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David Beckham, left, knew he could count on his Manchester United teammates such as our columnist Andrew Cole, right, who says Beckham never avoided dressing room banter and 'was one of us'.
David Beckham, left, knew he could count on his Manchester United teammates such as our columnist Andrew Cole, right, who says Beckham never avoided dressing room banter and 'was one of us'.

David Beckham was one of us and never changed with fame

David Beckham was recognised all over the world, yet he never changed, never thought he was too big time, never avoided the dressing room banter.

My old teammate David Beckham may be hugely popular and famous all over the world, but not everyone liked him. Andy Hinchcliffe, the former Manchester City, Everton and Sheffield Wednesday player, didn't.

And the feeling was mutual.

They used to kick each other whenever they played. There was no love lost.

During our Treble-winning season of 1998/99, we lost 3-1 at Sheffield Wednesday. Becks and Hinchcliffe were up to their usual antics. At the end of the game, they began to fight, and I told Becks to get out of the way, while I went for Hinchcliffe instead and grabbed him by the throat. So it was me versus Hinchcliffe in the tunnel.

Becks reminded me of this when I met him for dinner in New York pre-season last year. He invited me out, he made sure I had his number, made sure he asked me all about my family - and he remembered every name.

He was laughing like he always laughed, especially about Hinchcliffe and me.

Becks was recognised all over the world, yet he never changed, never thought he was too big time, never avoided the dressing room banter.

He was one of us and he was a cracking player, a world-class footballer who deserved his place in a brilliant midfield which won the Treble. Despite being played out of position in central midfield, he was United's best performer in Camp Nou against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, the one who never gave up, never stopped running and looking to receive and make a pass.

I saw him go from being a shy young pro to a global icon. Saw him turn up for training in his first car, a modest little Honda Prelude.

The other young players bought the same type of car, but Becks had to be different and had his fitted out with a leather interior. He was very pleased with that.

We were based at The Cliff in Salford but had some training sessions at a nearby site at Littleton Road and players would give each other lifts between the two in kit.

When we went in Becks' car, he'd say: "Be careful, you'll scuff the leather" in his London accent. We ribbed him about it non-stop.

If there was banter flying about, he would always get involved, one of the team.

He started to become really, really famous in 1996/97. I was there when he met his wife for the first time and had no idea how big he or the pair of them would become.

He took the footballer fame thing to another level and coped with it all very well. But he was just a teammate to me.

He was a good looking lad who played for a huge club, and it was inevitable that the sponsorships and endorsements would follow.

But he never ever changed the way he played football.

He got a lot of abuse about being sent off for England against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, and we knew he would get singled out by opposition players. We didn't let it bother us. England is a separate world to Manchester United, but people took issue with him for what he had done for his country while playing for his club.

He became a scapegoat for idiots.

He could handle the comments and the kicks, too, but that didn't mean we would let opponents get away with it. If you tried to bully Becks then you were getting it back. Our captain, Roy Keane, made sure of that. He wasn't for anyone taking liberties with any teammates - even the ones he had issues with.

Kick Becks and get kicked back.

It was simple.

It was important that Becks knew that he could rely on his teammates.

We may have lost to Hinchcliffe at Sheffield Wednesday, but we didn't do too badly that season, winning the league, the FA Cup and the European Cup. Becks was one of our best players that season.

He was great with the kids of the players, including my young boy Devante. He would play with him and take him to meet his own mum and dad. Becks' mum and dad would watch him everywhere, completely normal people who had supported their son and watched him excel and play for United and England.

I couldn't get my own dad to watch me if I promised to bring the entire West Indies cricket team along, too

My dad is a cricket man, but Ted Beckham continued to watch Manchester United home and away long after his son left, though it was never the same for him.

Beckham announced his retirement from playing football on Thursday after a top career starring for some of the biggest clubs in the world.

Becks is not interested in managing and doesn't want to coach. I'm told he plans to buy his own football club.

Whatever he does, he is not going to be short of offers.

And whatever he decides, I'd like to wish him well.

 

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

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