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  Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 01:15 GMT
Becks' BBC bonanza
David Beckham at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show
Beckham was a gracious and deserving winner
By BBC Sport's Rob Bonnet

"Ah bless!" So sighed millions around British TV sets as David Beckham sweetly included his Nana and Grandpa in his 'thank yous' after receiving the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award.

At a stroke, he may have done more for the survival of the extended family unit in this country than any number of politicians, counsellors or social workers.

His gentle, modest gratitude was spoken in the manner of a young boy just leaving his friend's birthday party with the biggest going-home prize.

Only the 'thank-you-for-having-me' was missing...and while mothers and daughters cooed, only the churlish or the pathological Man Utd hater will have resented the moment.

Ellen MacArthur finished a close second to David Beckham in the voting
Late votes for Ellen closed the gap on Becks

Actually...not quite true.

It was, as host Steve Rider admitted, a close run thing thanks to the telephone calls that had hauled Ellen MacArthur into much more serious contention than had been anticipated by the postal votes in the days beforehand.

And so those who had hoped for the ultimate recognition of MacArthur will have doubtless been tempted into some salty language of their own as the close-ups settled on her for the second prize before moving on to The Bejewelled and Tattooed One.

It seemed a stark choice, outlined by a number of e-mails into my inbox in the week or so preceding the programme from a lobby which was more anti-pampered footballer than especially pro anything, though that sadly tends to be the British way.

These e-mails had common themes; Beckham was still the spoiled child of St Etienne, had more money than sense, and had never done a hard day's work in his life.

What is more, his life was a fantasy constructed in conspiracy with the media, and his personality was as flat and sluggish as the Manchester Ship Canal.

According to these same correspondents, Ellen MacArthur was exactly the embodiment of all humanly virtue.

She had courage and determination in abundance (acknowledged, incidentally, via the Helen Rollason award), and her luxury was no more than half an hour's sleep in mid-Atlantic.

David Beckham with Sir Alex Ferguson at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show
Beckham's boss, Sir Alex, also scooped a prize

Furthermore, she toiled away virtually unseen by an uncaring media, and her personality simply vibrated with poetic wonderment at the beautiful hostility of the open sea.

I will argue with none of this. She would have been an utterly worthy winner. She is massively impressive when you meet her - small on ego, big on modesty.

She told me afterwards that she really could not believe that she had been sandwiched between Beckham and Owen as the programme credits rolled.

She had been as star struck in Television Centre as when she had looked out into a clear night sky in mid-Atlantic.

But all this fails to negate the worth of Beckham.

Like it or not, football is the national game, Beckham is a great talent and the honest openness of his handsome face gives him a kind of simple serenity.

Perfect for the cultivation of personality, which in his case has famously been transformed from that of petulant child to example-setter and leader of men.

On Sunday night Beckham neatly sidestepped my backstage questions about his contract intentions at Manchester United. He did not say he would sign, just that he wanted to.

My guess is that he would like to know who the new manager is going to be before committing himself.

He has learnt much from Sir Alex Ferguson but it was Sven-Goran Eriksson, I suspect, who refined cocky confidence into the more attractive quality of self worth. And we should value him too.

Beckham honour

The 2001 show

Winners profiled

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