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GRAMAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

David Beckham's not-so-fan-friendly experience

Regardless of who instigated it, the soccer star's apparent confrontation Sunday with a group of Galaxy fans, documented in a video, does not reflect well on him.

July 21, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

Did David Beckham bring the crowd down on his own head Sunday night by taunting, challenging and perhaps even insulting Galaxy fans at the Home Depot Center?

That was the contention of several fans Monday in the wake of the Galaxy's 2-2 tie with AC Milan in a sold-out friendly match in Carson.

It was Beckham's first home game back with the Galaxy after his five-month loan spell with AC Milan, and he was visibly angry at the anti-Beckham banners in the stadium and at the verbal abuse he received from those who question his loyalty to the Major League Soccer team.

Matters came to a head at halftime, when Beckham approached the corner of the stadium where the Galaxy's most vociferous support group, the Riot Squad, gathers.

A widely circulated video of undetermined origin shows Beckham confronting the crowd, pointing his finger at fans, and trying to climb over an advertising board to get closer to whatever angered him before being stopped by security personnel.

One fan, identified only as Josh, responded to whatever Beckham said by coming down out of the crowd. He was collared by security officers, escorted away with one arm twisted behind his back, and later cited for trespassing.

"One of the guys was saying things that really wasn't very nice," Beckham said after the game. "It was stepping over the line. I said, 'You need to calm down and come shake my hand,' and he jumped over."

But fans on the scene strongly disputed that interpretation.

"We boo a lot of players," Riot Squad member Ricardo Vigil of Los Angeles said on the video. "They don't come out and challenge our guys. We're just here as fans. He was saying, 'Come down here, come down here, come down here.' The guy came down there."

Eric Lewis, also from Los Angeles and another member of the fan group, had harsher words.

"He called the guy out," Lewis said. "He called out a drunk fan. How stupid is that? He's the player. He's the professional. He should have kept himself under control. He didn't."

Galaxy fan Jeff Austin of Highland Park, in an e-mail, described Beckham's actions as "way out of line for a professional athlete," adding that "anything that he says putting the blame entirely on the fan is nothing short of a complete lie."

In an interview with The Times on Monday, Bob Ramsey, a theology professor, minister and Riot Squad member from Glendora, said something had set Beckham off.

Ramsey said he had been surveying fans who were closest to the one who leaped over the wall. "I haven't talked to everybody, but no one remembers hearing anything beyond 'scum,' 'traitor,' those kinds of things. Nothing about his family," Ramsey said.

"The thing that really seems to have triggered it is one of the guys was holding a Beckham jersey that he was kind of abusing, hitting it down against the wall, basically disrespecting Beckham's shirt. Which is kind of an apt metaphor for what happened because he's been predominantly just a shirt-seller for our team. . . .

"We were giving him the business as soon as he came out for warmups," Ramsey said. "His first reaction was to give us a thumbs-up and I thought, 'OK, he's going to play along with it and just realize that we're going to kind of give him a hard time here and he's going to have to play through it.'

"I honestly think if he had done that everything would have been fine. At halftime, he seemed to see something when he was running off the field and he came over and was challenging the guys in the front of our section."

Ramsey, and others, said Beckham repeatedly used particularly foul language.

"Not to put too strong a point on it, but in Beckham's postgame comments, he's lying about what happened," Ramsey said. "There is no way that he was coming over there to shake hands. 'Come down here' . . . is not what you say to someone that you want to make friends with."

Beckham further angered the fans when, after setting up the tying goal with a corner kick, he turned to the Riot Squad and made a shushing gesture.

"I think if he had just shrugged his shoulders, like, 'What can I do?' that would have won us over," Ramsey said. "But the shush signal just put the knife in deeper.

"My sense right now is that we might again give him the business in the Barcelona match [Aug. 1 at the Rose Bowl], but when it's a league match and it matters, it's going to be over, unless there's a fresh provocation."

The Galaxy issued a four-paragraph statement Monday afternoon in which Bruce Arena, the team's coach and general manager, said, in part, "We regret the incident that happened at the end of the first half" but made no mention of Beckham's behavior.

"While it is important that our fans remain free to voice their opinions, they must do so in an appropriate manner. We appreciate our players and our fans' passion for the team, but we all must aim to hold ourselves to higher standards."

--

Times columnist Helene Elliott contributed to this story.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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