Coming from an English family, football (sorry, soccer) is never just a sport. It’s closer to a religion, a lifestyle or the reason you wake up to your parents screaming at Mike Dean every Saturday morning. To quote “Ted Lasso”’s Dani Rojas, for many, “football is life.”
David Beckham is certainly no exception to this rule. Born and raised in East London, Beckham made his debut for Manchester United’s senior team in 1992. Before retiring from soccer for good in 2013, Beckham spent six years as captain of England’s national team, and 13 years on the team overall.
In his new docuseries on Disney+, “Save Our Squad with David Beckham,” the soccer legend himself takes us back to where his career began — the Echo Junior Football League in East London. And this time, he’s “starting from the bottom” to train a new generation of up-and-comers.
We learn that the Westward Boys under-14 team has recently moved up a league after immense success in their previous season. But now, flaws and frustrations are coming to the surface as they struggle to keep up with the big dogs of the more competitive Echo League, leaving the team on the brink of relegation. Key players on the team include skilled but shy Orlando, charismatic but chatty Ethan and capable but frustrated Bryan. The Westward Boys are a team with both skill and potential, but one that struggles with communication and confidence. Especially after losing their vocal leader and starting goalkeeper Frederick to an early-season injury, the boys will have to step up and come together to face the trials and tribulations of the Echo League.
Through proper training and personal anecdotes, David Beckham assists WB coaches Ade Abayomi and Edwin Mensah in guiding their players toward improvement, both individually and as a team. Beckham discusses his experiences as a professional in the sport and explains to the boys what they can expect as up-and-coming players.
The key to the series, however, is not necessarily its focus on the sport in question, but on the heart and passion behind it. In a world where sports have become serious and pressurized aspects of fans’ and players’ everyday lives, it’s easy to forget why a person chooses to involve themselves in sports in the first place. “Save Our Squad” strips down the “beautiful game” to remind the audience what lies in the hearts and minds of soccer’s starry-eyed youth — ambition, motivation and, most importantly, a passion for the sport they dream of leading them to stardom.
While the show provides a heavy focus on team-building and the more family-based aspect of soccer, interviews and montages give us insight into what the sport means to each individual player.
Rio, whose father isn’t in the picture, works as hard as possible on the field to make his mother proud. Ethan uses soccer as a way to release the energy he contains all day at his strict school. Westward Boys’ youngest player, Kuro, even explains that he plays to stay “grounded” from the racial discrimination he deals with in his personal life. For the future England hopefuls, soccer is more than just moving a ball from place to place: It’s both an outlet and an escape from the realities of their everyday lives.
Although Beckham may be back in East London, he’s not the only one with a full-circle moment in the series. Special appearances from England’s national soccer team, including captain Harry Kane and midfielder Bukayo Saka, let the Westward Boys hear from their heroes and gain advice on how to feed their own ambitions while valuing the importance of working as a unit. The interaction between the two teams, however, is not just an opportunity for the younger players to hear some words of wisdom about the long but rewarding journey ahead of them. It also serves as a reminder that the Three Lions began not with the fancy cars and league trophies that make up their current lives, but with the same humble dreams and ambitions held by the Westward Boys today.
While each player may have his own personal ambitions for his future, the main transition we observe over the course of “Save Our Squad” is one from “me” to “we.” Each player makes his own personal improvements over the course of the series, but the biggest shift Beckham instills in the Westward Boys’ mentalities is one of teamwork and cooperation. After all, players can train as much as they want outside of practice, but trophies and championship wins don’t go to great players — they go to great teams. By the end of the series, the boys’ frantic screaming across the pitch has dissipated into supportive and confident communication, and it becomes clear that the team’s experiences with Beckham have led them to victory in more ways than one.
What helps “Save Our Squad” stand out among the countless sports docuseries floating around the media is its emphasis not on winning, but on improvement. The Westward Boys may not finish their season at the top of the league. But throughout the series, we see Orlando come out of his shell and become a principal leader on the team. We see Ethan learn to channel his energy into improving his game. And we see the Westward Boys come together to learn what is truly at the heart of the “beautiful game”: teamwork, focus and a burning passion for the sport itself.
In terms of the message we are left with, I think Kuro said it best — “family’s the most important thing to me, and that’s something I will never take back. Family’s number one. And that’s that.”
Daily Arts Writer Olivia Tarling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.