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Home > People

George Best: Back in the Box

25 November 2005

Finally George Best has stopped dithering outside the box. Injury time is over and the tributes are pouring in. Even before he'd gasped his last however, Alex Ferguson said what a likeable and lovely bloke he was. Hmm. We wonder how many football boots Ferguson would have kicked into Bestie's face had they actually done football together.

As the tributes continue we're likely to get a full broadside of cliches: he was a 'genius' (probably 'literally') and that he was 'troubled'. We'll hear about the champagne lifestyle, the financial follies, the 'Where did it all go wrong, George?'
anecdote as he lay in a hotel bed strewn with casino winnings and a Miss World.

An alternative take on George Best is that he was the worst kind of unpredictable, mercurial drunk: lurching from disaster to disaster, hitting women, trying to laugh off 'chinning a copper' (he got his head kicked in by other coppers as a result, strangely enough), arrogantly failing to turn up to the most important career-saving meetings, watching from the sidelines as personal and professional relationships went down the tubes, thanks to the insulating effects of cash, fame and booze.

But there's a side to George Best that that is seldom discussed, perhaps because he became a tabloid cartoon character. It's the fact that George, who was, after all, a real person, seemed perpetually bemused by his life. He didn't appear to be equipped to deal with much except footie. The most curious thing is that he managed to appear perpetually bemused right up until his demise at the age of 59.

He managed to continue his rather mental lifestyle well into middle age. You can't imagine Alan Hansen knocking around some dolly-bird wife who later turns up on 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here'. You can't even imagine uber-thicko Paul Gascoigne putting the pints away in front of press photographers a few months after getting a new liver. Most shockingly, as an ex-footballer, George Best never even opened a sports shop.

But maybe it's not surprising. Best first left Ireland for a try-out with Manchester United when he was 15, and his subsequent career took place at a time that pre-dated financial advisors (his best advice seemed to come from Denis Law). Nor was the realisation that fame can turn a bit sour for the inexperienced quite as well-known as it is in our celeb-saturated times.

There's a passage from Best's obviously-ghostwritten, tackily-titled autobiography 'The Good, The Bad and The Bubbly' that neatly sums up the strangeness of Best's post-footie life:

'I was talking to the old man who ran the pub with his wife and I didn't take any notice of the man from the far end of the bar when he walked down towards me. He was holding a pint mug, one of those old pint mugs with a base about two inches thick. He came up behind me and looked as if he was just about to finish his beer and leave... then he smashed the mug down on my head and split my skull.'

Best is genuinely (and rightly) baffled by this incident: whatever he's done, whatever notoriety he has accrued, he can't understand why he would be attacked so randomly by a total stranger.

George Best will be deified and demonised in turn for as long as it takes for the media to get bored of his death. It's all a bit pointless, because only George Best will know what his life was really like. People like to think it was either a nightmare of booze or the epitome of footballer excess. It was probably a bit of both, but the sheer strangeness of it was probably something that would leave any of us bemused. And wanting a drink.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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