Tuesday 31 of January, 2023
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Exclusive Interview With David Beckham on Disney+'s 'Save Our Squad'

In this exclusive interview, the one and only David Beckham talks about his role in Disney+’s new miniseries, ‘Save Our Squad’.

Cairo Scene

Grab a random human being off any street in the entire world, and they're more likely to have memorised David Beckham's achievements as a professional footballer than how many branches are in their own government. And who could blame them - over the course of his 20 year football career, he became the first English player to win league titles in four countries, has won 19 major trophies overall, and was listed as the highest-paid player in the world in 2013 before being inducted in the English Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Premier League Hall of Fame in 2021.

He's an undeniable British cultural icon, and an inspiration to footballers around the globe. Yet even those superfans may struggle to tell you about Beckham's humble origins in East London. Before he became one of the best footballers in the world, he played in the Echo Premier League, a junior league in which he was always picked last as a small and skinny kid. Now he has returned to his roots to reach out to the Westward Boys, an under 14's grassroots side who has not won a single game all season, and are under threat of being relegated.

'Save Our Squad' is a Disney+ miniseries documenting his journey to pull these boys up from the bottom of the bracket, using his decades of experience to galvanise the young players out of the desperate situation they've found themselves in. In this exclusive interview, Daivd Beckham shares his experiences on the field with the Westward Boys, and how it feels to come full circle to his roots as a footballer.

How would you describe ‘Save Our Squad’?

Well, it's a series that is going to be inspiring for many children and also many adults out there. It takes us all back to grassroots football, and it shows how important grassroots football is to people.

What is it like being a part of this project and why is this such an important project for you?  

It has been so rewarding. I’ve really enjoyed being around the boys, being around the team, the parents, the coaches. It takes me back to my youth and for me, it’s about giving back. Going back to a league that I played in as a kid has been really special. I've really enjoyed working with the boys and spending time with them – it takes me back to when I used to play for Ridgeway Rovers, where it all began for me.

What do you hope audiences get from the show?

I hope they get inspired. I hope they laugh. I hope they cry. I hope they smile. Because when you watch the series, when you watch the parents, you watch the coaches, you watch the boys, there's so much passion there and the importance of grassroots football really comes out here. I hope people are just inspired by that. A lot of the filming locations and matches take place in East London where obviously you were born and trained and came through.

What’s it like returning to grassroots football? Has it brought back a lot of personal memories?

Going back to East London is always special for me but going back with the boys, going back to this league, for me it was an extra special moment. The fact that we shot this series in the place where I grew up as a kid, where I trained, felt like a full circle moment.

Is there a moment you’ve been most proud of in terms of seeing how the boys have developed and progressed? Is there a moment that stands out for you in terms of how the boys have developed?

You know, that's a difficult one. That's like asking me if I have a favourite child. There are so many moments throughout this series that have been incredible moments for me to see, but I think the biggest thing for me is seeing the boys’ personalities change and see how they want to learn and see how they want to listen. Day one, they didn’t really want to listen too much. But then on day 10, it was a totally different thing. And day 20… The boys just loved playing football and that was evident they just needed a little bit of help, a little bit of teaching, and I hope that I gave that to them.  

And what's it been like working with Ade and Edwin, the coaching team?

When I first came into the team and started working with the boys, I knew straightaway how special Edwin and Ade were. They were great coaches and they cared about the boys. That’s exactly what I wanted to see and it’s what every parent wants for their child who is playing in a team. They want to know that the coaches don’t just turn up on a Sunday and coach the boys, but that they're invested in the boys in other ways. And that's what Ade and Edwin are all about.

Do you have a filming highlight?

One particular stand out moment is when I took the boys to Wembley Stadium. I took them on a tour and they were quite excited to be on the pitch. But then I took them into the changing room, and all of their shirts were hung up where the players' shirts would normally be hung up. And their reaction, I mean, you couldn't have scripted it better. Their reaction was priceless. They walked into that changing room and it was just mayhem and pure excitement and that’s exactly what we wanted.

If the boys took away one key learning point about being a successful player or being part of a team, what do you hope it would be?

Belief. I wanted them to believe in themselves, in their team, and in their coaches because they've got so much love for each other and they've got so much love for their families. And I want them to believe in themselves because they're good enough.

There have been ups and downs over the course of the season. How have you picked the players up in those difficult moments?

There have been ups and downs throughout the series and there was always going to be. I thought there might be more downs than ups but that wasn’t the case at all. Yes, we’ve had our moments, and yes, the boys had their moments, but they’re a good group of kids and that’s the most important thing.  

What we’re trying to create with the boys is not just about football and what they do on the pitch, it’s about what they do off the pitch, and if they are good human beings and what they’re like around their family. They are special boys and they are a special team, and that’s what I wanted to see.

Can we expect to see any of the boys playing for Miami one day?

As you’ll see in the series, a few of the boys are quite cheeky and they’ve already asked me if I’ll fly them over to Miami for a  bit of a trial, so… you never know!

And what's your favourite Disney character?

There are two, but… it has to be Mickey and Minnie.

You've got a personal connection with grassroots football in this league in particular. Just tell us a little bit about the history of you and the Echo league.

Well, for me it started when I was seven years old playing over the park, wanting to play for a Sunday league team. My dad helped me find an article in the paper that said that they were starting a team and it was a man called Stuart Underwood and Steve Kirby. My dad joined with those two and that was Ridgeway Rovers, and that’s how it all started for me in the Echo League. We actually ended up being pretty successful and ended up winning the league quite a few times.

You played across the world and now own a club. This is a new footballing role for you. How much does this show  mean to you when it comes to giving back?

I’ve always wanted to give back to grassroots football because grassroots football has given so much to me. I know how important it is for kids, I know how important it is for families and parents to know that it gives kids an avenue to playing professional football. If it doesn’t, then it also brings a community together with not just the players but the parents as well. Grassroots football is so important. I’ve seen it over the years with Academies. One of the most important things for me in Miami was to start the Academy, because I know how important it is to give children and young boys and girls the opportunity to, A, play in a safe place but, B, be coached by great coaches and, C, have the opportunity to have fun and be part of a community.

You obviously watch from the sidelines with your three boys going through grassroots football themselves. How much does your experience as a parent influence your time in this series?

Being a part of this series has taken me back to the emotions that my mum and dad probably felt, actually. Standing on the sidelines and seeing, not just the dads shouting but the mums possibly shouting even more for their boys, or against the boys on the opposing team. It really took me back to what the Echo League was all about, and grassroots football was all about, and Sunday league football is all about. It’s parents on the sidelines with the player’s siblings, everyone getting involved. It’s a special place to be on the sidelines of a grassroots football pitch.

What do you think you’ve learnt from the boys from the time you’ve spent with them one-on-one and seeing inside some of their lives?

I’ve learnt a lot actually, more than I expected to, because I’ve been able to spend time with the boys. Not just on the pitch, but off the pitch as well and in their homes. I’ve got to know some of the boys really well. You know, sitting with Kuro, going to his house - and his mum cooked the best dinner by the way - but sitting with Kuro and understanding and hearing what he goes through on a daily basis and hearing him talk and write down exactly what he goes through.  

As a father, you have an idea of what kids can go through and what they face, and I’ve seen and learnt that again through this series. Not just Kuro but some of the other boys as well. When they go to school or when they’re walking home from school, when they talk about some of the things they have to go through, it’s heartbreaking and it’s worrying and it’s scary for some of the boys. That’s what I’ve learnt, these boys love their family, they love their teammates, they work hard, they know what they want.  Every time that I sat down with every one of these boys, when I said to them “What do you love most?”, most of them - apart from one who said “Pizza” - all of them said their mums and dads. Even the little boy who said “Pizza” said his mum and dad after… It’s all about their families and that is what is heart-warming about this series. The boys are playing football but they’re playing football for their families.

Grassroots football is obviously so special and important in England. How much does that help you connect with the boys, and has it made you see anything of yourself in the boys?

I think grassroots football was a connection between myself and the boys. Once they knew I played in this league, once they knew that I was from East London you know, because obviously they saw me as David Beckham the Manchester United player, the England player, the Real Madrid player and all the other teams that I’d played for. But then once I sat with them and had a conversation and said, “This is how I started, I started in this league, I started as a Sunday league player, these are the problems that I’ve faced,” we had an instant connection then. I think that’s what was special about myself being in a Sunday league team, being in grassroots football and playing in the Echo League.  

A lot of this series is about inspiration and inspiring young people. Who was your inspiration at the boys’ age?

My dad was my inspiration. I wanted to win for him. I wanted to play well for him and my mum as well, of course. My mum was the one that was driving me to training and to games when my dad was working. So my inspiration was my dad, my mum and also Bryan Robson.

Who were your mentors when you were growing up?

My mentors while growing up without a doubt were my Dad, Steve Kirby, Stuart Underwood and then when I moved up to Manchester it was Eric Harrison.

What was your motivation for getting involved in this series?

My motivation for getting involved with this series was about giving back. I have the opportunity to give back in other ways but I haven't given back in this way to the Echo League and to something that started my career. So that was why I wanted to be involved in the series.

What's it like being back in the East End where you grew up? How much has that changed?

To be honest the East End has changed so much over the years. It’s not the first time I’ve been back but it’s the first time I’ve spent some real quality time on the pitches and around East London with the boys and going to their homes. East End is the best part of London so, of course, it’s always great going back.  

We heard this series is going to be for everyone and for a whole family to watch together. Why do you think that this show particularly is going to be something everyone is going to enjoy?

I’ve talked about this series with my wife, Victoria, I’ve talked about this series with my children, and we’re always looking for things to sit down on the sofa and watch together. Victoria doesn’t always love watching football programmes or sport programmes, but when I talked to her about this series, I knew it’s going to be something that after dinner we’re going to sit down and we’re going to watch together, we’re going to laugh together, we’re going to cry together. We’re going to get inspired by this Westward team, we’re going to get inspired by the Westward community and this Echo League because it’s something special.

How special are the parents in this team?  

As a parent now, I realise how much my parents gave up for me. Every Tuesday, every Thursday that I went training, every Saturday or Sunday that we had these games. These parents do exactly the same things, you know they all work, they’ve all got busy lives but they all turn up for their sons to watch them and they all bring their siblings and it’s a family affair, it’s a community and that’s what grassroots football has always been about. These parents are special and you’re going to see that.