SI Vault
Mark Kram
March 27, 1972
Bubbly, birds and the game of soccer do go together—as long as the Best is George
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March 27, 1972

All The Best

Bubbly, birds and the game of soccer do go together—as long as the Best is George

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Not even in the tweedy isolation of Blossoms Lane up in Manchester, where Best owns a house and often broods these days, can he shut out the hysteria, evade the reach of those who want to be near him. "It was once quiet in Blossoms Lane," says a woman on a nearby farm. "Now the place has become a Sunday drive-out, a main stop for tour coaches, and cars are passing up and down all hours with people just gaping out and teen-agers stomping all over my lovely garden hoping for a glimpse of him." One of the men who worked on the house says, "It was a public monument before the roof went up. On Sundays you could not park for the sightseers and girls who came out to watch the work. Why, when we advertised for general laborers the replies were five times the normal. Forty instead of the expected eight! Best was always Georgie to the workmen. I can see him now, sitting on a wall during tea breaks having a cup from a laborer's brew can."

Quiet and running colors, the late October day up on Blossoms Lane seemed far removed from the shadow of the Irish war, but there it was, like shrapnel in your cornflakes. Police rimmed the Best house, not because another girl had recently thumbed her way to his house to present her dreamings at his front door but because his life had been threatened a week before, and now a woman had reported that two men had rung her bell, asking for Best's address. One of them, she said, had a gun.

As he opened the door, having peeked through the window and waved to the police, the lunacy of Ulster was etched deeply on the face of George Best, and rightly so: when it comes to Ulster, birth and blood are not gainsaid by altering one's geography. "The Protestants are getting more Protestant," says Best, "and the Catholics more Catholic. Even the wildest rumors are believed over there. They're saying I gave Ian Paisley �3,000 to help finance one of his churches. Imagine anything more ridiculous. But that's the kind of thing that can get you shot. It's so horrible, and there seems no way out." He guides his visitors through the great windowed house, which cost him �40,000 and is replete with the gadgetry and comfort and—to some—the ostentation of sudden success: a mammoth color television and stereo that disappears by remote control, a large wine rack, a sunken tub that looks like an empty lake, a game room from which he once threw a pool cue through the window in a moment of lonely rage.

Now, walking from window to window, he pauses to comment, "If a sniper wanted to do a job on you he couldn't pick a better place." He adds that it was not really injury, as had been claimed, that prevented him from playing for Ireland. He says he has been told that if he goes there he will never make it back to England. He appears agitated; the deep-set blue eyes with the half-inch lashes that are forever being mentioned on women's pages are empty, the face, with its pall of a beard, grows darker in the dying light. It is not existence on the precipice of danger that bothers him so much but danger's intrusiveness, its coming at a time when he was performing as no other British player before him, all with a zest and joy that critics once contended had been doused by his fame.

"You know," he says, "I still find a special thrill in playing with goalposts with nets. When we are training at Old Trafford and there are no nets I feel like going in a huff and refusing to practice. I still get a special charge when the ball makes that whirring noise as it hits the nets." The phone has beeped constantly. Most of the time he has left it to his answering service, but he can scarcely bear to do this, for the phone offers escape from his isolation, though it means, more often than not, idle and constipated exchange with a girl friend; he is not glib, on the phone or off it. Then it is his mother who calls, and his response to her is cool and tinged slightly with bravado, as if he hopes his manner will allay her fears, quiet her roiled emotions, the anxieties about him that have impaired her health since the day he left home for Manchester when he was 15. He puts down the phone, sighs and shakes his head.

"My sister," he says. "She got shot in the leg coming out of a dance. Not badly, but bad enough. And she got shot because she is my sister."

Night falls, and Best directs the conversation toward less sinister matters: a note from Harold Wilson commending him on a spectacular goal, a letter from a close girl friend who pleads with him to turn and chase whatever it is that he is running from—and would he refrain from kicking down her door at all hours of the morning because the next time he does, her neighbor says she will have her police dog attach one of his lovely legs. "I used to joke that my ambition was to be a millionaire," he says, veering from his personal straits to his fiscal condition. "Now it's not so much a joke. I'll be disappointed if I'm not near it by the time I'm 30. Then I'm going to breeze. I've had Manchester. It's like Peyton Place. Everybody knows what everybody else is doing. I don't know if I could ever live anywhere in this country after I've finished. I thought Switzerland was great, but when I went there I found it was too perfect, too beautiful, just too much."

Though a common condition in youth, the restiveness, the urge to be somewhere other than where one is, seems almost chronic in Best. His sudden flights are seldom signaled. He will be in his villa in Majorca, and he will fly back to London to get a haircut. He will be up in Manchester, and will suddenly make a three-hour drive to London for dinner. His father recalls answering a knock late one night at the house in Belfast. "There he was, Georgie," he says, "standing on the doorstep wearing one of those Honolulu shirts and old suede shoes, no shave, and he's askin' for two quid for the taxi. Then he runs upstairs, picks up the twin girls and his little brother out of bed and brings them down and plays with them for a couple of hours. The next mornin', dawn hardly up, he catches the plane back to Manchester."

Best walks his guests to the door, and he appears reluctant to say goodby. "To tell you the truth, I'd like to go into town and have a drink with you, but the police won't let me out of the place. I'm glad I've had someone to talk to. I think I'll get a bird over here. You know, some bloke in London would rip me for saying that. Like they always do, he'd write I was not serious about my work. Well, I know I would be a far better player if I became obsessed with the game as some fellows are. It just so happens that the way I'm made—and, let's face it, the way I look has a lot to do with it—takes me into many other things in life. I get on very well with birds, and I'm not one to fight against that. I like to enjoy myself, to get pleasure out of the money I'm making."

He smiles and then says, "If I had been born ugly you'd never have heard of Pel�. As it is, it just wouldn't be possible, you see, for me to live like a monk to suit the demands of the game. I'd go mad. I know I burn the candle at both ends and drink too much, but I love the game and work hard at it. I don't kid myself that I give it absolutely everything I could. When you ask me if I consider myself the best player in the world the answer is no. But I'm sure I could be. When I'm right at my sharpest I feel I can do anything with the ball whatever the opposition. All I'm saying is that I could never narrow my life down to the point where the only thing that mattered was the game. No one knows how it feels to be me. I...."

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