The Man Who Defied Gravity

Sorry to prolong the story, but Hugh McIlvanney’s piece in today’s Sunday Times neatly sums up the issues that make some dab an eye at George’s death, others to be critical and the rest who couldn’t care less:

“He stirred such awed trepidation, sometimes such naked terror, in opponents that his forays created the kind of defensive confusion in which fellow attackers could thrive, and since in his peak years at Old Trafford they included men as outstanding as Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, United scorelines were usually impressive….

“So was Best the greatest attacking player football has known? As an individual marauder, a natural-born destroyer of defences, he is indisputably a leading contender.

But the ultimate accolade should probably go to a man whose ability to have massive, match-changing personal influence was reinforced by an awareness of every nuance and imperative of team play.

“For me, the supreme example of such a figure is Pele and the claims of Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Alfredo di Stefano would also, obviously, have to be considered.

“Where such giants are concerned, who needs to contrive a league table? We should be grateful the game was enriched by all of them. My gratitude is deepened by a four-decade store of memories of enjoying, in an extraordinary diversity of settings, George Best’s warm and generous nature, the high intelligence and understated humour and endearing insistence on remaining fundamentally unspoilt through the turmoil of pop-star celebrity that was doomed to slide into alcoholic dishevelment.

“Not only beautiful women found him lovable. But once even the incentive of a liver transplant had failed to shore up his resistance to his addiction, we knew that, far sooner than it should, George’s final scene was going to be enacted in an intensive care unit. It lasted longer than medical realities indicated it would. That Belfast boy never did like to let go of the ball.”

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

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