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LOS ANGELES – Fans involved in the confrontation with David Beckham during halftime of Sunday's exhibition game between the Los Angeles Galaxy and visiting AC Milan refuted the player's account of events and said Beckham was an aggressor.
Beckham said after the 2-2 tie at the Home Depot Center that he told one fan who "was saying things that wasn't very nice" to "calm down and come shake my hand." A fan then jumped from the stands onto the field and was met immediately by security and ejected from the stadium.
But Josh Paige, a member of the L.A. Riot Squad, a rabid fan group, said he was the patron who leaped from the stands after Beckham motioned for him to come down to the field and fight.
David Beckham confronts rowdy fans on Sunday in an exhibition match against AC Milan.
(Valerie Majalca/Special to Y! Sports)
"He came over and directly confronted us," Paige told Yahoo! Sports on Monday. "I remember the look on his face, and he definitely was jawing right back at us, pointing at me and then to the ground in front of him a couple of times. … I looked at the video."
Video footage shows Beckham pulling himself onto a barrier erected about 10 feet from the section of the stadium where Paige and other rowdy fans were heckling Beckham.
Paige, who said he is a 32-year-old employee of a small independent film company in Los Angeles, said he shouldn't have jumped out of the stands.
"I regret it because I wish that I had been the bigger man," said Paige, who was handcuffed and escorted from the stadium. "[Beckham] prides himself on being the consummate professional and he's calling his own fans down to fight."
Paige said the crowd noise at the sold-out Home Depot Center muffled Beckham's exact words during the halftime confrontation. But David Martinous, who said he was sitting next to Paige in the front row of Section 137, said he heard Beckham clearly.
"He said, 'Come down here and fight,' " Martinous said. "I said, 'I'm not coming down there. You can come across that barrier and we can take it from there' essentially. And he started to put a leg over the barrier and that's when my friend next to me leapt down."
But another fan said it was clear Beckham was gesturing for fans to pull down a sign that referred to him as "evil."
"The gestures Beckham was making were consistent with asking them to take the sign down," Dustin Guerra wrote in an email after reading allegations that Beckham wanted to fight. "At the same time, I can honestly see how that it could be confused with gestures indicating he wanted to fight if I was a belligerent Riot Squad member who had one too many beers."
On Monday the Galaxy and the approximately 300-member fan club issued conflicting statements about the incident.
“We have a very good relationship with the LA Riot Squad and have already reached out to them to set up a meeting to discuss moving forward together in a positive direction," the team’s statement read in part. “In addition, the LA Riot Squad has informed us that they have issued a lifetime ban to the fan that went onto the field of play."
Not true, according to Jeff Skinner, a prominent member of the 300-member Riot Squad.
“The press release from the Galaxy claiming that we have banned Mr. Paige is factually incorrect," Skinner wrote in an email. “We have yet to make any final decisions and I reiterate that at this moment we have yet to have any discussions with anybody at the Galaxy regarding this matter."
Simon Oliveira, Beckham's personal publicist, declined to comment Monday and said he would defer to Beckham's postgame comments.
The week before the game, Riot Squad members prepared chants meant to insult Beckham during his first Galaxy home game of the season after he missed the team's first 17 games while playing for AC Milan on an offseason loan deal.
Earlier this year, Beckham said he wanted to remain with the Italian club instead of returning to the Galaxy because the higher caliber of play would help him achieve his goal of playing for England at the 2010 World Cup. Comments like that – along with the recent controversy over the questioning of Beckham's commitment to the Galaxy by L.A. star Landon Donovan – prompted the Riot Squad to bring homemade signs expressing their displeasure.
Martinous said he thinks the incident stemmed from Beckham's actions in front of the Galaxy's goal about two minutes before the end of the first half, when Beckham smiled while giving the ball to AC Milan's Ronaldinho for a corner kick where the Riot Squad members sit.
"I yelled directly at him, 'Wipe that [expletive] smirk off your face," recalled Martinous, who said he's a 28-year-old technical support representative for Disney Interactive.
At that point, according to Martinous, Beckham pointed at Martinous and shouted expletives. Martinous said he fired back by shouting, "You need to be worried about the play on the field rather than handing the ball off to [Ronaldinho]."
When the first half ended, Beckham ran toward the Riot Squad members.
After the game, according to Martinous, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena and Galaxy players Chris Klein and Bryan Jordan paid tribute to the Riot Squad.
"Chris Klein came over like he does normally after games and thanked us for being there," Martinous said. "Bryan Jordan and Bruce Arena came over to the corner and acknowledged us.
"I think those guys know that we love them and last night we just had to get our feelings [about Beckham] out."
Chris Tucker, another Riot Squad member, said he took issue with Beckham's comments about a heckling fan "stepping over the line."
"It was kind of a group agreed-upon thing that nobody would [verbally] go after his family," said Tucker, a 23-year-old student at Santa Monica College. "Nobody would say anything about his wife or his kids, because they weren't responsible for his actions."