"I will always regret my actions," said Beckham in July, in a Nathan Hale sort of declaration. "I want every fan to know how deeply sorry I am." Those have been his last words on the subject. Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson has banned all interviews with Beckham, hoping the incident will fade away. "He's a normal, likable, straightforward boy," says Ferguson.
Beckham grew up in northeast London. He was working-class, a Cockney, and grew up with the Cinderella dream of playing for Manchester United. When he was 11, he won a national soccer skills competition similar to the Punt, Pass & Kick. The next year a United scout came to visit the Beckham home.
Last month, on the second week of the season, Beckham arrived in the East End to play against West Ham United, whose fans have long been critical of Beckham for leaving their side of town to travel up the social ladder to Manchester United. On the eve of this "homecoming" it emerged that he was going to be a lather. Posh Spice, the front pages of the tabloids reported, was three months pregnant The British bookmaker William Hill immediately posted odds of 1,000 to 1 against the baby's playing soccer for England, and 10,000 to 1 against his ever being sent off against Argentina.
A fan at West Ham had announced plans to distribute 10,000 red cards with which to greet Beckham, but the police talked him out of it. The British press hyped the anticipated confrontation between Beckham and the fans so much that, thankfully, it never "went off," to use the hooligans' term. The match was a scoreless draw, and while Beckham was jeered, his treatment was no worse than what other visitors to West Ham have endured. The greeting for him is likely to be far more outrageous when he travels to Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea, for those clubs are expecting to contend with Manchester United for the championship, and the supporters might see in their barracking of Beckham a tactical advantage.
As Manchester United's bus came crawling up the narrow East End road toward West Ham's ground before the match, Beckham squinted stoically at the crowd. He didn't react until near the end of the road, when a group of fans sang to him: "Are you sure, are you sure, are you sure the baby's...."
At that, Beckham cracked the slightest smile. "What did they say?" a teammate asked. Beckham's lips could be read through the window. Without moving a muscle otherwise, Beckham muttered, "Are you sure the baby's yours."