IT would be interesting to know what David Beckham understands by the word respect. "I respect your bitch," he was told by Ali G on Comic Relief as he cuddled up to Posh for protection.

A few days later Beckham heard Sven-Goran Eriksson confirming him as England captain while at the same time pleading for everyone in and around the team to show respect for each other.

Perhaps respect is commonplace where Sven comes from, but unfortunately it will take more than a few words from him to reverse its decline on these shores.

There will doubtless be some Liverpool fans who see fit to heckle Beckham when he leads England out at Anfield tomorrow.

Not just because he plays for their deadly rivals, but because he has become such an easy target for mickey-taking that I'm thinking of signing the pledge to indulge no more in this activity.

It is an embarrassment to have Beckham as our captain, but it's not his fault that there's no other obvious candidate.

Although he came out of it looking predictably gobsmacked, he deserves some credit for allowing himself to be ridiculed by Ali G in aid of charity.

"Just because this is for Comic Relief you don't have to talk in a funny voice," said Ali G. And that was just for starters. Apart perhaps from "I respect your bitch" the rest was unprintable.

OK, it was a laugh, but could you imagine Billy Wright and his Beverley Sister wife being subjected to such treatment 40 years ago? Or Bobby Moore, or even Tony Adams, come to that?

The lack of a leader is a problem Sven has inherited and can do little about at the moment. Hopefully his coaching skills will encourage every player to take responsibility so that Beckham can simply play his game without having to direct operations in his funny voice.

WHAT a contrast with cricket and rugby, where our national teams and their captains now command the utmost respect.

Martin Johnson was seen by many as being surly and taciturn when he took on the rugby job, while Nasser Hussain was considered selfish and temperamentally unstable.

But both have grown into their roles superbly. It's a safe bet that Nasser, with his Durham University education, possesses a few more marbles than Becks, and he uses them to good effect.

How much England's amazing progress is down to him and how much to the coach, Duncan Fletcher, is difficult to guage. More likely it's the product of a highly successful partnership which was forged by sheer chance as they were totally unkown to each other at the outset.

What has also worked in Hussain's favour is that he has that essential ingredient for any successful team - several players at the peak of their powers.

The two key figures this winter have been Darren Gough and Graham Thorpe, aged 30 and 31. Andy Caddick is 32 and Mike Atherton is 33 today.

Because Caddick was mishandled, England missed out on some of his best years, but he is now forming an excellent spearhead with Gough.

How long can Gough go on? Well Courtney Walsh is 38 and has just taken his 500th Test wicket - a supreme achievement. So if Gough maintains his improved fitness England could get at least five more years out of him, and given the amount of Test cricket these days he could become the first English bowler to pass 400 wickets.

There have been times when 200 looked about his limit, but in the last year he has taken 58 wickets to take his Test total to 197.

Mind you, 20-year-old Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh could become the world's leading wicket-taker by the time he is 25. His capture of 28 wickets in two victories against Australia is an astonishing feat, and with Shane Warne a fading force perhaps we should instruct our groundsmen to prepare some raging turners for the Ashes series.

A WINTER of floods and now pestilence - it's a golfer's nightmare, culminating for members of Barnard Castle in their actions being dubbed "absolutely indefensible" by a National Farmers' Union man.

I must declare an interest here as I am a member of the club, as are several farming friends of mine. So we are not exactly ignorant of the perils of foot-and-mouth.

At a time when people are discouraged from walking in the country I did not expect any rural golf club to be allowed to open.

Officials at Barnard Castle obviously had similar doubts because they checked with the Ministry of Agriculture, Teesdale Council, the NFU and Raby Estates.

The answer in each case was that it was OK to open as long as the necessary precautions were put in place, so we started to swing away with a clear conscience. And then it snowed again.