LONDON — Bending free kicks. Hollywood looks. National hero.
David Beckham — Britain’s most famous sportsman — seemed destined to be a headliner at the London Olympics.
Not on the soccer field.
The former England captain failed to make the British Olympic team, a surprise snub for a local lad who helped secure the games for his city and worked tirelessly to promote them.
“Naturally I am very disappointed,” Beckham said Thursday after being notified that he hadn’t been selected for the final 18-man squad. “But there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me.”
The Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder had made Britain’s 35-man preliminary shortlist and seemed certain to win one of the three places allowed for players over the age of 23. Instead, he was informed by coach Stuart Pearce that he did not made the final squad.
“Everyone knows how much playing for my country has always meant to me, so I would have been honored to have been part of this unique Team GB squad,” the 37-year-old Beckham said in a statement Thursday.
Beckham’s ties to the Olympics go back to 2005 when he joined the bid team run by Sebastian Coe for the competition against Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow. He was with the team in Singapore when London beat Paris in the final round of voting, adding credibility not just as a celebrity but as an east London native.
Since then, Beckham has taken part in countless Olympic activities. He even accompanied the Olympic flame on a flight from Greece to England last month and lit a cauldron signaling the start of the British torch relay.
“David has been an extraordinary supporter, probably our No. 1 supporter, of the games from the very beginning and is keen to continue his enthusiastic support right to the end,” Coe said.
He indicated there could still be a role for Beckham, though not in a sporting capacity.
“He really gets this,” Coe said. “He is from east London and knows how important the games and sport are to young people. He is a great role model and we are lucky to have such an advocate. I will be talking to him about a games-time role.”
British bookmaker Ladbrokes slashed the odds on Beckham being given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame at the July 27 opening ceremony, making him 5-1. Five-time rowing gold medalist Steve Redgrave is the 1-2 favorite. The Olympic Stadium is located near Leytonstone, where Beckham was born.
For his part, Beckham has so far only said he hopes to attend the Olympics and support Britain’s athletes.
“As a Londoner, I will have been really proud to have played a small part in bringing the Olympics to my home town as part of Seb’s team, and I can’t wait for the games to begin and enjoy every moment along with the rest of Great Britain,” Beckham said.
Beckham’s absence from the team will come as a big disappointment to his fans around the world.
Laura Robson, who lost a first-round doubles match at Wimbledon on Thursday with her fellow British partner Heather Watson, said: “Obviously, I’m disappointed that he’s not going to be joining myself and Heather in the Olympic Village.”
Then she jokingly added: “Won’t be able to stalk him.”
The decision by Pearce to omit Beckham almost certainly spells the end of his career representing his country. He has made 115 England appearances, with the last coming in 2009.
Former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, who made a record 125 appearances for the national team, backed Pearce’s decision to omit Beckham.
“He’s been a fantastic player over the years, certainly when he was at his peak, but he’s nowhere the player he was,” Shilton said on British television. “It would have been great from a publicity point of view, but Stuart Pearce obviously feels he’d struggle in that type of tournament.”
The Olympics would have provided Beckham with a last chance to win an international trophy, the only triumph to elude a player who has won domestic league titles in England and Spain, the Champions League and the MLS Cup.
Despite Beckham’s best efforts, including a prolonged spell as captain, England remains without a trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup on home soil.
Being dropped from the team means Beckham won’t get a chance to reunite with former Manchester United teammate Ryan Giggs on the international stage when Britain fields its first Olympic soccer team since 1960.
Giggs, fellow Welshman Craig Bellamy and English defender Micah Richards will be the overage players in the squad, a person familiar with the situation said. He spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because details of the squad haven’t been publicly released.
It appears that Beckham lost his place to the 24-year-old Richards, who plays for Manchester City and will provide extra defensive cover after missing out on England’s European Championship squad.
The 32-year-old Bellamy is a forward at Liverpool who, like Giggs and Richards, has never appeared at a major international soccer tournament.
The British Olympic Association said it had not yet been informed by the English Football Association, which is running the team, that Beckham had been overlooked by Pearce. The coach had traveled to the United States to assess Beckham’s form and fitness in Major League Soccer.
“We are expecting the list no later than the early part of next week,” the BOA said in a statement.
Britain plays its opening match on July 26 against Senegal at Old Trafford, where Beckham spent his 10-year career with United before joining Real Madrid in 2003. He moved to the Galaxy four years later.
Britain then faces the United Arab Emirates three days later at Wembley and Uruguay on Aug. 1 at the Millennium Stadium.
Britain has not fielded an Olympic soccer team since 1960 because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland feared losing their independence within FIFA. The world body has assured the federations that their status won’t be affected by participating in the 16-team competition at the London Games.