David Beckham has revealed he still cannot forgive himself for the abuse his family suffered amid the fallout from his red card at the 1998 World Cup, which left him a “mess”.
A new Netflix documentary series titled ‘Beckham’ is set for release on Wednesday, looking back on the former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder’s career as well as his marriage to Spice Girls singer and fashion designer Victoria.
In episode two, titled ‘Seeing Red’, Beckham, now 48, reflected on the “stupid mistake” which changed his life after he was sent off for kicking the back of Diego Simeone’s leg during the last-16 clash against Argentina in Saint-Etienne.
England went on to lose after a penalty shootout and Beckham found himself centre of a backlash – including a pub hanging up an effigy of the midfielder, who received a hostile reception from rival fans around the country when he returned to action for United the following season.
In the documentary, Victoria Beckham said the continued abuse left her husband “absolutely clinically depressed” as the then 23-year-old tried to deal with the fallout alongside becoming a father for the first time in March 1999.
Beckham admitted the saga “took a toll on me that I never knew myself”.
He said: “I wish there was a pill you could take which could erase certain memories. I made a stupid mistake. It changed my life.
“We were in America (on holiday after the World Cup), just about to have our first baby, and I thought, ‘we will be fine. In a day or two people will have forgotten’.”
Beckham added: “I don’t think I have ever talked about it, just because I can’t. I find it hard to talk through what I went through because it was so extreme.
“Wherever I went, I got abused every single day – to walk down the street and to see people look at you in a certain way, spit at you, abuse you, come up to your face and say some of the things they said, that is difficult.
“I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping. I was a mess. I didn’t know what to do.”
Beckham added: “It brought a lot of attention that I would never wish on anyone, let alone my parents, and I can’t forgive myself for that.
“That is the tough part of what happened, because I was the one that made the mistake.
“It is only now that I am 47 years old, it is now that I beat myself up about it (still).
“When I have gone through difficult moments, I was able to block it out, but inside it killed me.”
Beckham spoke of the support he received from then Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and the club as he looked to focus on his football.
“That was the only thing I could control – once I was on the pitch, then I felt safe,” Beckham said.
“Anytime I was kicked during that season, it was like the (opposition team) had got two goals.”
Beckham added: “As horrible as it was to look up to Victoria in the stand (getting that abuse), it was the one thing which spurred me on.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 26, 2017
The Netflix documentary also charts Beckham’s triumphant end to the 1998-99 season, which culminated with United having won the Premier League, FA Cup and a memorable Champions League final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona.
With Paul Scholes and Roy Keane suspended, Beckham played an integral role in United’s comeback win, which was secured by two goals in stoppage time.
Reflecting on the match, Ferguson said: “With David, that night there was something inside him saying, ‘I am not going to let this happen’. It was a personal thing that he had in him, that stubbornness and determination.”
Beckham’s former United and England team-mate Gary Neville was an executive producer of the Netflix documentary.
Neville recalled the way he and Beckham were “absolutely destroying teams” down the right flank for United.
“He was with his crossing. I was supporting him in a way which was to be fair, I would say I was a side dish really. Not the beef. I was the mustard on the side,” Neville said.
“I was subservient because I needed David to go and do something magical. He was practicing free-kicks and I was practicing throw-ins.”
Neville added: “It was telepathic on the pitch. Off the pitch as well, I knew where he was in his mind – it was not enough for him, he wanted to be more than a football player.”