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Beckham: Fashion or Love?

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


During 2002 World Cup, the English footballer David Beckham suddenly became an object of intense adoration in Japan. But was this phenomenon really the beginning of a lasting affection for the player or simply a passing whim of trend-sensitive teenagers? Yo Sato ponders on the nature of his compatriots' love for Beckham.
Beckham-mania reached the Far East in a big way. In the heyday of the last World Cup, teenage boys in every corner of Japan rushed to hairdresser's asking for the Beckham hairstyle of the day. Literally thousands of girls followed Beckham wherever he went and many cried in abandon, reportedly, when he was leaving Japan, begging him not to go.
The local authority of Tsuna, a remote town England chose as a training campsite, is contemplating building a statue of the superstar. Beckham almost single-handedly steered England to being Japan's second favourite team - well, nearly.
But was this adoration really love, or more a sort of cult fervour, a fad that passes as abruptly as it began? Remember, many of our Japanese Beckham followers did not know who Beckham was until the World Cup began on the 31 May 2002. Also note, by the end of the tournament, Brazil firmly re-established themselves as Japan's second favourite team. Impressionable teenagers have very short memories. Certainly, it is something worth considering before you name your newly born boy Becks.
But perhaps I am being unfair. Many fans do genuinely love the game and their favourite players. I have vivid memories myself as a teenager, watching Rossi's hat-trick against Brazil followed by a roar of Italian fans, and of a blurred TV screen showing Maradona's legendary run that led to the famous goal against England. It is these images that planted the seed of my love of football, and there is no sign of them fading during my ripe middle age. Impressionable though they are, don't feverish teenagers instinctively know what real amazement is?
Here's a Japanese cliché for you, "it is kioku (memories), not kiroku (records), that count." After all, do you remember who got the golden boot in France '98? Do you know who holds the record of most caps in world cups? Real love for football and players depends on really magical moments of sheer quality that sticks in a fan's mind. Perhaps this is what separates Elvis Presley from Adam Ant.
Well then, has Beckham produced such enduring images? Perhaps that petulant face after his famous send-off in France 98? Or on a more positive note, what about his long shot from the halfway line that somehow found the net in the 96-97 Premiership season? Unfortunately, the appeal of this goal was limited to a relatively small - well British - audience.
Few would deny Beckham ran short of that magic of excellence in the 2002 World Cup. Of course, he will have many more opportunities. But for now, Beckham is more a fashion icon than a footballing great, and hence, is susceptible to oblivion. But Beckham is a footballer. This is the way, no doubt, that he himself wishes to be remembered and loved. Football is long, fashion is short.


Yo Sato, August 2002


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