So here's something new for a humid Wendesday afternoon. Grant Wahl, author of "The Beckham Experiment", has volunteered to be our scared guinea pig for a live chat in the comments section. An explanation below.
So read his excerpt and ask him Beckham related questions in the thread below. He'll respond. If this goes reasonably well (or horribly awry) we plan on doing more of these. So have fun with it. Mr. Wahl will take your questions in the thread below. He'll be here for, oh, 20-30 minutes until something else happens. And, if you haven't done so already, do buy his book. It's an incredible read. Have at it, monsters.
If you stood inside the velvet-roped VIP section in Toronto's Ultra Supper Club just before midnight on August 5, 2007, you would have thought you'd stepped into a time warp back to 1977, to the days when the New York Cosmos of Pelé and Giorgio Chinaglia partied with Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger and the gang at Studio 54 in Manhattan. For the Galaxy players, that night in the Supper Club-the hottest nightclub in downtown Toronto-was the first time they felt like a SuperClub. On the team's opening road trip with David Beckham, L.A. (now 3–5–5) had tied Toronto FC 0–0 earlier in the evening, an ugly game that was now being redeemed by the packs of pretty young things packing the open-air dance floor, waiting in block-long lines outside the club, and flashing eye-popping amounts of skin at the Galaxy players, all in the hope of being invited with one crook of an index finger inside the velvet rope.
Joe Cannon took a sip of his drink and surveyed the scene. For nine years the Galaxy's All-Pro goalkeeper had waited for this, waited for MLS to feel like the spectacle of the NBA and the NFL, waited for gorgeous women in skintight sequined tops to flash come-hither looks his way just because of the team he played on. Cannon knew this would happen once Beckham arrived. Wasn't that what he'd said at Cobi Jones's birthday party in June when one of the players' girlfriends had asked if Cannon was dating anyone?
"Nah," he replied. "I'm kind of waiting for David to get here."
"What does that mean?" Alan Gordon asked.
"You know, all the girls."
Gordon couldn't take it. "Joe, what do you think is going to change?" he asked. "Seriously. You're still the same person. Like a girl is going to want to get with you just because David Beckham is on the team. What are you gonna do, pull a little Beckham out of your pocket and say, ‘See, look! Here I am!' No, dude."
Now look. For one night, at least, Cannon had sweet vindication. Who knew if it would happen again? This was a team function, after all, and Beckham was obligated to be here. But for now Cannon couldn't let go of the thought: Everyone wants to be inside this VIP section because we are the Los Angeles Galaxy. It was an intoxicating feeling, due only partly to the free bottles of Patrón and Grey Goose being passed around like water jugs on the practice field. For it wasn't just the women who were trying to get in, lying to bouncers and snatching VIP passes. Men were pleading with Galaxy players too. I know Ante! I know Joe! Can you get me up there?
Yet Cannon was also fully aware that none of this-the VIP section, the free drinks, the women-would be happening if it weren't for one individual, the global icon who was talking quietly with some teammates at a corner table behind the velvet rope. Every once in a while,
Beckham's hulking bodyguard Shane, who everyone said was once an Ultimate Fighter, would let in a fan for an autograph or a picture. As the music thumped and the VIP section filled and the clock struck 1 A.M., Galaxy midfielder Peter Vagenas tried to wrap his mind around the strangeness of it all. How does Beckham deal with it, he wondered, the notion that if he were to get up and walk to the other side of this club, everyone else would suddenly migrate to that section as well? How would the other players deal with it too? For his part, Gavin Glinton wanted to keep things in perspective ("We know why it's that scene, you know what I mean?"), but the dreadlocked reserve forward was too busy chatting up some runway-model types to worry about what was going on in everyone else's heads.
If these were the perks that came with being David Beckham's teammates, then playing the real-life versions of Turtle from HBO's Entourage wasn't so bad a deal. The road trip had plenty of other benefits, too. All the players had been given new Hugo Boss suits for official events, courtesy of an agreement the team had made with the clothing designer for the rest of the season. Instead of staying in the usual MLS-mandated (read: mediocre) hotel, the Galaxy was using one of its two exceptions for the season to lodge at the fancy Le Meridien King Edward downtown. What's more, the hotel stay was free, the result of a deal the Galaxy had reached with a Toronto promoter. As part of the pact, the Galaxy players also got a free shopping spree at the Roots clothing store and free meals and drinks at the Ultra Supper Club. In return, those outfits publicized their connection to David Beckham and the suddenly sexy L.A. Galaxy, leading to the mob scene at the dance club. "We were riding David's coattails," Lalas said. "The welcome mat was laid out wherever we went."
Perhaps, but Beckham's handlers were hardly thrilled that he was being used so nakedly for free hotel stays and shopping sprees; they made sure no such "local promoter deals" ever happened again. Even Lalas was uncomfortable with what he had witnessed from the Galaxy's players in Toronto, most of all the 0–0 result against a terrible expansion team. "You guys have to understand," Lalas announced to the team at dinner one night. "All of this comes with a price. And don't for a second think that if this guy"-he pointed to Beckham-"wasn't on our team that we'd be getting this. It's all because of him. Thank you, David, it's been wonderful. But at least David understands this comes with a price, and you pay that price on the field."
Beckham had opened an entirely new world for the Galaxy. For the first time in its history, the team was flying charters instead of using commercial airlines on this ten-day, three-city road trip to Toronto, Washington, D.C., and New England. MLS had always forbidden charter flights, claiming they provided a competitive advantage, although the players reasoned that the ban was the result of the league's cheaper owners not wanting to be pressured into an arms race. ("Don't you want to have a competitive advantage in everything that you do?" Donovan asked.) MLS had relented somewhat upon Beckham's arrival, allowing the Galaxy to charter on his first road trip due to security concerns, and AEG had sprung for the expense. For most of the players the flight from LAX to Toronto was their first noncommercial trip. When the flight attendant came to offer Alan Gordon a pretakeoff cocktail, he looked around at the first-class leather seating, the lie-flat beds, and the fully stocked bar up front.
"Let me tell you something, ma'am," Gordon said, turning on the charm. "This is nicer than my apartment."
The flight attendant laughed.
"No," he replied. "I'm serious."