money than he's making now at Milan by doing a proper book about his life, not the bland outpourings he produced a few years ago. One of the strange things about modern media culture is that you can earn more by writing about football than playing it, if you are the right sort of celeb. Best made more money from the endless books about him than he ever did with Man United. Gazza would be in real bother financially, but for his memoirs, though of course it was the excellence of the writing that made them sell so well.

Becks will not be thinking of such things. His concern is the here and now, keeping himself fit for Milan and possibly England. Not that I would have him in the England team. Waste of space, a backward step. But yup, I do admire him . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 February 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Revolution 2009