Saturday, 14 June 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 14th June 2014.

David Beckham Into the Unknown: Monday, BBC One

Street Kid World Cup: Tuesday and Wednesday, BBC Three

Paul Whitelaw

For the last 22 years, David Beckham has fulfilled a clearly defined professional role. His job was to play football and pose in his underwear for vast sums of money. A simple, straightforward vocation, and one he maintained with admirable professionalism.

No one expected him to be amusing or interesting in real life, which is why he never disappointed when required to open his mouth. Like most top athletes, he was dull, dependable and uncomplicated.

Unfortunately, these attributes are more problematic when the athlete in question is required to front a TV show. In David Beckham Into the Unknown, his crushing lack of charisma created a central void of no escape. For 90 tedious minutes, this unexceptional ball-dribbler scuppered his chances of forging a second career as an Alan Whicker/Michael Palin-style travelogue presenter.

He probably won't lose sleep over this squandered opportunity, as I doubt it was high on his list of priorities. But you have to question the logic of commissioning the programme in the first place. Who thought this was a good idea?

Beckham evidently enjoyed his trip down the Amazon, and who are we to begrudge him the experience? But in order for a travelogue to work successfully, the presenter must be capable of providing insight into the culture they're investigating. Beckham was far too wrapped up in banal self-analysis: “Why did I have to come all this way to be able to think?” I dunno, but at least it's a start.

Director Anthony Mandler attempted to inject some depth into proceedings with the recurring theme of Beckham's global celebrity. Although quick to point out that he always had time for the fans, the multimillionaire superstar frequently expressed frustration at being recognised wherever he went. This trip, he argued, was an attempt to become anonymous for the first time in years. When he eventually encountered a group of Brazilians who didn't know who he was, he claimed to be delighted. Well, good for you, David. Remind me why I should care again?

That may sound harsh, but it's hard to feel much sympathy for a celebrity who tries to escape the limelight via a feature-length documentary about themselves. Complete with cameos from his adoring wife and children, this was an extended PR exercise for the powerhouse Beckham brand. He's obviously a decent soul, so objecting to his presence would be like smacking a one-eyed teddy bear. But the Beckhams are no fools: this was just another example of their canny knack for remaining in the public eye.

None of which would matter if the end product was entertaining. But much like Ewan MacGregor's bike-bound forays into similar territory, it was just a jolly boy's outing filmed and edited to a professional standard. Enjoy your retirement, David. Please don't make any more TV programmes, there's a good lad.

Ironically, Street Kid World Cup was the sort of endeavour that Beckham would doubtless praise to the hilt. A two-part documentary, it followed a team of footballing teenage girls from London, all of whom had been raised in care.

They’d been chosen to represent England in Brazil, as part of the Street Child World Cup. Having never played football together prior to training, they faced a serious uphill struggle. The journey was even harder due to the sheer weight of emotional baggage they carried.

It was a heartening glimpse into the lives of vulnerable children for whom sport offers an invaluable lifeline. 

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