How I Met Beckham: A Story Of Fake Journalism

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Written By Chris Azzopardi

Editor’s Note: When David Beckham arrived in stateside back in 2007, everyone went a bit mad. From die hard soccer fans to middle-aged housewives and beyond, people all over the country were anxious to get a glimpse of the world’s most famous footballer. Some went to great lengths to get their moment with Becks. What follows is the story of a pair of brothers, sent to KCKRS with a request for anonymity, who gamed the system with a bit of letterhead to get themselves a set of memories they’ll never forget.

Names have been removed and photos blurred to prevent any retaliation by those parties so scammed.*

***

It was an idea that flashed through my stream of consciousness during a drunken conversation.

“Oh I could do this…”

“Yeah, totally man, that would be amazing, you could definitely do it.”

The idea took hold in that special part of my mind where ideas ferment, mature and develop. I knew it could be done; I fancied myself sufficiently clever to sort through the particulars.

I was going to meet David Beckham.

2008: Beckham’s first full year of playing soccer in the United States, and I figured I was slick enough to meet the man himself during this historic season in football. At twenty-three, I was always looking for way to skirt the rules and prove I was savvier than most. I decided my way in for a meeting with Becks would be to pose as a member of the media. I floated the concept to my brother who would join me on the con, and who would also pull double-duty as the bankroll for the scheme. He came on board, and I began the ruse in earnest.

The New York Observer would provide our initial cover, for who would question the veracity of sportswriters working for the pink lady? As The New York Observer had no sports section, no sports writers, there would be no one to blow our cover, nobody for anyone to contact to verify our credentials. Any probing into our assignment or identities would end up in endless responses of, “Huh, well, maybe, try so and so at this desk…”

I lifted an editor’s name from the paper’s media department and fabricated assignment letters, complete with a phony New York City phone number I bought from Skype. I photo-shopped the Observer letterhead, set up fake voicemail and a dummy email address from which to operate, and we were ready to go.

I sent out copy-cat emails, assignment letter attached, to Major League Soccer’s media relations contacts. The phony assignment discussed “our paper’s” covering Beckham’s sojourn into American soccer.

I was hoping to fool just one person, maybe a rube running things out in Salt Lake City; this would be enough for one set of press credentials and the achievement of my goal. Instead, not even twenty minutes after sending the first email, the press coordinator of the New York Red Bulls called, cordially inviting us to their match versus the Galaxy in a few weeks time. Apparently our letter was deemed legit. The game was on.

By the end of the weekend my brother and I had open invites to a handful of matches across the country, by Monday I had a voicemail from the league’s vice president of communications wanting to speak with me about the piece. Suddendly the reality of the deception gave me pause. Should I continue and risk being found out when I spoke with the man who pulled all the strings with the media at MLS? Was I entering into a legal (or illegal) gray area, where continued fraud put me at risk? I contemplated admitting to myself that the jig was up.

Instead I rang the 212 number and spent the next fifteen minutes pontificating on the merits of the piece, and the state of soccer culture in this country. The gentleman was very concerned about how I would present the often maligned league in my piece and I was so wracked with nerves speaking to him that I attempted to allay his concerns by telling him, that from my journalistic perspective, Major League Soccer was “the best thing since sliced bread.” By the end of our conversation, the full cooperation of the league was in place. He said he would even be happy to help me out in any way he could.

With the stamp of approval from the league office, all that remained was to decide where we would be headed to join in the media frenzy of Beckham’s debut. We planned three trips: Washington D.C. to start, followed by New York/New Jersey and finally Columbus, Ohio for a weekend of debauchery partying with our little brother in school there. I bought a digital voice recorder to look the part and readied myself for the adventure ahead.

Once we were in D.C. we felt overcome by anxiety and paranoia; we were sweating profusely en route to RFK Stadium. We wondered, “Were we overdressed, underdressed in our sports jackets and khakis? Should we be carrying pads and pens instead of a laptop?”

It was quick walk from the stop to RFK and we arrived at the designated gate precisely in time to collect the press passes. This would be the moment of truth, and our last chance to turn back before the hoax was fully executed. We had anticipated some great security detail checking a master list and cross checking identification with a gigantic press database, instead we were greeted by a doe-eyed intern eager to issue us credentials for the day.

We now had access to nearly all of RFK stadium and were surrounded by a reality most sports fans only dream of; we were in the core of the pregame action. Players were arriving; on-air personalities prepped for their broadcasts, and we traversed passages usually reserved for the privileged few.

We turned and saw before us a large seating chart; there were our names, on the chart alongside the names of the instantly recognizable: Steve Goff, Dan Steinberg and Mike Wilbon. At our seats we found placards designating us as representatives of The New York Observer.

Almost no one else had taken their positions in the box , and not keen to look out of place, we began to wander around offices and luxury boxes. We brushed shoulders with MLS Commissioner Don Garber, the President of US Soccer, Sunil Gulati, and then Galaxy general manager, Alexi Lalas.

Eventually we came upon the buffet set up for the media where the rest of our “peers” were indulging in from chef made omelets, yoghurt and strawberries, and turkey-bacon clubs. We ate in reverent silence, as we watched various national soccer scribes holding court.

The game itself was a DC rout highlighted only by the crowd’s excitement each time Beckham found himself with the ball. Their cheers and groans were similarly replicated by the group collected in the press room. My brother and I marveled at the wonderment of our situation.

As soon as the final whistle blew there was a mad dash for the elevators, so we dashed, unaware of what exactly we were rushing towards. Suddenly we were jockeying for position in a crammed elevator with ten other full grown sweaty men moving to an unknown destination. The doors opened and we found ourselves in a room already at capacity and decorated for the post match press conference. We found two seats together and waited eagerly for our first up close and personal sighting of David Beckham.

We could feel the nervous energy in the room, even among the most seasoned and jaded journalists; even they w had never been a part of something like this. The most famous footballer in the world was moments away from joining us to talk soccer. The press conference was a surreal delight as Beckham with his lilting cockney accent cheerfully answered question after question from the assembled group. Myself, I recorded everything on my new device. I would play these sound clips for my children.

Despite the bold lettering on our press credentials reminding us not to ask for autographs or pictures, it was time to achieve what we had ultimately set out to do in the first place, time to meet David Beckham. As the majority of the people left in the stadium filtered out and into the June afternoon, we patiently waited at the locker room exit for Beckham to emerge and once he did we leapt at the chance to introduce ourselves, shake his hand, get pictures, and of course autographs just like the obsessed fanboys we were. We were successful in our endeavor.

We met David Beckham! And not once, but several more times, repeating our undertaking in New Jersey and Ohio, growing bolder and bolder, so that by Ohio, we sat in the front row, veteran sportswriters, asking Beckham, “Will you compare the compare the travel fatigue of cross country American flights to that of the short jaunts on the continent?”

And he answered us, graciously and patiently.

We catch him on television now and then, or online, and the texts fly among the three of us – older brother and younger brothers.

“How crazy is it, we met David Beckham?”

*We don’t actually think they would care, but better safe than sorry.

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