David Beckham, the early years: An east London trail from dog track to cub camp

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Indy Politics

There is no souvenir shop, the themed restaurant is limited to a vending machine on the second floor and the car park is already full. As the country's newest potential tourist hotspot, the maternity unit at Whipps Cross Hospital - or the New Bethlehem as it is tagged by staff - hardly seems prepared for a rush of believers on pilgrimage to the sacred site.

Because from today, this squat three-storey building in north-east London has a new function: it is the starting point of the official David Beckham Tourist Trail.

For it was here, 28 years ago, that a child was born who was destined to sport a thousand hairstyles and sell a million shirts. But no, the long-suffering staff said through gritted teeth, they did not know which bed he was born in, and no, there was no plaque on the wall.

It is, in truth, a little frayed around the edges. But it has been given renewed significance in a project to raise the area's profile by Waltham Forest Council, which has devised an online tour of some of the most significant locations in the upbringing of Britain's most famous footballer.

On occasion, Japanese fans have toured that area of London to experience the places that inspired the young Beckham.

The new tour includes Gilwell Park (where he went on cub camp), Chingford School (for whom he won the Bobby Charlton soccer tournament) and the council flats where he went to visit his grandparents.

At the hospital, the midwives were unimpressed by their star status. After all, they have also seen Danniella Westbrook through their doors, and the man who did the voiceovers for Button Moon - whose name they now forget - was a doting father.

From the hospital, the trail heads to Leytonstone, where Beckham's family lived when he was born, and from there to the home of Ridgeway Rovers, where the young man played for the under-10 side and scored more than 100 times in three seasons.

Onto the next stop - the Walthamstow dog track where he worked as a potboy in the "Stowaway" bar, reputedly for £10 a night. Doug Moore, the assistant bars manager at the track, predicted a few Beckham visitors. "We often get the weird and wonderful," he said.

From the dog track, it is just a short distance to Chase Lane Juniors, where the Beckham family is remembered fondly by the headteacher, Bob Bolster.

But the small pitch, once graced by the young Beckham, may soon be shifted, to make way for a new school building. Mr Bolster is looking for funding to make the expansion a reality. He may have found it. "We could cut up the turf and send it to the Japanese," he laughed.

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