Beckham: The man who broke football’s gay taboo?

Story highlights

Beckham 'opened the door' for it to be cool to be gay

Credited with changing the world of style for football players

Beckham insisted he would wear 'that dress' again

CNN  — 

David Beckham was always adept at curling the ball around a wall – but when it came to the barrier of homosexuality in football, he broke straight through it.

Former England captain Beckham, who announced his retirement from football Thursday, was the first superstar footballer to embrace his “gay icon” status, freely giving interviews to gay magazines and openly talking about his gay fan base.

That attitude was the catalyst for a change, according to author and journalist, Chas Newkey-Burden.

Read: Beckham to retire

“What David Beckham did was break the long silence about homosexuality in football,” Newkey-Burden told CNN.

“Before Beckham came along, it was basically a taboo but he changed all that.

“He openly courted his gay fan base, saying he loved being a gay icon and was happy for his wife to broadcast that around.

“He was the first to give interviews to gay magazines – before that, no footballer would have done that.

“He also changed the way footballers were looked at. He was inherently good looking, but it was that he paid so much attention to his appearance that was unprecedented.”

Read: Can you bend it like Beckham?

In an interview with the BBC given in 2007, Beckham spoke of his pride at being tagged as a “gay icon”.

“Maybe it’s things like (the fact) I like to look after myself, I like to look smart and presentable most of the time,” he said at the time.

“I always liked to look good, even when I was a little kid. I was given the option when I was a page boy once of either wearing a suit or wearing knickerbockers and long socks and ballet shoes – and I chose the ballet shoes and knickerbockers.”

Once Newkey-Burden spent five months trying to organize an interview with the midfielder, only for the player himself to sanction the piece after reading one of the journalist’s articles on football and homosexuality in Four Four Two magazine.

Read: Rogers’ retirement reasons could bring change

“David read the piece I did about how far football had come in dealing with homophobia,” Newkey-Burden recalled.

“I know he was very moved by the fact I wrote how he had opened the door to change and that is what swung getting me the interview with him.

“Look, there are 92 league clubs in England with each squad having around 20 players, so statistically, there must be some gay players, ” added the journalist.

“One day it will be common place for footballers to come out and David Beckham will have played a part in that.

“He opened the door and it is the person who opens the door who makes the difference.

“Beckham said to the world: ‘I’m straight, I’m the England captain and I think it’s cool people are gay.’”

Despite Beckham embracing his “gay icon” status, football continues to struggle with homophobia.

Last February, U.S. football star Robbie Rogers announced he was retiring from football after “coming out” – leaving Swedish player Anton Hysen as the only openly gay player in Europe.

Rogers might yet make a return given he has been training with Los Angeles Galaxy.

Read: In search of a gay soccer hero

Beckham was also key in footballers becoming fashionistas and attracting interest from the mainstream media, according to Newkey Burden.

“Gay football fans don’t want 11 neatly coiffured and manicured players to admire,” said the journalist and celebrity biographer who has written books about Adele, Brangelina, Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton.

“They’re more attracted to the old-fashioned kind of player like Vinny Jones or Alan Shearer if I’m honest.

“But Beckham was someone who was proud to be a gay icon and made it cool too.

“Just look at the number of metrosexuals who have emerged since Beckham.

“It’s now OK for players to have silly, floppy hair and dress in the way they do. He did that.”

Read: The gay footballer who chose freedom

Players now try to trend it like Beckham more often than they try to bend it like Beckham.

From wearing his wife’s underwear to parading around in a sarong, the former Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain man has never been one to shy away from experimentation.

While former Spice Girl Victoria has gone on to establish herself as a leading fashion designer, it is Beckham who brought men into the 21st century with his eye for the latest trends.

From his outrageous hair styles to his love of grooming and moisturizing, Beckham relaunched the notion of the metroxsexual along with his very own brand of cologne.

Whether it was by provocatively modelng in his Armani underwear or being paraded in front of the press in another exquisitely tailored suit, Beckham set the bar high when it came to looking sharp.

Read: Rise of the metrosexual

“Beckham was the antithesis to the godawful lad culture of the late Nineties,” fashion editor Nick Carvell told CNN.

“Being a footballer who was clearly motivated by fashion trends and absolutely loved clothes, he turned the idea of what it meant to be a stylish sportsman at the time on its head.

“Sure he made some mistakes along the way (cornrows), but that’s what made him a trendsetter – he always led and never followed.

Read: David Beckham: The devoted dad

“He was certainly one of the first celebrities to de-stigmatize grooming pursuits that were previously seen as girls-only (his early penchant for highlights comes to mind).

“Lots of people would say that it helps he has an athlete’s body, but there are plenty of sportsman who dress appallingly.

“I think it’s his willingness to try new things combined with a clear appreciation for a good tailor.

“He might have worn the occasional eye-raising get-up when he was younger, but it always fitted perfectly.”

That infamous sarong, which he was pictured wearing in 1998, was certainly one “eye-raising item” but as Newkey-Burden explains, Beckham had no regrets.

“When I interviewed him in 2006, I asked Beckham if he regretted wearing that ‘dress’. He said: ‘No, that’s one of the things I’d do again!’”