Beckham frenzy is alive and well-Vancouver Sun

George Johnson
Canwest News Service

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 

EDMONTON -- Through the automatic doors at customs, a hard right, along the elasticized nylon fencing keeping the curious at bay, outside and onto the bus.

In less than, oh, 45 seconds.

Beat it like Beckham.

"A celebrity," the late Fred Allen once shrewdly noted, "is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized."

Well, David Beckham wasn't sporting any make of designer shades when, head down, he ran a shockingly small gauntlet at Edmonton International Airport (security outnumbered the fans, and media outnumbered security) of the starstruck and the curious, ahead of tonight's exhibition match against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Commonwealth Stadium.

Which has, by the way, nothing to do with football. But everything to do with celebrity. But even reduced to miniature, the frenzy is fascinating, in a weird way.

People climbing over one another for a look, a word, a scrawl. The Gatling gun of flashbulbs going pop! pop! pop! A fan unfurls an "Impossible Is Nothing" poster -- Beckham throwing that come-hither look cheekily over a shoulder -- as if she were an Obama supporter rejoicing over the primary win in North Carolina.

"He's shorter than I expected," complains one disappointed female. "And he has his shirt on."

Who on earth was she expecting, a young William Shatner?

Beyond the six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, that Champions League win in '99, is David Beckham. People who wouldn't know Eric Cantona from Eric Idle, Ryan Giggs from Ryan Seacrest, know David Beckham.

As U.S. historian Daniel J. Boorstein once noted: "A sign of celebrity is that his name is worth more than his services."

You can fully understand his reluctance to engage the fawning multitudes. He needs another one of these "friendlies" out in the god-knows-where hinterlands, arranged either as a cash cow for the Galaxy or to "sell" the game to new audiences, like he needs another tattoo, or we need another Spice Girls reunion tour.

Obviously, he can't stop for everyone. That would be utter madness. But it would've been nice, even beneficial, to get his take on a few things Monday.

Like his reaction to the autocratic Italian, Fabio Capello, selecting him for England's next two friendly matches Or even whether he chose the salted pretzels or mixed nuts on the Air Canada Jazz flight from LAX.

Something? Anything?

Commonwealth is far from sold out, ticket sales hovering around 30,000 at $25 to $85 a pop. So a quick quote or two go with the photos, a few sound bites on the sports telecasts, couldn't have hurt. But, as warned, Beckham did not stop.

"I've seen a lot worse," said Halifax-born defender Ante Jazic, the lone Canadian on the Galaxy roster, returning tonight after a long layoff owing to ankle surgery. "In Korea, in Seoul, there must've been over 1,000 people at the airport.

"It's surreal, sometimes. But he deals with it well. And they do a good job of protecting him."

Before the 45 seconds are up and he's made good his escape, Beckham stops ever so briefly to sign an unopened action figure fashioned in his likeness. Followed by a few jerseys, both L.A. Galaxy and United.

"Ohhh David, I love you," squeals one teenaged girl, hormones raging.

He smiles. She swoons.

And then, faster than you can say "over the wall and into the back of the old onion bag," David Beckham is gone.