To the uninitiated, it's just another petrol station. You might call in without ever appreciating the significance of it. But this is where David Beckham buys his petrol.
We're in Alderley Edge, the affluent Cheshire town that's just up the road from the Beckhams' home in Nether Alderley, and it's the perfect place to set out on the David Beckham Heritage Trail. You can forget Old Trafford and other great stadiums. What that £10,000 shopping spree in the Manchester branch of Emporio Armani showed last week was that the real Beckham landmarks are the ones where he spends his money. And the people who really understand what would be the full impact of his leaving Manchester United and going to play abroad are the ones who take his money off him.
People like Richard Harrison, 24, the assistant manager of the Total petrol station in Alderley Edge where Beckham calls in at least once a week. It's always an event when Beckham drops by. "People ask if he's been in. But we don't make a big fuss of him. In fact there's an agreement among the staff that we don't ask for his autograph. I think he appreciates that. He's dead genuine." And if he left the area? "There'd be a lot of gutted people."
At the next stop on the trail, Hoopers department store in Wilmslow, assistant Tom Derbyshire, 22, went as far as to say that he thinks house prices would collapse if the Beckhams upped sticks. "He's a massive influence round here," Tom said. "We might sell him a pair of trousers and when people see him in them they'll come straight in wanting a pair."
Hoopers is not flash, just very respectable. The staff are immensely courteous, and it's emerging that this matters as much to Beckham as being seen in the right shops. With its designer stores and smart cafés, Wilmslow is particularly rich in Beckham heritage, but not all of it associated with big spending. There's the Starbucks he pops into, and the kebab shop, and this is also one of the places he gets his hair cut. "He doesn't hide away," said Tom Derbyshire. "You see him in his car with the window down, waving at people."
Before we get to Manchester we must acknowledge the vital role played in Beckham's life by the John Lewis department store in Cheadle. This is where Beckham and his wife Victoria have bought toys for their children. But what toy department assistant Sandra Jones remembers is the time she worked in the picture department and Beckham came in for something to hang on a wall. "He was so polite," she recalled. "A lot of people as famous as him might have all these airs and graces. But not Beckham. No, he was lovely."
On then to the retail heart of Beckham country: King Street in central Manchester, with its top fashion house outlets. It was here, last Thursday, the day after he had been left out of United's starting line-up against Real Madrid, that Beckham found solace.
The staff weren't talking about Beckham in Emporio Armani but a few doors down at Diesel, assistant manager Martin Skelton, 32, described how he sometimes has to clear the shop when Beckham comes in to stop him getting pestered. "He's been a very good customer," he said. So you'd miss him if he went? "Sure. But I don't think you could blame him. If he went to Real Madrid you could hardly call it a step down."
Time for a bite at the restaurant which waiter Patrick James said the Beckhams had told him was their favourite: the Living Room in Deansgate, a celebrity hang-out. Beckham does more than anyone to put it on the map. "I mean, we're nice," said Patrick, "but we're not The Ivy." Beckham was "incredibly powerful", he said, his legacy, if he did leave, incalculable. "He's brought so much to the city. Just to have him associated with us is amazing really."
It's not just Manchester United who would miss Beckham if he left.
Poet in Residence
Martin Newell, the new Poet in Residence at 'The Independent on Sunday', will be writing a poem each week on an issue of the day. He is the author of 12 books, including 'This Little Ziggy' (House of Stratus, £7.99)
If The Golden Boy Goes ...
If David Beckham goes to Spain
Real Madrid may not complain
But British fans will feel the pain
And football will be poorer.
The boardroom boys will clear the decks
Sit poker-faced to write the cheques
Bid farewell to the joy of Becks
The golden boy, their scorer.
And Posh will pack her things again
A fleet of trucks, a mobile crane
Perhaps an army transport plane
Could do the job by autumn?
Then on the dot, nip out to shop
She couldn't not – the world might stop
Some shoes, a skirt, a new white top
For him? Too late. She's bought 'em.
Goodbye hello, hello hola
For the novice Spanish scholar
Photo features pay top dollar
Goodbye to Becks & Co – the brand
A cold wind slices through the stand
Now players from another land
Must get the turnstiles squeaking.
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