David Beckham © Getty Images
David Beckham © Getty Images


David Beckham scored three goals in the World Cup – one in each of the 1998, 2002 and 2006 editions. And on each of the days, Lancashire and Warwickshire faced off in three different matches in England. Arunabha Sengupta chronicles this curious tale of coincidences.


David Beckham — Britain’s most iconic athlete, captain of the England team for nearly a dozen years, whose name is both a global advertising brand and forms part of the title of a blockbuster movie. Yet, his World Cup journey remained a tale of a handful of highs within lots of losses and lows, somewhat meagre returns for his megastar status as a footballer. At the same time, he played in three World Cups and scored in each of them, thereby creating one of the most stunning coincidences that link the noble game of cricket with the beautiful game of football.


Beckham’s association with the World Cup got off to a rocky start when team manager Glenn Hoddle publicly accused him of not focusing on the tournament in France, 1998. He did not play in the first game and was sent in as a substitute in the second. However, in the third match, against Colombia, he did take the field from the beginning. And in the 29th minute, Beckham scored by bending a 30-yard free kick in the memorable 2-0 victory. It was Beckham’s first goal for England.


Earlier that day, Lancashire and Warwickshire had been engaged in Day One of their county game at Edgbaston — although the teams led by John Crawley and Brian Lara had to spend their day in the pavilion with rain pouring down incessantly. Curiously, a Lancashire-Warwickshire game would be a feature on each day that David Beckham scored for England across three World Cups and eight years.


Coming back to 1998, in the round of 16, England met Argentina. Early in the second half, with the game locked 2-2, Beckham was fouled by Diego Simeone. While lying on the ground, Beckham retaliated by kicking Simeone and striking him on the calf. The Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen flashed the red card, sending him off. Following this, England were eliminated in the penalty shootout. Beckham was squarely blamed for the exit in many quarters. Effigies were burnt and Daily Mirror printed a dartboard with his picture on the bull’s eye. The star also had to deal with several death threats.


The man redeemed himself by scoring the equaliser against Greece from a free kick in the stoppage time of the 2001 World Cup qualifiers. That strike carried England to the World Cup Finals. “Give that man a Knighthood,” screamed the television commentator as the ball went into the net.


However, Beckham was only partially fit for the 2002 World Cup. On June 7, England faced Argentina in their group match and the England captain converted a spot-kick in the 44th minute to score the only goal in the match. Earlier that day, at Old Trafford, Warwickshire No 11 Neil Carter had struck a last ball boundary to clinch a thriller of a Benson and Hedges semi-final by one wicket. The cricketing coincidence associated with Beckham’s World Cup goals remained intact.


England defeated Denmark in the second round but were knocked out of the tournament by Brazil in the quarter-finals. Michael Owen gave them the lead, but Rivaldo equalised at the stroke of half-time, and after resumption Ronaldinho’s famous free-kick sailed into the goal.


In England’s opening game at the 2006 World Cup against Paraguay, Beckham’s free-kick led to an own-goal by Carlos Gamarra. Against Trinidad and Tobago, he set up the Peter Crouch goal with an astute cross towards the closing moments of the game and followed it up with a splendid assist to help Steven Gerrard score as England won 2-0. His only goal in the tournament came in the second round match against Ecuador. In the 59th minute another trademark free-kick curled into the net making Beckham the first English player to score in three separate World Cups. On that day, at Edgbaston, Lancashire and Warwickshire faced off in a Cheltenham and Gloucestershire Trophy game. Warwickshire skipper Heath Streak trapped Lancashire’s star recruit Nathan Astle for a duck, but the county with the red rose won by three wickets with 16 balls to spare. The curious saga of coincidences was complete.


In the quarter-final against Portugal, Beckham was injured after half-time and had to be substituted. England lost the match on penalties, with Beckham visibly shaken for not being able to play, tears streaming down his cheeks as he watched from the bench.


The great footballer played his final game for England in the World Cup qualifiers against Belarus in 2009. However, he did not play in a World Cup again.


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(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)