Two red heads, one blonder than the other, bobbled up and down on a patch of green grass. A white Umbro ball passed between them. They both wore Manchester United jerseys adorned with players names across the back. Keane, 16, on the back of the older boy and Beckham, 7, on the younger. The ball sailed high, bounced off walls and flew between feet. Nothing else captured the attention of the two quite like the great Manchester United, but more importantly, the football. Every evening, they and the other children on the estate gathered in one big group to play ‘World Cup’, or ‘2 v 2’. The object of each game was similar enough in that one or two people would eventually be crowned the winner. The only real loser was the poor fella picked to go in goal if there was an uneven number.
The sitting room window was cracked open a fraction, just enough for the young lads to hear how the match was going. In the centre of Midlands Ireland, where the English nor soccer are that popular, two little ginger boys had a fascination with the beautiful game. England were playing Greece in a crucial qualifier match for the 2002 World Cup. It was sink or swim for the Lions. Of course, the boys didn’t know all of this. They knew that Beckham was playing. And if Beckham was playing, there was a chance he would take a free-kick.
In the dying embers of the game the referee blew his whistle for a seemingly innocuous foul on Teddy Sheringham. The usual protests were made by the defenders but the ball was already in Beckham’s hands. Despite being flanked by Sheringham and Scholes on either side there was still no doubt as to who would take the free. Beckham and his stubbly head transfixed their gazes. His ever changing hair styles were always iconic. This particular barnet was no different.
He placed the ball on the grass and took several steps back. During his trademark run-up and swing of the arms time seemed to stand still for the brothers. They were rooted to the spot, eyes boring into the TV, knowing the other was there and ready to erupt if he scored. His boot connected with the ball and every eye in the stadium, pubs, bars, sitting rooms all around the world and a little garden in Westmeath was glued to its flight. It dipped up and over the wall, fooling the keeper into moving an inch before realising it was out of his reach as it landed almost perfectly in the top, left-hand corner. The net seemed to nearly burst with the power and accuracy of the free-kick.
The stadium erupted. England were through to the World Cup. Beckham ran towards the corner flag and stopped suddently, taking up that now immortal stance with outstretched arms. His two doppelgangers followed suit in Mullingar, jumping and leaping into the air and striking the exact same pose over and over with excitement.
Back in the midlands, less than a minute after running riot around the garden and celebrating the enemy’s goal, the boys were trying to recreate the strike. They must have stayed like that for hours; taking it in turn to be DB7, the greatest deadball striker they would ever see. In that moment they were him and would always be him. Always in that garden, loving the beautiful game and each other.