George Best: 1946-2005
The Best Man Of The Match
Thursday November 24 2005
By John Nicholson
George Best was the greatest footballer ever to grace the English game, the best that many ever saw, possibly the greatest there ever was. John Nicholson remembers a man that none of us will ever forget.
He played a hell of a game. And now that his numbers come up on the Subs’ board of life, it’s time we gave him a rousing send off. Man of the match. Man of every match.
Georgie Best touched me and my generations life in the same way as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac or Jimmy Page did. He was that important. He was simply a cultural and sporting force of nature.
He was a far, far bigger phenomenon than any footballer today. It may be hard for younger fans to understand just how profound the impact Bestie made from the mid 60’s onwards was.
He all but invented modern football by himself.
He didn’t even look like any of his contemporaries. Put him in the Man United team today aged 18 and he would still look and play like a modern footballer. He’d fit right in, only he’d be far better than any player they have now, including Rooney. He was that ahead of his time. He was new, exciting and utterly utterly brilliant. He was in every way a man without peer.
Bestie invented the footballer as rock star concept without really trying. In an era of stout men of grit and muscle, Bestie was a thin sliver of a boy blessed with ball skills that were breath taking. The old films shows him bamboozling defenders like a magician doing tricks. All the more remarkable because he did it in an era when you could hack someone down and get away with it. But Bestie was rarely injured. He’d gone before they could get near him.
And what the old films don’t show you is the effortless way he moved across the pitch with or without the ball. He glided through the air like a ghost.
It was perpetual poetic motion. No other player I have seen since could run with the ball as easily as without it. He ran with perfect rhythm and poise. He seemed to barely touch the pitch with his boots. And no-one needed the benefit of hindsight to realise we were witnessing a genius. It was in your face. You couldn’t ignore it. Whoever you supported. We all knew.
His European performances in the 60’s in particular were moments of the highest art. No-one could quite believe it. He was so much better than any of his contemporaries and it was all so effortless to him.
But, of course, it wasn’t just the earth shattering football that Bestie will be remembered for. He was a fashion icon, even despite being in Grattons catalogue.He had great hair, great side burns. Like all rebel spirits, he wore his shirt untucked and socks rolled down. He bedded Miss Worlds and other more beautful women with his charm, good looks and money.
He was the very epitome of rock n roll football and there will never ever be his equal. Ever.
Maradona had all the talent and the addictive personality too but he was never a charming, beautiful man. He didn’t have the swagger or the poise of The Great Man. He didn’t have the poetry or the soul.
It’s worth remembering that Best retired when he was just about 28. Yes there was all the adventures in America, Fulham and even Barnet but in a way, they didn’t count. When he left Man United his real career was over. We knew it even then.
But what must it have been like to know that you were the brightest of all shooting stars and to know that all the world would love you just as long as you were? What must it have been like to burn so brightly for little more than 10 years and then have to live the rest of your life knowing it would never really be as good again? What pressures that would bring to bear on your soul is something we can’t understand.
And of course as well know, Georgie had his problems. Problems that eventually took him from us. At the highest levels of the arts, people are different. They’re not milk toast people who are always easy, pleasant or accommodating. The spirit of genius doesn’t always allow that. Maybe they feel too deeply, have too much vision and see the world differently to us.
You can excuse it or condemn it but it doesn’t alter the truth. Artists are different and Bestie was an artist of the highest order. He was imbued with the spark of the divine. The light of the immortal but it seems that the deal between God and the Devil meant that to have this genius, to even be called Best, he was in return to be possessed and ravaged by alcoholism.
None of us is perfect. We f**k up. We do the wrong things and behave badly and Georgie was no different but the reason so many of us can’t bring ourselves to say a bad word about the man is because he gave us so much in his playing days. In fact, I still feel like I owe Bestie something personally for all the awesome entertainment and artistry he gave me. For the inspiration to try to be creative, different and even to be f**ked up.
I just feel grateful to have seen him and to have been in the world at the same time as him.
And I think in our heart of hearts most of suspect that had we been him, with all that genius and the world literally at our feet, we too might have gone off the rails too. I’m not casting the first stone and I don’t think it’s anyone else place to either. After all, no one get’s out alive.
A poet, a rebel spirit, a revolutionary and a footballing aesthete the like of which shall never grace our lives again. Thank you Georgie Best; Superstar from all of us mere mortals.