David Beckham's home debut for Tottenham Hotspur – should it happen over the next month – will be given extra poignancy because he scattered the ashes of his late grandfather Joseph on the pitch little more than a year ago in a completely private family ceremony at White Hart Lane organised by the club.
The Independent has learned that, after the death of Joseph West in December 2009, aged 83, Tottenham offered the Beckham family the chance to use the stadium for the service away from the glare of the media spotlight. Having been a season-ticket holder at Tottenham for most of his life, the family decided that the stadium would be a fitting resting place for Joseph.
When Beckham returned from promoting England's doomed 2018 World Cup bid in Cape Town that month, a private ceremony attended only by close family was held so that the ashes of Joseph, who was an avid follower of his grandson's career, could be scattered on the pitch at White Hart Lane.
The operation to get the Beckham family in and out of the stadium quietly took some organisation on the part of the club, who shut it down for the few hours that they were there. Keeping the ceremony secret depended on the goodwill of many of the club's staff, to whom Beckham spoke afterwards in order to thank them for the club's gesture.
There was no publicity around the ceremony, as the Beckhams wished. However, Beckham himself did take a tour of the stadium, at which he attended games with Joseph as a child. A club official who was there that day said: "David said that the stadium brought back so many happy memories for him from his childhood. He joked that the stadium still smelled the same."
As a rule, Spurs do not permit the scattering of cremated ashes on the pitch, a policy that is followed by most Premier League clubs because of potential reaction with pesticides and also because playing surfaces are so regularly relaid. However, exceptions can be made at the club's discretion. It is understood that the Beckham family approached the club through an intermediary.
Beckham flew to Cape Town just after Joseph's death in December 2009 as part of a delegation led by the then chairman of the Football Association, Lord Triesman. The Fifa hierarchy was gathering in South Africa for the tournament draw and the occasion was a chance for 2018 bidders to meet Fifa executive committee members and make a presentation.
The star of the show for a bid that was tanking badly at the time, Beckham said that his grandfather would have been "angry" had he skipped the event due to his death.
Joseph, who died on 2 December 2009, was the father of Beckham's mother, Sandra. It was Joseph, who worked as a Fleet Street printer, who paid for Beckham to go to the Bobby Charlton soccer schools at which his talent was first recognised by Manchester United. Joseph, who was Jewish, also introduced the young Beckham to Judaism, with which he says he still has an affinity.
"I was so close to my granddad," Beckham said in South Africa, shortly after Joseph's death. "Being here is something that my granddad would be proud of. He was so proud of everything in my career and he followed every game.
"He called me after every game, every training session and after every big moment in my career. If I had just decided to go home, I know he would have been angry. He was a strong East End person.
"I will be at the funeral without a doubt. But my granddad would have shouted at me for leaving this [bid] because he was passionate about his country, he fought for his country and I know how proud he was of me. He would have wanted me to stay."
Yesterday, as Beckham underwent medical assessments at Spurs' Chigwell training ground, his camp were keen to point out that there had been no discussion with Spurs around the time of the ceremony for his grandfather that he might potentially play for the club one day.
That possibility still hangs in the balance. With Beckham pictured for the first time in a club tracksuit yesterday, talks are ongoing between Spurs, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Major League Soccer to see whether the English club could strike a deal to let him play over the next month.
Beckham will train with the Spurs first-team squad for the first time today. Harry Redknapp would still like to register him as a player for the period up to 10 February agreed by the MLS that he can stay with the club. It seems there is no chance of him being fit to make a dramatic return to the Premier League against his former club Manchester United on Sunday, although he could potentially be registered by then.
The Beckham-Tottenham loan saga has been subject to more than one change of heart by Redknapp, who eventually resolved to give Beckham a try. The priority for the club remains a striker to replace Robbie Keane, who has already turned down a move to Birmingham City, and they are still weighing up a bid for the Uruguayan Luis Suarez, who has been made available by Ajax.
Ideally, the Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy, would like Suarez who, at 23 and available for a relatively low initial payment, fits the model of emerging talent Spurs prefer to sign.
However, Redknapp is still not convinced of the player's ability to cut it in the Premier League and is delaying a final decision on him.
And over at Arsenal...
Arsenal have found an icon of their own to help inspire them to their first trophy win in six years as legend Thierry Henry will be training with Arsène Wenger's side during the MLS off-season.
The Frenchman scored 226 goals and won seven trophies in an eight-year spell at the club and was still playing for the Gunners the last time they went all the way in a competition, winning the FA Cup in 2005.
A statement on Arsenal's official website read: "Thierry Henry is back at Arsenal. The Gunners legend returned to London Colney on Monday to train with Arsène Wenger's squad."
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