DAVID Beckham's galactic move to America has stunned football. But York's former top referee Peter Rhodes tells The Press York City reporter DAVE FLETT of his USA experience of almost 40 years ago...

TEENAGE girls waving their knickers in the air could, quite conceivably, be among the welcome party when David Beckham plays his first game for Major League Soccer club LA Galaxy next season.

Linesmen doing the same with a pair of pink ladies' panties, however, are unlikely to greet England's former captain even allowing for his supposed metrosexual appeal.

In 1968, though, when York's former Football League referee Peter Rhodes preceded Beckham's imminent dollar-dripping move to the US with a lucrative trip across the Atlantic of his own, that was the exact sight awaiting spectators of his maiden match in the Land of Plenty'.

Rhodes became "the best-paid referee in the history of the game", in the words of FA doyenne Sir Stanley Rous, after being head-hunted by organisers of a North American competition because of his uncompromising style in domestic and European club football.

Having once sent off Manchester United legend Denis Law, Rhodes was regarded as the ideal man to keep teams, who included Eastern European players banned from playing in their own countries, in check.

The non-affiliated tournament, unrecognised by FIFA, earned him an 18-month ban from world football's governing body but the fee from his American adventure enabled him to buy the four-bedroomed house in Woodthorpe he still lives in with his wife Sheila.

He, therefore, fully understands Beckham's financial motives for becoming Galaxy's biggest star but also believes the ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder can succeed where others, including Rhodes, have failed by raising the profile of "soccer" in the States.

The 31-year-old superstar is certainly unlikely to encounter some of the organisational headaches former York FA board member and York Sunday League chairman Rhodes suffered four decades ago.

Rhodes, now 85, said: "When I arrived in America I thought I had remembered all the refereeing equipment I needed but, when I went to the first match, nobody had any linesmen flags. I don't think the Americans knew we needed them.

"I looked around and the nearest shop sold lingerie so I went in there and came out with two pair of pink camiknickers which the linesmen went on to use for quite a few games. I was also given a gun that fired blanks to stop play when the ball went out but, in some matches, I needed a factory full of ammunition and usually ran out.

"I'm sure it will be much more professional when Beckham goes over there. Too many people have the impression that there's no soccer in America but that's rubbish.

"There's more registered players in America than in England and the World Cup in 1994 was also the first to sell every seat for every game. It's only a question of time before the game takes off.

"I think the main problem is that in England, 95 per cent of professional footballers don't come from grammar schools but, in America, soccer is mainly a college sport. It's a case of getting the kids at their equivalents of comprehensive schools playing and I think Beckham could succeed in doing that.

"He's still a world-class player and, even though Steve McClaren (England's national coach) is from York and I wish him well, I think he made a mistake dropping Beckham. He feels snubbed now after playing his guts out for England and it's human nature that he wants to prove himself somewhere else.

"People say he's going for the money but why not? I think he has done the right thing and I wish him well because he's been a credit to the game."

Whatever Beckham's fortunes in Hollywood, his arrival will no doubt be a tad more stylish and comfortable than that of Rhodes.

Having been initially approached in a Goodison Park dressing-room by an American entrepreneur named Bill Cox, Rhodes was soon on his way to Scotland where he joined players and other officials boarding a battered Lockheed bomber in Prestwick.

Rhodes had previously served in the RAF and suffered a fractured skull and broken spine in a crash after being instructed to "chase pheasants" by a superior and has vivid memories of the journey for all the wrong reasons.

"We flew with teams from Bulgaria and Romania and were crammed into this plane that had been used as a supply aircraft in the War," Rhodes recalled.

"I think we travelled 250 miles before we got 250 feet in the air and were almost lapping the waves at one point."

Needless to say, Rhodes chose alternative transport for the return home.

Dirty tricks in wild West

DAVID Beckham would be wise to take heed of the underhand tactics employed by officials from the States' established sports to undermine "soccer's" attempt to gatecrash the monopoly, warned Peter Rhodes.

Once named as one of the game's finest referees by the late, great Bill Shankly, Rhodes recalled: "While I was in America, the other sports were trying to kill soccer and an allegation of false fouls' was lodged against me, accusing me of wrongly awarding penalties. They wanted to arrest me and were waiting at the airports but I managed to fly to Bermuda from New York and had a holiday with my wife until the case was dropped.

"Prior to that, there had been controversy before the first game when teams realised I was an Englishman in charge of an Everton match but the truth was I was the competition's only referee.

"Anyway, during the match, Billy Bingham shimmied past a Brazilian player who then pulled his shirt.

"In frustration, Billy hit him with a right upper cut that nearly went through this bloke's appendix so I had to send him off. That proved I was fair and I didn't have many more complaints."

Despite an initial lukewarm reception on his return from the "Land of Plenty" resulting in his subsequent ban, Rhodes' contribution to football in this country were recognised in 1999 when he received a silver salver for his service to the Football League and Premier League's Referees Association.

Beckham was helping Manchester United clinch an unprecedented Champions League, Premiership and FA Cup treble that year and should not find silverware too elusive in the MLS.

Rhodes, however, added: "The one thing about America is that it's competitive and, if they raise the quality, we will see that."