A sporting non-sequitir

Image: guardian.co.uk

This much-circulated image, taken by Jon Super, which depicts David Beckham draping a green-and-gold scarf around his neck after A.C. Milan’s defeat to Manchester United last week in a gesture of apparent support for the mounting anti-Glazer protests, was one of the most striking photographs I have seen in months. It’s not just a very well-composed shot, it is also dense with mythologies: the midfielder’s name-as-product writ large as a sign of modern football’s brand-orientation, the green-and-gold as a sign of grass-roots support and historical legitimacy. Put the two together and you’re left with a remarkable signification: a glimpse of a synthesis between ‘good old-fashioned’ sporting values and big-money mediation which suggests a bright future for the takeover bid, and which could only be visually matched if Nike were to announce that United’s 2010-11 away kit will be Newton Heath-coloured.

by Luke Healey

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2 responses to “A sporting non-sequitir

  1. I think that if you are talking about the mythopoeic aspects of that image, you’re missing out a couple of things. Firstly, the image is a perfect representation of the myth of the returning hero. He is Odysseus returned to Nostoi. I think that it is a little unfair to take the ‘Beckham Brand’ as purely representative of big business modern football. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that Beckham epitomises the brand potential of a footballer like no one else, I think that you have to be cautious about simply taking it as that. Beckham is a footballing hero, and the above picture shows a hero acting in a heroic manner. He is a man with a mind for the heroic: the epitome of which was his free-kick against Greece securing qualification for England for the 2002 world cup. Thus it is perfectly in character for Beckham to behave in such a manner.

    If the above image was taken of that other great footballer-as-brand, Cristiano Ronaldo, then I think it would be more striking. CR9 (to reduce him to his brand) is heroic for different means to Beckham (specifically for the amount of prostitutes he has slept with), and would never be in the position to take such a great photo. The above image can also be compared with Ronaldo’s own recent act of heroism, his goal celebration showing support for the victims of the flooding in Portugal (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2010/feb/22/cristiano-ronaldo-real-madrid-villarreal).

    However, another important aspect of the Beckham image is the humility he is demonstrating. He is shown bowing his head to put on the scarf. That can be seen as him bowing his head to the history, passion, and support of Manchester United and their campaign to buy their club. I think that it is perhaps this humility which makes the image so striking.

    And this is not to mention the emphasis on his neck tattoo, which is a whole other kettle of fish…

  2. Good point about the humility of the posture, that was a sign I’d missed out on. I would like to stress however that I don’t think this image is actually about David Beckham. Rather, if you actually focus on what this particular image depicts, you can see that the two key elements are the scarf and the name – signifying the ‘authentic’ and the ‘brand-oriented’. It is these elements that constitute the photograph at its most basic level (although, as you point out, the tattoo is there as well, but we can ignore that for now), and any account of Beckham as an individual has to come from outside the ‘text’. This is how mythologies work – the image ignores the particular history of David Beckham and uses him as a signifier for modern football, in order to make its own point. The bowed shoulders work in the favour of this particular signification (that is, a synthesis of modern and antiquated accounts of football) too, because it metaphorises the corporate ‘bowing down’ to the grass-roots.

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