George Best - A Waste of A Life
I'm writing this from the perspective of an avid soccer fan and a Manchester United fan.
I hail from Manchester and I can remember, as a boy being taken to Old Trafford to watch the young team which became known as 'The Busby Babes'. Many times I watched a young colossus called Duncan Edwards play. He was in the United First team at 16 and then became an England regular at 18. He was killed, along with half the Manchester United team, in the Munich air disaster of February 1958. I remember being hit hard by the immense sense of loss which this tragedy engendered. I was too young to recognise just how good the Busby Babes, and Duncan Edwards in particular, were. Matt Busby set about the task of rebuilding the shattered team, and in particular, started a search for the next young footballing genius, the next Duncan Edwards. Within a few years, in the early 60's he found him. A young, thin boy from Northern Ireland. His name was George Best.
Best became part of the next great Manchester United team, known as the Law, Best and Charlton team, after the three greatest stars. For a while his genius flourished amongst other these other wonderful talents and in 1968 Manchester United won the European Cup with Best putting in some exceptional performances. But soon after his life started ot spiral out of control. He became an alcoholic, his performances suffered and he left Manchester United to join a succession of lesser teams.
He became a caricature of his former self. And worse of all, he let it all happen. Any fight he put up was too little too late. In 2006 he died at the age of 59 of multiple organ failure. His memory and legend live on but it could have been so much more, he could have used his spectacular talents so much more constructively. In my opinion his life story illustrates a tragic waste, not a brilliant fruition, of a God-given talent.
The First Football Superstar
George Best was born on 22 May, 1946 and live all his early life in Belfast, Northern Ireland. At the age of 15, he was discovered in Belfast by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop, whose telegram to United manager Matt Busby read: "I think I've found you a genius." Matt Busby agreed and felt that his search for a new Duncan Edwards had been rewarded. He turned professional in 1963 and made his debut that autumn. By January 1964, the great triumvirate of those golden days at Old Trafford was appearing in a match together for the first time. Law-Charlton-Best made their debut as perhaps the greatest combination in British football and George Best flourished at the heart of it.
The next 5 years saw the full flowering of the Best genius. He was playing regularly, training properly and week in week out was producing some outstanding displays of footballing skill. In 1968 he was at his peak at only 22 years of age. That year he also deservedly won both the English and European Footballer of the Year awards. He was also the club's top scorer that year with 28 goals, and for the following four seasons. In 1970 he scored six goals in an 8-2 win over Northampton in the FA Cup, the most goals ever scored in a single match by any Manchester United player.
To see Best play in his prime was to be mesmerised by his dazzling ability. Few would argue that he is the most gifted footballer ever produced in the British Isles. There didn't seem to be anything he couldn't do.
He was exceptionally quick off the mark, two-footed and beautifully balanced. He could hit long and short passes with equal precision, was swift and fearless in the tackle and he could dribble and beat his man. He was as imaginative and whimsical in midfield as he was economical and deadly given a chance at goal.
He could also head brilliantly and he never shirked from defending when he had to. In short, he was the perfect footballer.
He was the direct heir of those tragic Babes - Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Billy Whelan and, of course, Duncan Edwards. And, incredibly, he was better than any of them.
The tragedy of George Best was that these immense gifts were embodied in a character totally unsuited to deal with the demands on him. He was wayward and weak. And, in the end, the demons would win.
Great Goals, Great Memories
The Downward Spiral
At the very height of his powers Best began to cut himself adrift. Even the great Sir Matt Busby had had problems with him but when Busby retired in 1969 none of the succession of managers who followed him were able to control Best's increasing waywardness. What followed was an extraordinary and speedy descent. He was now frequently missing training and failing to turn up for games and drinking more and more.
In 1972 he announced his retirement at only 26 but was persuaded back by the then manager, Tommy Docherty. The comeback was not a success and George left United for good on New Years Day 1974. He now he hawked his talent to some unlikely and distant outposts of the game. The genius that was Best turned out for Stockport County, Bournemouth, Fulham, Hibernian, Los Angeles Aztecs, Cork Celtic, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, San Jose Earthquakes, Dunstable Town and Brisbane Lions.
Once he finished playing the decline accelerated and his personal life became increasingly more difficult, with increased binge drinking, bankruptcy and the failure of his first marriage.
in 1984, he was convicted of drink-driving and assaulting a policeman, and was jailed for 12 weeks. An appeal failed, and Best spent Christmas in Pentonville Prison. He claimed that the experience made him turn over a new leaf, but in 1990 millions watched his infamous drunken performance on the Wogan television chat show.
Eight months later he was bound over for assaulting a man in a London pub.
In 1998 he agreed, under pain of eviction, to leave the Chelsea flat he had lived in for the previous 13 years. He was £70,000 in mortgage arrears.
Though he had married again in 1995 and had gained regular employment on television and as an after-dinner speaker, his alcoholism continued to plague his mind and body.
In March 2000 he spent several weeks in hospital with a liver problem, almost certainly a result of his drinking. His liver was said to be functioning at only 20%. Two years later, he entered hospital again for a liver transplant. His second marriage faltered shortly after, when he admitted to being back on the booze.
Summary Of A Wasted Life
The recent 50th anniversary of the munich air disaster highlighted for me the tragic wasteof a unique talent.
For me, as with most football watchers, George Best, despite the heights he reached, never achieved his full potential on the field. Because of his character weaknesses we shall never know just how good he could have been. Duncan Edwards, too, died, without revealing the full flowering of his majestic skills but whereas George died because of his addiction to alcohol, Duncan died because of ice on the wings of a plane in Munich. Best was given many chances, Duncan was given no choice.
Both leave an aching loss.