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British Football Star 'Honored' to Meet Nelson Mandela - 2003-05-21

Two of the most famous men in the world have met in Johannesburg. English soccer captain David Beckham gave a team shirt to former South African President Nelson Mandela before Thursday's England-South Africa soccer match.

A nervous-looking David Beckham had a big smile on his face as he shook hands with Nelson Mandela, one of the few people on the planet who is even more recognizable than he is.

"As England captain I would like to just say it is a great honor for me, the manager, the F.A. (Football Association) and the rest of the players to be here today. I said yesterday, to meet a great man such as you, it is an amazing honor for everyone involved in the F.A. and the England team," he said.

Beckham handed the former South African president a red-and-white England team jersey with the number three and Mr. Mandela's name emblazoned on the back. Mr. Mandela looked thrilled.

The ex-president is an avid sports fan. He met with players from both the English and South African soccer teams ahead of their friendly clash Thursday in Durban.

Mr. Mandela had a famous meeting with Beckham's wife Victoria six years ago, when she was a member of the Spice Girls singing group.

Thursday's match is designed to boost South Africa's bid to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Mr. Mandela urged Beckham and the other England players to support the effort. "And if you and the British people support us, I am sure many other countries will do so. So we make this appeal to you to be in the forefront of supporting our bid," Mr. Mandela said.

South Africa lost its bid for the 2006 World Cup by a controversial one vote. National soccer officials say they think they have a good chance of getting the tournament this time around.

Several of Mr. Mandela's grandchildren were allowed to stay home from school so they could have a chance to meet the English soccer stars, too. When a reporter asked Mr. Mandela what he thought of Beckham's new cornrow hairstyle, he said he is too old to express an opinion on the latest developments by young people.

The English team has never lost a match to an African country, but South African captain Lucas Radebe says his squad has a good chance in Durban. He told the South African Press Association, "We have a score to settle, and it is time to prove that South African football has come of age."

Radebe has announced his plans to retire from international soccer after the match.

The South Africa-England game has been plagued by controversy over the selection of the South African team. Coach Shakes Mashaba has been temporarily sidelined after a disagreement with national soccer officials over the inclusion of European-based players. So for this match, Jomo Sono will coach the South Africans instead.