What do Ringo Starr, Marc Bolan and Muhammad Ali have in common?
No, this isn’t heading for a ‘Dad’ joke but the experiences these three legendary characters had with Manchester United’s brightest ever star (see recent accolades for Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs for questions marks over this). Many people say The Beatles were just a pop band – and sure they are, with a massively over-lauded reputation to boot – but seen in context the progression they allowed was astonishing. The progress of George Best from footballer to celebrity superstar, while perhaps less admirable in his approach and the ramifications for future generations, was nonetheless comparable.
This re-released book offers an excellent insight into the period. John Roberts, a reporter for the Express, was tasked with ghosting a weekly column for the errant Best, giving unprecedented and unimaginable access by today’s new standard (anyone who has read cricketer Alistair Cook’s intermittent columns for freesheet Metro will see the dull platitudes trotted out can only belong to a process of rushed phone interview padded out).
The original limited edition book, George Best: Fall of a Superstar, was published by Derek Hodgson in 1973 and sold in the United club shop. As it was published, Best had returned from exile in Marbella and reiterated his desire to continue his career at the club, prompting many critics to ironically suggest the original book was ‘out of touch’ in painting its portrait of a fallen star.
But seen now with the retrospect of the tragic future that lay before the fleet-footed winger gives the book a new perspective. The insights into Best’s home life, those he trusted and his ever upbeat mannerisms are invaluable. As a portrait of the legendary footballer between 1971 and 1973 (the book has been released to mark the 50th anniversary of Best’s arrival at United) there are perhaps gaps. Life is, as we often hear, a series of moments and Sod this… often feels just that, a little disjointed and without propulsion. But on a simple level there’s plenty to enjoy, be it Best celebrating his 26th birthday with a big cake and a bunch of hacks or stark images of him necking a bottle of spirits a day, those with even a passing interest should take a look.
Throughout the book, Roberts recalls incidents first hand and offers exclusive insight into Best’s movements during the short period, with what appears to be unrivalled reportage largely because the group of journalists who followed Best to Spain were too merry on sangria to remember to file much copy.
Undoubtedly Best let a lot of people down, not least the Northern Irish who so desired a footballing figurehead, making them run about after him in the process. But the incisive viewpoint of the man who admits he was often mistaken for “(a) [Best’s] undersized cut price bodyguard (b) his agent (c) relative of friend” gives a different, occasionally mellow image of the often mysterious man.
Tags: Book Review, George Best, John Roberts, Manchester United, Sod this I'm off to Marbella