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Working-class boy to Man U

July 09, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

LONDON — Somehow, a media throng did not congregate outside the Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone, northeast London, on Friday, May 2, 1975.

The plain, white, unassuming maternity ward -- "Looks like an office building from the outside," said the hospital's press officer Lucy Reeve -- probably went about business as usual.

Even now, she says, "It's not really something that's brought up day to day. People might bring it up every now and then."

It's just that one of the thousands of births per year turned out to be one of the most famous people on Earth, as Sandra and Ted Beckham welcomed the second of their three children, and their only son, and named him David Robert Joseph.

Even blindingly famous people don't just emerge out of thin air as adults curling soccer balls right onto teammates' feet from 25 yards away.

In David Beckham's case, they might emerge from Leytonstone and Chingford, two of the endless towns in the vast London area, both considered part of East London even if they're technically more north. They might start out in working-class Leytonstone, birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock, where murals honoring 17 of the filmmaker's movies adorn the Tube station. Then they might move farther out, to where London thinks about becoming rural Essex, to still-working-class-but-slightly-less-so Chingford, where the infamous gangster Kray twins are buried.

That's on the outer edge of the London sprawl, historically farmland before London burgeoned out to meet it, and that's where Ted Beckham, a kitchen "fitter" -- prepares houses for gas and electricity -- and Sandra, a hairdresser, relocated from Leytonstone early in David's childhood.

That's also the home of a well-kept village whose outer edge boasts Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, where, the 92-year-old Chingford historian John Boyes said, "It is alleged Queen Elizabeth rode upstairs on her horse so she could watch the hunt going through Epping Forest."

The Epping Forest would be an ancient woodland just outside the city.

The queen would be Elizabeth I.

That's the Elizabeth from the 1500s.

Supernovas can come from fairly tranquil places where they lead ordinary lives with a soccer ball always present, as a visitor realizes while standing in Chingford next to a large, empty field with healthy trees in behind. At midday on a weekday, the field sits empty, one exhausted soccer goal in the middle.

"This is where David used to come with his father to have a kick," Andy Strickland says.

Strickland works for the Waltham Forest Council, which oversees services and programs for the area borough. Long about 2003, he decided to create a David Beckham Trail, to trace Beckham's childhood. Pretty soon, with the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea still fresh in memory banks, tour buses full of Japanese tourists began showing up occasionally in the area.

"Granted, it's not quite Bethlehem," quipped the Daily Mail.

The number of tour buses has subsided, but the trail still includes a visit to a sports center where Beckham starred from age 8 for the Ridgeway Rovers, a dog track, two schools and a visit to a woodsy facility far enough into nature that you forget you're near London.

It's where Beckham attended Boy Scout camp. He also frequently visited his grandparents and frequently attended church.

There's Chase Lane Junior High School, which resembles an everyday junior high school, and the Chingford School, which resembles an everyday high school on a quiet lane, with English boys playing football in sweaters and ties.

Beckham's father kept his soccer days going for a local club, with the son always in attendance, and helped coach a youth team, which the son joined apparently at age 8. By age 10, the boy had scored 100 goals. At age 11, he won a national skills competition, getting him noticed, and at age 12, his family received the first contact from Manchester United, which would make him global. Even while living in a bastion of Arsenal and Tottenham fans, his parents supported Manchester United.

He graced the systems of the Leyton Orient professional club -- the closest one to his childhood area -- and the huge Tottenham club of North London before signing with Manchester United and leaving home at 16.

But while home from training for at least one summer, he got an actual job as a busboy in the restaurant and lounge at Walthamstow Stadium, a greyhound track and something of a landmark in northeast London that comes up on the way to Chingford.

"It's often talked about here," said Annie Aslett of the track. Tourists sometimes ask about him, "and I just hope one of these days he answers back, says hello."

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