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George Best has died R.I.P.

last updated Friday 25th November 2005, 1:14 PM
George Best has died
George Best has died

BEST. Could any surname ever have been more appropriate?

The best footballer to have emerged from Northern Ireland.

The best player to wear a Manchester United jersey.

The best ever exponent of the beautiful game, according to none other than Pele himself.

The best looking pin-up to have adorned a female fan's bedroom wall - and, in so many cases, her bed itself.

George Best. Incredible, extraordinary footballer. Modest, charming, charismatic, intelligent man. Deeply troubled human being. And now, sadly, mortal icon.

He had it all, he lost it all, he got it back and he lost it again.

With George it was always a battle to keep what he had. To keep his friends, to keep his women, to keep a hold on his sanity. To keep off the alcohol.

The last battle was the most crucial; an apocalyptic, virtually lifelong struggle.

As a gifted footballer, George Best believed he could beat anyone.

As a mere mortal, you sensed he always knew who the ultimate victor would be. It was predestined.

The saddest irony is that alcohol provided George Best with the only constant in his chequered, turbulent, roller-coaster life.

Friends were easily made, and just as easily discarded.

Lovers were effortlessly wooed, and just as effortlessly dumped.

Fans were mesmerised and let down in equal measure.

But the bottle remained the constant, loyal companion.

And, as with any lifetime partner, he fought with it. He walked out on it, many times. He joked about it as if it was his "other half".

But, as with all true love stories, he kept going back. Faithful to the end. Love hurts.

George Best was a living dichotomy.

He was renowned for his candour, honesty and generosity - but that was the sober George.

Once "her indoors" got hold of him, however, he morphed into a dishonest, selfish, unreliable human being.

He said many times that he had never hurt anyone other than himself.

But that was the candid, honest, sober George talking. And he really believed it.

There was another constant to George, however, drunk or sober - his laissez-faire attitude to life.

He was once asked about the alcoholism that took hold of him like so many of the other parasites that dominated his early twenties.

"If I beat it, I beat it; if I don't, I don't," he said.

Typical George. But it was that laid-back attitude that endeared him to millions.

He regularly failed to attend functions yet was regularly forgiven for it.

He often wandered off with other women but was just as often welcomed back by the "partner" of the time.

He walked out on Manchester United at the height of his career yet, 10 years later and a shadow of the man he once was, they were prepared to take him back.

He got drunk on the Wogan show - yet it was his fellow Irishman who got most of the brickbats for sending him on in such a state.

He was, rather contentiously, given a new liver three years ago, went on to abuse the precious lifeline ... and even his surgeon forgave him.

You forgave George Best because he gave so much pleasure to so many people during the Sixties and early Seventies.

Because, in the only role he ever really wanted to play, he was awe-inspiring.

The word "breathtaking" has been used so often to describe lesser mortals and has lost so much of its impact as an adjective.

But with Bestie, it was a literal description.

You gasped at what he could do with a football. Your jaw literally dropped when he made the ball do things that ordinary human beings believed were beyond human ability.

He once had one of the best goals of his career disallowed because the referee simply wouldn't believe that a footballer could control a ball at that speed without using his hand.

But this was an international game and the television cameras were there.

Black and white in those days. You couldn't see the referee's red face when he reviewed the highlights and realised that what he had believed was impossible had just happened right in front of his nose.

There were no empty seats when George Best was in town. Opposing fans normally hope their rivals' star player will miss the game through injury or suspension, and thus give their lot a better chance of winning.

But not where our George was concerned.

The disappointment, among both home and away supporters, when this slightly built, long-haired, mesmeric wizard failed to show, either for United or Northern Ireland, was both profound and palpable.

His enduring popularity, however, was forged as much off the field as on it.

Bestie may have been untouchable on the pitch but was tactile and gregarious when the final whistle blew.

And that's why so many of us loved him. The extraordinary footballer was an ordinary man who spoke like we spoke, with our accents, and enjoyed the same things we did.

He didn't surround himself with bodyguards and he didn't court publicity - although there were plenty who courted it on his behalf.

He may have forgotten where he was, or where he was meant to be, from time to time, but he never forgot his east Belfast roots.

He constantly brooded about letting people down, but eventually began to accept that he simply couldn't help it.

And he claimed he had no regrets about the way his football career went - but not playing in a showpiece FA Cup final, or at the World Cup finals, wounded him deeply.

He was a mass of contradictions yet always came over as a focused visionary.

He never showed conceit, yet when Jackie Fullerton once remarked to him "you could have been the greatest player of all time," George replied: "Actually, I believe I WAS the greatest player of all time." And nobody thought he was blowing his own trumpet then - because nobody was disagreeing with him.

George Best. Genius. Celebrity. Charmer. Adonis. Alcoholic. Born in Belfast, May 22, 1946. Died in London, November 2005. Loved, revered - and lamented - by millions everywhere.

Source Belfast Telegraph by John Laverty
Since 1998
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