Fans and photographers stood waiting outside the King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto early Saturday morning.
Half the crowd gathered was wearing the number 23 jersey of Los Angeles Galaxy star midfielder David Beckham.
A buzz in the crowd grew and then died as a white limousine slowed, stopped and then drove off into the night.
At roughly 2 a.m., media relation agents and security guards exited the hotel entrance to assess the crowd and coordinate with Beckham’s party minutes before a black tour bus pulled up to the curb. Cameras flashed, and a large group of tipsy female fans screamed as Beckham stepped off the bus and immediately reached for the nearest Sharpie to begin signing autographs.
“We turned up at 2 o’clock this morning, and there were fans and media outside the hotel. It’s great to have an interest.”
American sports and entertainment reporters joined the Canadian media in a sectioned off area in the basement of the Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Beckham entered the room and walked easily, up to his seat alongside his new coach Frank Yallop. At one point he demonstrated his charm and charisma when he paused mid sentence, and without missing a beat said, “Bless you,” to a sneezing journalist in the back of the room.
Nobody challenged Beckham with questions regarding his $250M salary, his alleged pop star persona, or his wife Posh Spice. The group learned there was no truth to rumours of a reality show featuring the Beckham’s. Beckham reasserted his only focus was on playing soccer, despite living so close to Hollywood.
Beckham laughed after saying he was a private person, and that he enjoys his time away from the spotlight. Dealing with the paparazzi is a way of life for his family. His wife and children have grown accustomed to living very publicly, and keep a tally on the number of cars that will follow them through L.A.
“I think the first week they had 47 cars, then it cut to 25, and when I left for Toronto it was down to 15. So we’re slowly losing them.”
Beckham has been given the responsibility, and is being paid a galaxy sized contract to grow the game in North America. The criticism questioning Beckham’s willingness to play has left a mark.
“30 years ago with past stars like Pele, Beckanbauer, and Best it was different. The game is more stable now, there is talent in this league, and there is now a lot of money going into MLS. But, for me personally, I want to be able to perform at my highest level.
“You can’t get all the good stuff and not expect the criticism. But it doesn’t affect me in my life.”
The two-time runner up to the World Player of the Year, and European Cup winner at times wonders about being slammed in the media.
“Some of the opinions don’t really matter. Some critics have never played soccer, or even kicked a soccer ball. People say in the last couple years I’ve lost pace. Well, I’ve never had pace; I’ve never been a quick player. My abilities are about passing the ball, and taking the big set piece.
“But I guess that’s their job to criticize and they are entitled to their opinions.”