Galactic footballer descends on city-Edmonton Journal

Fans wait at airport to greet Beckham, who plays here tonight

Jennifer Fong and Catherine Griwkowsky
The Edmonton Journal

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

EDMONTON - Brace yourselves Edmonton, Beckham mania is here.

David Beckham's big arrival at the Edmonton International Airport Monday afternoon lasted all of two minutes, but his presence was enough to leave fans even more excited than they were before.

The soccer star, in town for an exhibition match against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Commonwealth Stadium tonight, was greeted with screams, cheers and camera flashes when he and his L.A. Galaxy teammates landed just before 4 p.m. on an Air Canada flight from Los Angeles.

Beckham, dressed in the Galaxy's blue and yellow track suit and without his wife Victoria, also known as Posh of the pop group the Spice Girls, was quiet, but all smiles, mouthing "thank you" to a fan who yelled out "Welcome to Edmonton!" when he emerged from the international arrivals doors.

He walked quickly past the media but stopped briefly to sign autographs for some of the two dozen waiting fans who were clutching jerseys, life-sized posters, and Bend It Like Beckham DVDs.

Asked if he had any special plans during his stay in Edmonton, he said "Nope ... just playing the game."

And how about seeing Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm's show at the Starlite Room Wednesday?

"I didn't know she was here. We fly out Wednesday, so unfortunately, no," Beckham answered between signatures. Seconds later, he had already disappeared in to a waiting tour bus.

Max Campbell, 14, and sister Chloe, 11, who flew in from Victoria with their parents just to see Beckham play, were grinning ear-to-ear after each scored an autograph from the world's most famous footballer.

Max has been a fan since he was a toddler learning to play soccer and Beckham was on Manchester United, he said. "I've even read his book."

The buzz at the airport was electric even before the plane landed.

Fort Saskatchewan's Shandy Lo, 19, waited two hours for his moment with Beckham. With him was his mom and a replica of Beckham's latest England jersey that he got off the Internet for $100. The exclusive red shirt celebrates the soccer player's 100th game with England.

"My heart's pounding," he said, just minutes before the team was due. (The flight, of course, ended up being delayed for another half hour.)

What Lo admires most about Beckham, he said, was his personality, "and how he deals with what goes on in his life, on and off the field."

The Bent family, meanwhile, were Beckham fans for different reasons.

"For me, it's the body," said Stacey Bent with a laugh. Then she points to her husband Antony, a native of England. "For him, it's the football."

And how about their two-year-old son, Cayman, decked out in a tiny white England soccer jersey?

"He plays football. He kicks the ball," Stacey said. "He doesn't like watching the football games so much, but dad makes him."

Despite having only moved from England to Edmonton two years ago, Antony had never seen Beckham up close and in the flesh. "He's just a legend," he said. "It's just nice to see someone like that."

Later on Monday, about 125 people gathered in the Devonian Room at The Westin at an invitation-only signing by the LA Galaxy team.

Fans were allowed one LA Galaxy item to be signed by the entire team.

Beckham fans who brought calendars, bags, England jerseys and other merchandise were not allowed to have them signed because, according to officials, it was a team event.

John Ryan, 9, brought hats to be signed, but instead needed to get the invitation, which doubled as an autograph card, to be signed.

"I'm probably going to put it in my room and hang it on the wall," he said.

Organizers of today's friendly are encouraging fans to pick up their tickets at Ticketmaster before the game or print them off at home for the $2.50 fee. Last year at the Under-20 World Cup of Soccer, many fans waited for hours to buy tickets. Some didn't get in until after halftime.

jfong@thejournal.canwest.com

© The Edmonton Journal 2008