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Book by Beckham Victoria
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'Daddy! I'm going to be killed.'
'No, you're not, Victoria. I'm right behind you. I'll look after you.’
I can't see him. We're too close together, jammed in by the crowd. But I can feel his hand on my shoulder, and his hand and his voice are just enough to keep me from screaming. Calm, in control, like he always is. Not like my mum who lives off her nerves. When people say, who do you take after, I say, my dad. But when I panic like this I know I'm like my mum.
Another lurch from the crowd. I need space, air. I'm being pushed, my dad behind, me in the middle, the bodyguard in front, so big that all I can see is his back, wet with sweat. I can hardly breathe. Only one thing is louder than the roaring of the crowd and that's my heart thumping in my ears. Even when I'm about to go on stage it's never this bad.
Without my glasses, I'm half blind. But I can sense the crowd towering up on my right. painted faces that loom up from nowhere, red, white and blue. A hand reaches out and pushes my baseball cap down over my eyes. I'm shaking.
'Over 'ere, Posh, Posh.'
They're drunk. I can smell the beer. Laughing and shouting. Their hands sticking out, jabbing their fingers in some drunken impression of Posh Spice.
'Get yer tits out.'
Don't make eye-contact, one of the Spice Girls' security once told me. That's why celebrities wear dark glasses. Like me today. So head down. A flash of a camera. Little red lights everywhere, infra-red autofocus. Like they have on guns. A lens pokes through the wire fence on my left that separates the crowd from the pitch. There are people the other side. Fingers are poking through the wire trying to touch me. That fence shouldn't be there. Haven't they heard of Hillsborough, these morons? The semi-final of the 1989 FA Cup when ninety-six people were killed, crushed against the wire? Only this week they'd had the pictures on the television again. A court case was just starting against the two policemen in charge.
'We love you, Posh.' Then laughter. 'Only kidding!'
We're on the strip of concrete that runs around the pitch at Eindhoven trying to get back to our seats. I know it's concrete because I saw it on our way up; now I can't see anything. Just a blur of bodies and arms reaching out. Trying to touch me.
It's Monday 12 June 2000. The Football Association had organized everything as they always do for all England away games: a chartered plane from Stansted to Brussels, then a coach to Eindhoven. The driver parked in some backstreet, so we'd had to walk a good twenty minutes to the stadium. But we'd still got there two hours before kick-off. Our seats were about five rows from the front, in the middle, opposite the tunnel where the players come out and when people saw me sitting there like a bloody lemon, out came the cameras. Some of them were press: Sky zooming in on my face. some were just ordinary people, taking a snap to show their friends. Show them what? A moody cow with a baseball cap pulled down over her eyes. I felt a complete idiot, just sitting there with hardly anyone else about. Wasn't there somewhere we could go until kick-off, I asked my security. I mean, what were we supposed to do for two hours. Read the programme?
It was then that we heard about the VIP lounge. We asked Ted and Sandra, David's parents, who were in the row behind if they wanted to come along, but they said no thank you, they'd rather stay.
It was the other side of the pitch, but as the place was practically empty getting there had only taken five minutes. They'd got us champagne and we' d been so busy chatting with Doreen, my mum 's friend who was over from Athens and had never been to a football match in her life, we hadn't noticed the stadium filling up. Now with only ten minutes to go the place was absolutely rammed. Thank God I'd decided not to bring Brooklyn. He was safely back at my mum's house in London with my sister Louise.
I'd never wanted to come to Eindhoven. I was booked into the studio in London all week, working on my solo album. But it wasn't just because of that. Everybody was expecting so much from David that I thought it better all round not to go. It's like when he takes an important free kick, or a penalty, sometimes I think it's better not to look.
And David was already out there, kicking the ball around, as they always do before a game. I'd seen him as I walked down the steps into this nightmare. Even without my glasses I can pick him out on the field just by the way he moves even if l can't see the big number 7 on his back. But he hadn't seen me. He'd been looking the other way, across the pitch where the wives and families are always put. He always looks for me. It calms him down to know I'm there, he says. I knew he'd be worried now, not seeing me. I shouldn't have come. I should just be sitting at home, with Brooklyn watching his Daddy on television. Then at least David would know his family were safe.
You have to have been to a football match to know what the noise does to you. I'd seen football on television before I went near a stadium and what you hear on television is nothing, even in those pubs with big screens and wraparound sound. Mark, my first boyfriend, would sometimes take me to watch football in pubs, with his friends - his idea of an evening out. Funnily enough, I'd even watched the semi-final against Germany in Euro 1996 in a pub in Enfield; that time when Gareth Southgate missed the penalty. If anyone had told me then I'd be married to a footballer I wouldn't have believed them. It's the noise that's as frightening as an express train when you're standing on a platform. It engulfs you. It's a noise that makes you want to scream.
Dress down, David had said. I knew all the other wives would be in their Away-Day best - first England match in Euro 2000 and all that. And bring security. My dad and a bodyguard - that would be enough, he'd said. But it wasn't.
It was the Friday before that the Daily Mail found out my name wasn't on the list and said I was snubbing the other England wives and girlfriends by not going. It was picked up by the radio. I heard them talking about it on Capital as I drove into work. They were talking as if my going would make the difference as to whether England won or lost. Phil Neville's wife wasn't going, nor Gary Neville's girlfriend. No one said anything about them. Just went on about how I thought I should be treated differently.
But didn't they understand, I was treated differently. Were the other wives having fingers poked at them now? No. Even if they were dressed up in their England-Expects best, nobody knew who they were. But Posh Spice. Who everyone knows wants to take their precious Golden Boy away from Manchester United, everyone knows who she is. The most hated woman in England, that's what I've been called. Nice.
And what do football supporters do when they hate? They shout abuse. When I was little my mum used to say that old thing about sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never harm you. That was when I was being bullied at school. But she was wrong. It wasn't true then and it's not true now.
I remember not long after I started going out with David, my mum came up to Manchester to a match and when they saw me the crowd began chanting 'Posh Spice takes it up the arse'. And she said, 'What's that they're singing, Victoria?' She'd heard the Posh Spice bit, but not the rest. I mean, how embarrassing is that? I just said I didn't know and could she please pass me another bag of crisps.
The abuse that me and David get at Old Trafford is hideous - at least it never gets physical, unless you count banging on the glass of a corporate box - but since Euro 2000 started all we'd heard about in the English press was football violence and yob culture. People think I read the papers just to find out what they're writing about Posh and Becks. And I would be lying if l said I wasn't interested - it's the lies they print that mean I have to read that crap. Lies and things that are only too true, photographs you literally had no idea were being taken. Photographs of you and your baby and your husband and your sister and your sister's little girl, and your mum and your dad and anybody else whose lives they feel like poking their lenses into. Yes, I read the newspapers. But I also watch the news every night. No matter how tired I am. It's the only television do watch. And I knew what was going on in Belgium, how the England fans were a disgrace and were already cluttering up police cells. But David wanted me to come. He says he plays better when I'm there. The game had just started by the time we got back to our seats. Stadium security had eventually turned up, about six of them, and, just like bull bars on a 4WD, didn't ask any questions, just pushed everyone back. It turned out they'd roped off where the players came through, which was why the place was rammed.
When David saw me, his face broke into that smile and it was like it always is. Like Marilyn Monroe says in Some Like It Hot 'my spine turns to custard' and I forget everything except how much I love him and how lucky I am that he loves me.
I knew how important this game was to him. So many people were saying that Beckham was going to do it for us. But they were saying that at the World Cup when he ballsed up, and then they turned on him completely. Jeremy Clarkson said he would like to get David in a padded cell with a baseball bat. The Daily Mirror had a pull-out dartboard with David's face in the middle. The Sun got a dummy, dressed it up like David, put some naff sarong and a num- ber 7 shirt on it and hanged it, not hung it, hanged it with a rope round the neck on a gallows outside a pub in South London, took a picture and put it on the front page. No footballer has ever had such negative press, which is why it was so important that he had a good game.
And he did. Even though it ended in a draw, that first match against Portugal was the best of the three games England played in Euro 2000. And David played so well, I was so proud of him. I kept looking at my dad to check that I was right. He just smiled. David created two goals - which means he kicked the ball to the person who kicked the goal. And I was nearly crying I was so happy, and for me that is unheard of, as any Manchester United supporter will tell you, I'm not really into football at all. My interest in football is limited to David. I don't watch the ball, I watch David. If the two coincide, then fine.
Everybody knows that before an England match players are banned from seeing their families, but what most people don't realize is that they're banned from seeing them afterwards as well. Football teams, whether Manchester United or England, are run like concentration camps. All I wanted to do after that game was to hug David, and tell him how proud I was. But when the final whistle blew, and they did the thing of taking off their shirts and giving them to the other side, we were already being led back to our coach in a crocodile like good little schoolchildren, back to the airport and home.
As we were making our way out of the stadium I tapped out a text message on my mobile. There was no point calling him, I knew he'd be in the shower or the bath, being boys together after the game. We spend half our lives sending messages to each other. The other half we're on the phone. David's physio even says his back trouble comes from having his ear glued to his phone. But sometimes there are things you want to say that you don't want anyone else to hear, whether it's your mum or your dad, or the driver or security or make-up or hair or one of the girls. Or perhaps other people are talking or listening to a CD and it would be rude to just pick up the mobile and chat. There are some people in the music business who think that just because they're up there, they can behave how they like. I suppose it's all about how you are brought up. Some people find sending text messages fiddly, but I don't. I'm like a mobile phone touch typist, though long nails mean I use the side of my finger. I don't even have to think where the letters are.
Then just as my screen flashed Sent I get an alert -a message from David. Call me asap Love you lots XXD. I punch the keypad, a number I could do in my sleep, then it's two rings and 'Hello'.
Other people can mock David's voice if they like. I love it.
'Hi, Babes,' I said. 'I know you think I know nothing, but you really did well. I feel so, so proud of you.'
'I don't think you will be when you hear what I've done, Victoria.’
I felt my heart do what seemed like a double beat.
'What's that, then?'
'I've just heard the press have got a picture of me sticking my finger up at the fans.’
I couldn't believe I was hearing this.
'You're' kidding me, David.' We'd been over it again and again.
Don't react. Just don't react.
'I just couldn't help myself'
'But why? We've been over and over this. Why did you do it?'
Stupid question. I knew why. It's the abuse and David's short fuse. But he knows there is such a spotlight on him.
'It was the things they were shouting about you and Brooklyn. I couldn't handle it any more.'
'Like what were they saying?'
'I want to hear.'
'Brooklyn takes it up the arse.'
That wasn't a new one. But it still made me sick when I heard it.
'Well, we've heard that one before.'
’And then they said they hoped Brooklyn died of cancer.'
I just closed my eyes and said nothing. A picture of Brooklyn flashed in front of my eyes, as I had left him, wandering around the kitchen just wearing his nappy holding his football.
’Are you still there, Victoria?'
‘I’m still here.’
'I just couldn't help myself I had run my bollocks off for ninety minutes and then there were just these three or four blokes shouting abuse. And I just gave them one finger. I didn't think anyone had seen.’
'And you're sure they did?'
'Gary said they did.'
Gary Neville is David's best friend at Manchester United. They've both been there since they were sixteen.
Another silence. It takes a lot to shut me up, but I didn't know what to say.
'How's Brooklyn?' David said.
'He's fine. Louise just called. She said he watched his daddy on television and he's fine.'
'Don't be angry, Babes. I know it was stupid, but I couldn't help myself'
I lost him as the coach went into a tunnel. I decided he could call me if he wanted and I opened up another stick of chewing gum, folding the old bit in the new wrapper and putting it in the ashtray in the seat in front. I've always been brought up to be tidy.
He was right. I was angry. I just wanted to get him by the neck and throttle him. No prizes for guessing the picture on the front page of every paper in England the next day.
My mum and dad were up at the front of the coach talking to David's mum and dad. I didn't feel like telling them. They'd find out soon enough. I just curled up in the seat, chomped on the chewing gum and stared out at the sky, still streaked with red. Red for Manchester United. Red for England. There had been so much talk since Euro 2000 started as to why the England fans were more violent than anybody else, worse than Scottish fans, worse than Welsh fans, worse than Irish fans. I couldn't understand it. I'd grown up with these people, so had David. Both English, both the same age as these stupid louts. So what was different? Why weren't we going around kicking the shit out of anybody who got in our way? And we knew they wanted to be like us, copying everything we did, or everything they could, like the way we looked, the way we dressed, our hairstyles and so on.
David and I have both got very strong personalities. We both knew where we were going, right from when we were very young. Of course I...
From the time when, as an eight-year-old girl, she saw the movie Fame, Victoria wanted to be a star. There was a line from the title song that stayed with her - 'I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly'. With this extraordinary book she gives us the chance to follow her on her journey from lonely teenager to international star; to fly alongside her. At heart is an uplifting story of tenderness and passion, but kidnap threats and media lies have often turned the dream into a nightmare. Incredibly frank and told with coruscating humour, Victoria's autobiography describes her extraordinary life as it really is. LEARNING TO FLY is more compelling than any novel.
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