Like most England fans, I was furious with this precocious brat. He had cost us a place in the next round of the most important sporting competition in the world and deserved all the stick he got. A few years later I was at Old Trafford to see Beckham score a brilliant last-minute free kick that sent England to the World Cup in Japan - what a hero.
Unlike so many of our sporting greats, who go from hero to villain, Beckham went the other way. The England captain's superhero status was not achieved by his football ability alone, though, but also by a PR machine that is second to none.
This came home to me when I was in Japan for the 2002 World Cup. The adulation of Beckham had to be seen to be believed. I was outside one stadium where England were due to play two days later and already thousands of locals had gathered to greet their foreign hero.
The Beckham brand was everywhere, despite the fact there were clearly more talented footballers elsewhere in the world.
For years the Beckhams' PR team has been working flat out to promote Britain's wonder couple. We always knew the perfect happy family was a PR creation, but who cared? Certainly not Pepsi, Vodafone or any of the numerous multinationals that have forked out millions to use Becks.
So what will they think of the latest tabloid stories? I've read somewhere that allegations of David's infidelity could cost him a fortune through lost lucrative endorsements.
They must be joking. The England captain is even more marketable than ever. David may or may not have been unfaithful to his wife, but it's not our hero who gets the vicious tabloid treatment - that's reserved for his alleged lovers. Rebecca Loos is, according to The Sun, a 'Sleazy Senorita', and the Daily Mirror managed to discover that Loos once starred in her school play as 'a tart'. Only the Daily Mail was a bit bitchy about Mrs Beckham, but it always has been.
Max Clifford allegedly got his clients £350,000 to sell their stories, but he is not in the same league as the Beckhams' PR guru Caroline McAteer and her team, whose photocall created public sympathy for the couple.
I'll be in Portugal this summer cheering on our boys. Beckham will be an even bigger hero among the England fans who follow the team to the European Championships. The only way his PR efforts will fall apart is if he fails to perform where it really matters - on the pitch.