A billion Chinese tune into the David Beckham show

Beckham in China: They came, they saw, they squealed. And who cares if he failed to score on his first game for Real Madrid?
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The Independent Football

The global village became a little smaller yesterday as millions of television viewers around the world tuned in to watch an Englishman play his first football game for his new Spanish club against a Chinese team in Beijing.

After months of transfer intrigue, breathless gossip, medical bulletins broadcast live, house-hunting with his wife and learning to drive his Ferrari on the right, David Beckham finally appeared in action in the white shirt of his new masters, Real Madrid, following his £25m move from Manchester United.

The Spanish champions' pre-season tour of East Asia kicked off against the China Dragons XI in front of 50,000 ecstatic Chinese fans packed into the Workers' Stadium, with a billion more said to be tuning in on Chinese State Television, most of whom had eyes only for the blond Beckham.

The England captain had not long been back from East Asia after a promotional tour for Castrol oil. Now his mission for Real Madrid was to share his marketing profile, and to prove that he would be a good buy on the pitch too.

All week, Real Madrid's Beijing hotel had been besieged by shrieking teenage Beckham fans, and replicas of his No 23 shirt sold so quickly that a black market had formed in replicas of the replicas. Since his signing for Real Madrid last month, Beckham's shirts have been shifting at a rate of 8,000 a day in Spain.

Beckham's presence had also induced great business for Beijing's barbers as thousands of young Chinese attempted to mimic the man who changes his hair-style more often than Englishmen change their socks. Recent styles have included the Mohican, the Alice Band, the Afro-Caribbean corn-rows - specially arranged for the meeting in May with Nelson Mandela - and lately the Samurai warrior topknot.

Someone had clearly had a word with Beckham before yesterday's game about the legacy of bitterness from the great Sino-Japanese wars, and his Japanese cut had been softened accordingly to an ordinary male ponytail.

Beckham had presumably been advised that Chairman Mao was: a) not the Dragons's owner; that he was b) dead; and also c) not to wear any "Free Tibet" slogans on the vest under his shirt, prompted by Posh Spice's rising political consciousness.

In fact, Beckham was the epitome of ambassadorial restraint throughout the warm-ups, perhaps knowing that his team-mates are going to be watching for any signs of big-headedness.

Only when the players broke from their ceremonial line-ups did Beckham inadvertently upstage his Real colleagues, as he was swamped by a posse of young Chinese girls thrusting flowers at him.

Momentarily embarrassed, Beckham looked around like the Queen expecting a lady-in-waiting to clutch the bunches of flowers, before dropping them to the floor and running off - chased Benny Hill-style by a squad of Chinese nurses.

As had been expected, Beckham took up position out on the right midfield, the role he'd made his own at Manchester United for the past eight years. Any fears that the Real players, fed up with all the business hype, would cold-shoulder Beckham evaporated as they quickly gave the ball to him and he quickly gave it back to them, clearly as a gesture of self-effacement.

Beckham, who confessed earlier in the week that his Spanish so far extended only to "hola", "gracias" and, tricky this, "muchas gracias", was watchful, alert and anxious to please. Unfortunately, by taking Luis Figo's spot on the right, Beckham now found that most of the team action was happening down the left, largely involving The Gang of Four - Raul, Figo, Zinedine Zidane and free-kick guru Roberto Carlos.

When Real won a free-kick Carlos kindly allowed Beckham to show his stuff. The No 23 nearly obliged, curling his shot over a Chinese wall considerably less secure than its historical counterpart, only for the goalkeeper to make a flying save. A later effort whizzed just past the post, accompanied by high-pitched squeals of delight from the many girls in the crowd. Ten minutes later, the displaced Figo put Real ahead.

Nevertheless, Beckham had shown his value to the team. And at half-time, his value to the club was also displayed, as broadcasters ITV2 transmitted adverts for Adidas, Real's kit suppliers, and Siemens, Real's shirt sponsors, in what could be called "Real"-ity TV.

Beckham was a bit more expansive in the second half, looking to find Ronaldo with one of his trademark long passes. This he duly did, but the Brazilian scuffed his shots wide. After 73 minutes, both Ronaldo and Beckham were substituted. Real immediately scored three more goals, to win the game easily.

Beckham came back on the pitch at the end, smiling widely in relief after this first ordeal had been overcome with apparent ease. And though he had played no part in any of the goals, he was the only Real player with whom the Chinese Dragon players wanted to be photographed for posterity.

Real, which earned an estimated $4m from the match, will now move on to further lucrative games across Asia over the next few weeks, securing even more revenue from media rights and merchandising thanks to the Englishman on whom they've clearly put their shirt.

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