Importing Real football | Beckham adds his share to U.S. trade imbalance

In the time before Beckham … | Filmed on or about 31 Dec 1897 on South Spring Street in Los Angeles, this 25-second clip from the Thomas Edison catalog shows “equipages … including a tally-ho and six white horses. A peculiar, open-end trolley car comes along.” Notice the absence of L.A. Galaxy replica kit. (Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division)

Carson, California | The bridge metaphor has become prominent with the Los Angeles Galaxy’s signing of David Beckham from Real Madrid. “David is truly the only individual that can build the bridge between soccer in America and the rest of the world,” says Timothy Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Galaxy.

Such brainless marketing patter deservedly sinks into the well of words that has accumulated about this player transfer of global insignificance. Were such a bridge required, Beckham, while a well-intentioned person and a fine soccer player, would not be the person to build it. Nor is Philip Anschutz building bridges by paving the driveway to Beckingham Palace West with gold. Leiweke calls boss Anschutz, who owns two other Major League Soccer clubs, Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo, “a pretty good saint for the sport of soccer.”

But whatever this statement means, achieving sainthood, by definition, requires more than “pretty-goodness.”

For Beckham himself, cursed by association with a growing network of glad-handers, bridge-builders and Scientologists, one hopes that at some moment in the American sojourn he will be able to escape the protective bubble wrap. “Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived,” writes Guy Debord, a quote expanded upon by the sociologist deconstructor of all things Beckham, Ellis Cashmore, in monographs and essays on the iconography of Beckham as husband, father, breadwinner, “new man,” “new lad,” hero, consumer. Foundationally, Cashmore, with Andrew Parker, writes in a 2003 article of Beckham as a person existing through others’ representation, almost the definition of celebrity:

With characteristic understatement, the Sun of London (Jan 12) casts Beckham in Galaxy gold.

[C]elebrityhood is a commodification of the human form, the epitome of economic fetishism. It is the process by which people are turned into “things,” things to be adored, respected, worshipped, idolized, but perhaps more importantly, things which are themselves produced and consumed. (“One David Beckham? Celebrity, Masculinity, and the Soccerati,” Sociology of Sport Journal 20, p. 215)

But back to the bridge business. It would be hard to conceive a more inappropriate metaphor for relating soccer in the United States to world football. Curiously, commentators abroad seem to have a better handle on American soccer culture as more of an “underground” obsession that has succeeded through grassroots enthusiasm—nurtured in part by a legion of expatriates making far less than $50 million per year—rather than through the splurging of delusionaries in suits, hoping to create a “soccer nation.” (Grant Wahl‘s report on the mechanics of the Beckham deal shows how the arrangement has little to do with soccer, but more with building personal chemistries, marketing synergies and a “worldly brand.” Our favorite quote from Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas: “When I think of the Galaxy I think of dark blue.”) The North American Soccer League was significant more for helping to start organized youth and women’s soccer than for showcasing global talent on Astroturf and in high-cut satin-sheen shorts, although the investment in talent was important.

Page 1 of 3 | Next page