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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Best

They called you the Belfast boy

The year was 1971, and the world seemed innocent. A fine, new furniture, called television, had just been bought into the house, and on that screen a football match flickered in black and white. One of the teams were Stoke, the other was Manchester United. One player stood out from the rest. Long, black hair, the shirt outside the shorts, but first and foremost it was his football that mesmerized me. George Best they called him. Since that day, life would never be the same.

Because what George Best did that afternoon was to show which way. He pointed out which path I should take in my life. The path Best showed was Manchester United, and ever since it has been so. That Manchester United is the most important thing in my life, after my family. Oh so many times the thought has crossed my mind. What if I had not seen Bestie on TV that day? What if Matt Busby had not managed to persuade 15-year-old George to return to Manchester, when the shy boy fled home to Belfast after one night in the big city Manchester? What if Bob Bishop had not seen that match between local lads in Belfast, when he sent the now famous telegram “Mr Busby, I think I have found you a genius”? Genius – a word the experienced scout used once in the 60 years he worked as a scout for United. If that had been the case, then I would probably not had been a United-supporter. Heaven knows I would have been spared for so many broken dreams and heartbreaks. But I would also have missed the ball, and who wants that?

I am proud and glad that I saw George Best play football. Not for United I am afraid, but for Fulham. They say he was over the top then. That this was absolutely nothing compared to what he did at the Cliff, Old Trafford and when he played away for United. If that is the case…, I barely dare to think how good this player even Pele called the worlds best, actually was. Fulham – Hereford 4-1, September 25th 1976, is to this day the most enjoyable and amusing football match I have ever seen. Together with 18.934 other spectators at Craven Cottage, I saw Bestie produce such a party of a football match, that everybody – whether they supported Fulham, Hereford, or simply just were fond of football, walked out after the match, with smiles upon their faces. There was such joy, such cheerful mood, and goals and football without restrictions and demands that I know will never return.

I never saw George Best play again live after that, but the memories from that afternoon, together with my dad, are memories I will treasure for the rest of my life. And I shall tell the tales so well that I possibly can to children, and hopefully grandchildren.

Since that match, I was lucky and privileged enough to see and talk to George Best three times, of two was just briefly. But on one occasion I had the great pleasure in sit and talk more than an hour with the legend and genius. The man who thought that the people who pay money at the gates should be entertained, and therefore saw it as a duty to entertain. What I met was an extraordinary nice person. Shy, warm, down to earth, and generous, but so often presented completely different by the press. “How was he then?” a question I must have heard hundred of times from people who got a total different impression of George Best from media to how I tried to describe him. George was the type who liked to sit by the table in the corner, but still liked good company. Enjoyed the company with people he felt there was a spirit of community, and where the respect was mutual. If you were the king of old Siam or the street sweeper did not matter to George. Socially very intelligent, but at the same time a person who did not like the attention just for the sake of attention. George was a superstar with capital S, but at the same time he was…one of us!

There are a few years since I did that interview with George Best. But I will forever remember the last words he said before he left. The interview was over by then. We just sat there and chatted.
- Do you know what I hate the most, he said, and paused as if to underline the next words?
- Those who say “think what you could have been?”
Best, with his black leather jacket, stared down in the table. Like he had something to be ashamed of. He continued.
- I played for the greatest team in the world for 11 seasons. Got 470 matches, won the league twice, won the European Cup, and was voted the best player in Europe. And yet, some people say “think what you could have been?”
George looked at me with his shining, blue eyes and expected an answer.
- For me, and tens of thousands of others, you made the everyday life a party, I answered back.

If there is somebody up there, they have another star player now. We know that Matt Busby is the manager, and that he already has Shay Brennan and the eight players who left their lives in the snow on the runway in Munich. They say that those God loves the most are collected home early.
George was only 59.

Lars, Norway.