He’s one of the most recognisable names and faces in the history of football, but how on earth did David Beckham end up at Preston?
If you look through his career, Beckham has played in some of the most glamorous cities, for some of the most glamorous clubs. Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain…Preston North End.
Okay, maybe Preston doesn’t quite match up to Manchester, Madrid, Los Angeles, Milan and Paris, but North End undoubtedly played a key role in Beckham’s career.
Beckham had already made his first-team debut for Manchester United, but in 1995, he was seeking first-team experience. Preston, managed by Gary Peters and seeking a playoff spot in Division Three at the time, offered him that chance.
Today is 25 years to the day since Beckham made his Preston debut; then just 19, Beckham had gone from the glitz of Old Trafford to the bread and butter of the Third Division. Unsurprisingly, his North End career began on the bench, but he did come on against Doncaster Rovers way back in 1995.
Beckham wrote his name into North End folklore by scoring direct from a corner on his debut. Just a week later, his now-famous set piece ability was on show again, as he buried a free kick against Fulham.
The story goes that manager Peters made the decision to give Beckham all set pieces ahead of Paul Raynor, and Ryan Kidd told FourFourTwo in 2015 that ‘Raynor’s face was an absolute picture’ at being told he was losing set piece duties to a relatively untested 19-year-old.
Two goals in five games saw Beckham impress at Deepdale, and a passage from a book by Ted Beckham – David’s father – highlighted how the midfielder wanted to stay at Preston rather than go back to United.
“Gary asked David if he wanted to stay until the end of the season, which David was keen to do,” said Ted Beckham. “He’d really enjoyed the experience and knew it was doing him good, so he said he would ask Alex Ferguson.”
“David went back to The Cliff and plucked up the courage to knock on the manager’s door – I think it was probably the first time he’d ever asked to see the boss. He was nervous about doing it, but was keen to stay at Preston. He calmly told Fergie that Gary had asked him to stay and, if it was all right, he’d like to give it a go.”
“Fergie just went mad. He slammed his first on the desk and shouted ‘You’re not f***ing well going anywhere. You’re f***ing well staying here and that’s the end of it.’ David was pretty upset but he knew better than to argue and just turned and left the office,” he added.
With Ferguson adamant he wasn’t staying at Preston, Beckham stayed at United, quickly established himself in Ferguson’s first team, and went on to win six Premier League titles with the Red Devils.
What’s touching is that even in 2010, when given a BBC Lifetime Achievement award, Beckham didn’t forget Preston. When naming the teams he has played for, Preston even came before United. It may have garnered a chuckle from the crowd, big-name Beckham mentioning little old Preston, but it just goes to show the impact his time at Preston had on him.
Beckham may have only spent a month at Deepdale, but it was key to his development. Playing in a team full of veterans, challenging himself against grown men, learning how to manage himself as he battled with the testing Football League schedule.
Famed for his hairstyles, his fashion, his much-publicised marriage to Victoria Beckham, his ‘goldenballs’ nickname, that free kick against Greece, that penalty against Argentina, the flying boot from Ferguson, the money-spinning moves around the globe; Beckham still has a place in his heart for Preston.
Who knows how things could have been different if Ferguson had let him stay at Preston 25 years ago. Regardless, Beckham will always be considered a North Ender by the Preston faithful.