It’s September 2003 and ex-Socceroos defender Andy Bernal is sitting in a Porsche parked under a luxury hotel in Madrid.
Bernal is wearing a blonde wig. He is supposed to look like England captain and Real Madrid star David Beckham.
In the passenger seat of the Porsche is Louise Adams, Beckham’s sister-in-law and Victoria Beckham’s sister, also known as Posh Spice. She is playing Posh for the day.
Bernal and Adams will soon drive to a street in Madrid that is teeming with paparazzi, and they are in disguise to try to deceive the press they expect. They want to take the photographers off the trail of the real “Becks and Posh”, who are driving to a nearby Hard Rock Café to celebrate the birthday of their son, Romeo.
Bernal pulls out of the parking lot and turns the rear wheels, but the waiting paparazzi violate hotel security, blocking the road, and the Porsche is pulled out by another car.
The next thing Bernal remembers is feeling sore and stunned and being pulled from the car and the pack of paparazzi by members of Beckham’s security detachment, which included ex-commandos and ex-Cuban intelligence officers.
“Paparazzi are relentless,” says Bernal, noting that he used to drive with Beckham while paparazzi lenses hit and cracked car windows. “Almost every day, I believed there was a good chance of dying in a car accident with David Beckham.
“When you’re there, it’s exciting, but you sit at home afterwards and think ‘I was just inches from dying in a car accident’.
“I passed out and came back to life … Unless a film portrays or you see yourself, it’s hard to believe. Fifty to 100 paparazzi on motorcycles, cars around, the hotel. All engines in rotation. Observers in all corners of Madrid with two-way radios.
“You lose them on a street, but they show up more, it’s a real-life video game. It was relentless. Did not stop. “
Bernal details this story, and many others, for the first time in the original Riding Shotgun: The Autobiography of the Wizard of Oz, released on Tuesday.
At the time of the fall, England captain Beckham had just moved from Manchester United to Madrid on one of the most famous football transfers of all time. Bernal retired from his football career in Europe and with the Socceroos and became an agent for the company that ran Beckham.
As Bernal spoke Spanish, he became Beckham’s “agent, manager and bodyguard”, in addition to his translator. He writes in the book that British intelligence used to warn people close to Beckham that his children, Brooklyn and Romeo, were targets of kidnapping in Spain.
“It was a particular moment in world football when Beckham was a global superstar and after the incident with ‘Fergie’ [a dressing room turnaround with Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson],” said Bernal.
“He was married to a Spice Girl and went to a team that had Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo [the Brazilian striker], Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos.
“It was life at its most glamorous and elitist at the sporting level. The perfect storm. “
Bernal was basically unemployed in three months. Beckham moved the management companies to the same company that handled Posh’s affairs, and everyone from before that time was released.
The 21-year-old defender of Socceroos, who was also the first Australian to play in Spain, the first Australian to be captain of an English club (Reading) and a national captain for the under-20s and under-23s, was unemployed.
He returned to Reading to live with friends, but quickly fell into drug addiction. During that time, he had problems with the law and said he was receiving multi-million dollar offers to publicize the Beckham family in the media.
“It’s not me. I couldn’t look in the mirror [if I had taken the money],” says Bernal.
“You start getting offers, but they just want an answer.
“[Working with Beckham] hurt me. I hardly slept … I was not trained for everything. I was a former player and an agent. It was ‘here is Andy, here are the keys to a £ 300 million empire, make sure no one dies’ ”.
Bernal, now 54, and after the difficult times of his life, wants to become more involved in Australian football. He currently manages some “young and promising” players and has managed Celtic and Socceroos stars Tom Rogic and Australian legend Tim Cahill in the past. He says the process of writing the book was “cathartic”.
There is a great lack of Australian male players in the main European clubs. Among Bernal’s generation, he was one of many.
“I think we need more people involved who are able to give our young people the messages, information and knowledge needed to play at the highest levels in Europe,” he says.
“They are just repetitive exercises. There is no imagination. “