LONDON – David Beckham's first-ever job was just a few minutes' drive from the Olympic Stadium, but could not be further removed from the soccer icon's current glitzy lifestyle.
Nowadays, Beckham is one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet. Despite being left off the Great Britain Olympic squad in a controversial decision, he will play a major role in the Opening Ceremony of the Games.
The Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder grew up in a working-class area of East London. Before Beckham was signed as a trainee with Manchester United, he was forced to put in regular shifts at the greyhound stadium in order to earn spare cash.
"It was a great way to earn some pocket money," Beckham told Yahoo! Sports.
Beckham is now worth more than $100 million and lives in a Beverly Hills mansion with his wife, former Spice Girls singer Victoria, and their four children. But he has fond memories of his entry into the workforce, and admitted he was saddened when the famous old track was closed in 2008 because of dwindling attendances and spiraling costs.
"I always remember my time working at Walthamstow dogs," he said. "I picked up glasses at the track. It was my first job and I was so happy to be getting a wage for the first time. It was a real shame to see it go, as it means so much to the area."
Potboys would put in five-hour shifts, beginning just before the first race around 6:30 p.m., and continuing until the final cigarette butt or dirty glass had been cleared away. Beckham worked in the Paddock Grill and would rarely miss the chance to sneak a glance at a nearby TV set if soccer was being broadcast.
The closure of Walthamstow Stadium was seen as just another side effect of the continuing decline of one of London's forgotten neighborhoods. But the Olympics have had a positive effect in regenerating the area – so much so that Stratford and its surroundings regions are showing signs of gentrification after decades of decay.
Beckham would often go down to the stadium even when he was not working and enjoy watching the races, which were very much part of the working-class social scene at the time.
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"David used to nip down to the dogs with his mates," said Ted Beckham, David's father.
Beckham confirmed on Tuesday that he would participate in Friday’s Opening Ceremony, but would not reveal the specifics of his involvement. He is considered a long shot to light the flame but will play a part in the extravagant ceremony planned by director Danny Boyle.
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