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It's a lifestyle that seemed the preserve of David and Victoria Beckham, but the Los Angeles dream is set to become a reality for former Port Vale footballer Chris Birchall and girlfriend Lucy Mulroy, after the midfielder signed for LA Galaxy, writes Liz Rowley.
THERE aren't many who can say they have followed in the footsteps of David and Victoria Beckham, but it's certainly true of professional footballer Chris Birchall and his girlfriend Lucy Mulroy.

The former Port Vale favourite and Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder, has just signed a four-year contract with LA Galaxy, which means he'll join David Beckham on the pitch later this month.

"I probably wouldn't have gone to America for any other club than LA Galaxy," says the 25-year-old, who lives in Newcastle with Lucy and their five-week-old son Ashley.

"I'm excited and nervous, as although I've been to different countries it's not been to settle down and live. It's going to be such a different lifestyle, but it's too good to turn down.

"I've played with a lot of high profile players in my career, but no one as big as David Beckham. It will be an honour to play with him, and hopefully I can just be myself and get on well."

But when you're moving to somewhere as big and brash as Los Angeles, The City of Angels... and celebrities, surely football is the last thing on your mind?

"I've been to LA on holiday a couple of times and I was out there training recently, and everything is just bigger and better," admits Chris, who played against Beckham in the 2006 World Cup when he represented Trinidad and Tobago.

"If you can't enjoy yourself there, you can't enjoy yourself anywhere. But at the same time it's different to what you see on TV," he adds.

"I think if you knew the places to go and the people to speak to you could get into that celebrity world, but for me, the average person walking down the street, it's a very big change. Even though LA is a great place, it's hard to up and move, especially for Lucy, because she has close family here."

While Beckham is currently at AC Milan, he is due to return to LA Galaxy by early July, and the two players are likely to swap positions with each other on the pitch.

Chris adds: "We can both play in more than one position, so from what the manager says he wants Beckham out on the right sometimes and me in the centre and vice versa.."

The change is also big for 23-year-old Lucy, who is currently adapting to her new role as full-time mum to Ashley.

"I'm very excited about going but I'm also nervous because I'm so close to my family," says Lucy, who used to sell cars for a contract hire and leasing company based in Stone.

"LA is very high profile but I've always wanted to travel and this is somewhere I've wanted to visit, so it's a great opportunity for all of us.

"But I'd only told a few people it could happen, because in football they can be interested in you one minute and the next they aren't."

Having travelled to Scotland with Chris when he played for St Mirren, and Brighton when he was contracted to Brighton and Hove Albion, Lucy is used to living the life of a footballer's wife, but doesn't believe she can be stereotyped as a typical WAG.

She says: "The older people in my family tend to call me a WAG, but I don't see me being that way because I've just carried on with my life. It's nice to get presents and to enjoy fashion and things like that, but what girl doesn't? Chris is quite conscious of his money and has never been too splashy with it." They intend to share a car and rent a furnished home, while afternoons will be spent as a family visiting the beach – a far cry from the Beckhams' LA mansion and endless appearances at glitzy parties and photoshoots.

"They are a couple I admire," she admits, "he seems like a very down to earth person and she's very glamorous with amazing clothes – though the only shop I'm really excited about is Victoria's Secrets.

"But I think the Beckhams have done very well for themselves, and anyone who doesn't admire them is jealous. I'd love to meet them."

Yet Lucy's life is not so different from Victoria's in other ways, as she has also worked as a model, and at one stage was even chosen as a Posh Spice lookalike, "I played a small version of Victoria in a World Cup song they did called On Top Of The World," she explains.

Yet when it comes to baby Ashley Lucy is determined that the tot will always be aware of his Stoke roots.

"I'm excited that Ashley will be living his first four years in America," she says, "but when we're out there I'm going to speak to him in a slow Stoke accent so he knows where he's from and doesn't get an American one.

"And my mum has already started to work out what holidays she can take so she will be able to come out to us from time to time, which is great for me and Ashley because I will miss home."

While Chris can only dream of achieving the fame and fortune of David Beckham, whose personal wealth is estimated at £125 million, he's just pleased he can offer his family a secure future and is determined to keep his feet firmly on the ground.

"I've had a good career so far and I am comfortable now financially," he admits. "I'm doing well enough to make sure my family is secure, but I have to remember that I've only got another 10 years of football left, so I'm trying to earn what I can now."

And while Chris counts Dwight York, Kenwyne Jones and Stoke's Andy Wilkinson among his mates, for now he's happy to simply share the pitch with the world's most high profile player.

He concludes: "I'm just pleased to be playing football and I'll be proud to go wherever it takes me. At the end of the day this is a fantastic adventure for us, but in reality I'm just a boy from Stoke and that's the way it will stay."