Beckham, the middle child between two sisters, Lynne and Joanne, grows up in a working-class East London family of ardent Manchester United soccer fans. His father Ted, an appliance repairman, and mother Sandra, a hair stylist, encourage him to play.
An 11-year-old Beckham wins an important youth soccer event, the Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools National Skills competition. He also impresses Manchester United scouts while playing a game for his neighborhood club, the Ridgeway Rovers. When his mother tells him Manchester United wants him to try out for their youth league, he "just stood there and cried," Beckham says in Sports Illustrated.
Beckham leaves home at 16 to play for the training division of his favorite club, Manchester United, a legendary English soccer team with more than fifty million fans worldwide. He works on developing his signature free kicks, passing and corner kicks – skills that later make him known for his deadly accurate, game-clinching goals. He joins the team proper in 1993 and makes the starting lineup for the first time two years later, making an immediate splash as a talented goalmaker. He's voted the Professional Footballers' Association Young Player of the Year in 1997.
Beckham signs an endorsement deal with sportswear and athletic equipment giant Adidas. In 1998, he'll net $13 million from his endorsement contracts; by 2005, having become a spokesman for Pepsi and razor maker Gillette, among others, Sports Illustrated estimates that he makes $30 million every year thanks to his corporate endorsements.
Victoria "Posh Spice" Adams, at the height of Spice Girls fame, sits for an interview with a soccer magazine. The reporter shows her a picture of Beckham. "I had no idea who he was," she tells Britain's Sun, "but I remember thinking one word: gorgeous." She meets Beckham for the first time after a United-Sheffield game that month, and it was "love at first sight." They become a British tabloid obsession.
Beckham proposes at the stately 19th-century Rookery Hall Hotel in northwest England with a $65,000 three-carat diamond solitaire. Posh counters with a lavish $80,000 ring for him.
In a second-round World Cup match between England and Argentina, Beckham is ejected after kicking Argentine midfielder Diego Simeone after Simeone fouled him. The English team loses on penalty kicks, and Beckham becomes the nation's whipping boy – he receives death threats and an angry fan mails him two bullets with Beckham's name etched on them. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair weighs in, saying, according to Sports Illustrated, "He is obviously going to have to learn from this."
Fiancée Posh gives birth to a son, Brooklyn Joseph, named after the New York borough where Posh found out she was pregnant. "The baby is gorgeous," PEOPLE reports her saying. "He has my nose and David's thighs." Second son Romeo comes Sept. 1, 2002, and Beckham gushes to PEOPLE, "Romeo's gorgeous. He's got Brooklyn's nose and Victoria's chin." A third son, Cruz, is born in Madrid on Feb. 20, 2005.
Beckham and Posh invite 236 guests to their black-tie wedding at a castle outside of Dublin, Ireland. The bride and groom have gold-plated, red-velvet thrones, and Posh wears a crown and a one-of-a-kind Vera Wang dress. An 18-piece orchestra plays the Spice Girls, and the couple sells exclusive coverage of the event to British tabloid OK! for $1.5 million. The estimated cost of the wedding: $800,000.
England qualifies for the 2002 World Cup due to Beckham's last-minute free kick against Greece that ties the game, 2-2. Following an unprecedented triple championship in the 1999 Manchester United season (the team wins the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League), Beckham is appointed captain of England's national team in Nov. 2000 and named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2001.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): REX USA; HARRY GOODWIN/REX USA; DAVID HOGAN/ALL ACTION/RETNA; STEFAN ROUSSEAU/EMPICS/Landov; Weidenfeld Nicolson Illustrated; GERALD PENNY/AFP/Getty