LONDON — When George Best was having problems with his first wife, Angie, I shared a flight back to England with him from Miami — he was playing for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer League at the time.
Best was keen to win her back and had written a poem for her, which he showed to me.
“What do you think?” he asked.
A poem’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder but it showed a side of Best I had not seen before.
Apart from being the finest footballer I have ever seen, Best was also one of the good guys in a sport that breeds too many bad men. He was unreliable, frustrating and with a self-destruct button on a hair-trigger, but still what we in England would call a nice chap.
Now, Best too often cuts a pathetic figure and I live in almost daily fear of hearing the news I dread.
Best is an alcoholic, a disease misunderstood by many which inevitably leads to ignorance of someone suffering from alcohol dependence. Alcohol can be a good friend and your worst enemy — a few drinks can add to the enjoyment of a social occasion, but too many too often can lead to psychological torment.
In the end, the only cure is an individual’s will power and it is too easy for those without a dependence on alcohol to simply say “just give it up.” If only . . .
The reality presents a far more complex picture and I remember asking a friend who is a recovering alcoholic when he first sought help.
“When the pain became unbearable,” was his chilling and unforgettable reply.
Best, whose mother died from alcoholism, is a million miles from the most aptly named footballer these islands has ever produced, in the news for the wrong reasons and, while he constantly proclaims his innocence, you can only be in the wrong place doing the wrong thing at the wrong time so often.
He is rapidly losing the sympathy vote of a public that used to marvel at his incredible skill but these days only reads about yet another domestic incident, a drunken night in a bar or a public row with a woman.
He is living a Groundhog Day Nightmare.
Yet his arrest earlier this week over allegations that he molested a girl under 13 at her home added a new, darker dimension to Best’s troubles.
What next, you wonder, for the man who was a magician on the football pitch and the first superstar of the sport?
Best denies the latest claim that came in the wake of his arrest the previous week for assaulting Vicky Pope as she allegedly tried to stop him from seeing his former girlfriend Gina DeVivo.
Days earlier Best, 59, had been beaten up by his latest girlfriend Rita Hollidge who apparently battered him with a vase, leaving him with two black eyes, facial cuts and requiring hospital treatment.
Ms. Hollidge was given an official police caution over the attack, prompting many to wonder what would have happened had the roles been reversed.
The timetable of trouble started over 20 years ago.
In 1984, Best, who first retired at the ripe young age of 26, spent 12 weeks in prison for drunk driving and assault.
Having failed to appear in court for the former charge, a van-load of policemen were sent to his flat to arrest him. Not for the first time, Best was the worse for wear and as he sat in the van handcuffed and looking considerably less than a million dollars, word has it one policemen started to goad the former Northern Ireland international.
“Look at you . . . the great George Best . . . a nobody . . . pathetic,” was the general theme of the police officer’s conversation. Eventually Best snapped and headbutted the policeman and while such violence can never be condoned, the accused had a right not to expect such intimidation.
Alcohol has been the trigger for nearly all of Best’s problems.
In 2002, he underwent a liver transplant after medical confirmation that his liver was functioning at only 20 percent.
Having previously been told that unless he stopped drinking he would die, in Best’s mind the new liver gave him a license to continue with his addiction.
In February 2004, he was banned for 20 months and fined £1,500 for drunk driving.
A couple of years ago Best woke up in a hotel room having been robbed by two prostitutes, unaware they were hookers.
“I thought they were nice enough girls,” he said. It’s funny but it isn’t.
These days no one is surprised by headlines like “Best in boozy brawl.”
He needs help but refuses to help himself and the most distressing aspect of all is that Best either does not want to or is incapable of being dry, almost accepting his fate and life sentence to a habit he simply cannot kick.
Incredibly, when he goes into a pub or wine bar people are still willing to buy him a drink.
You can imagine the scenario — “you’ll never guess who I bought a drink for today?” Best’s benefactor will later proudly ask his friends, unaware or uncaring of the danger caused by such perceived generosity. Buying Best a drink is to feed his illness.
Our idols should remain on a pedestal. In the ideal world, Best would have slid into anonymity after he retired from football, with our images of him only positive, but he is on a downward spiral, losing his credibility and the respect of those who worshipped him.
I shudder to think where and when it will all end for the footballer and poet formerly known as George Best.
IT WILL PUZZLE many why Chelsea decided not appeal against the punishment for its role in the Ashley Cole tapping-up scandal, yet their manager Jose Mourinho did.
The club has accepted the Premier League’s fine of £300,000 and a suspended three-point deduction, yet Mourinho is to appeal against his £200,000 fine with the full backing of the club.
Club and manager were, in effect, both guilty of the same offense, which was to make an illegal approach for the Arsenal left-back.
So how can one party accept the fine and the other appeal?
Because Chelsea believes it is wrong that Mourinho should have been charged and subsequently found guilty. Chelsea’s view is that Mourinho’s fine should have come under an all-embracing club punishment.
We shall see whether the appeals body agrees, but there is also the suspicion that in his mind Mourinho has never been guilty of anything since his arrival in English football a year ago and in all probability never will be.
To him, he has been innocent of every guilty charge against him — what he said or did was either misunderstood, someone else’s fault or he disagreed with the rules, which is hardly the strongest line of defense.
Accepting the Premier League’s punishment without a fight would go against his continued state of perceived innocence.
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