Thursday, November 24, 2005

George Best - God Speed

When I was a very young, which seems as if it were the last century (which in fact it was), I had several hero's. Sir John Barbarroli, a great conductor of the Halle Orchestra and a man who bet on the horses, John Braine the novelist and an old boy of the school I went to, Freddy Truman cricketer, Mozart, Beethoven and Bach and Cardinal Heenan who I met several times and who presided at my confirmation in St Anne's Catholic Church, Bradford. I also enjoyed Mick Jagger's music and the music of Freddy and the Dreamers..

But when it came to soccer I was generally uninterested. Bradford had two league soccer teams - Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue. "The Avenue" failed and we were left with one. Neither were up to much. Leeds had a great team - defense players had a motto "get your defensive tackles in first!" and had a reputation for aggression, imagination and grit determination.

Where the excitement was in soccer was Manchester, more specifically Manchester United - a truly great team. One of the greatest players for that team and one of the greatest players of all time was George Best. He was a dashing, handsome young man. Fluid on the field - fast, imaginative and a strong team player. If Wayne Gretzky is the doyen of hockey, then Best is the saint of soccer.

His heyday was 1968 when he took Manchester United to win the European Cup - the first British club ever to do so - and in that year he was named European Footballer of the Year. His skills exceed those of Beckham or Maradonna.

He is dying and may not live out this day, November 24th. He has been an alcoholic most of his life and, despite the sterling efforts of many (including his doctors and his ex wife), he simply cannot resist a drink. He has had transplants, implants, chemical treatments, marriage to a stunningly beautiful woman who made sobriety a condition of their marriage - he has tried everything, but his addiction won out every time. He is 59.

This poem, written some time ago, speaks to the situation Best is in. I dedicate this to him and thank him for the hours of real pleasure he brought to millions. God speed.

Blistering heat dried his eyes as he wept tears of sand.
Anger drove him onwards, through the desert of his fear

What bliss, he thought, the days of music and laughter
The smile of tranquility over the soft serenade of talk
The gentle caress of knowing more than one needed to know.
Not then the evil of regret, the danger of fright
Not then the doubt of certainty and the knowledge of death

Yet now, as the clock ticked its final moments, meaning evaded
and truth prevailed. Truth was the enemy and meaning the excuse.
Truth the byword not the password. Truth the reality, not the
oppportunity for apportioning blame.

The end would come shortly, no matter how many tears of sand
Were shed on the dessert of illness and dread. For death knows
No reason, only time.

Time was called and it is his turn to answer. No call forward for
This last call. No call waiting. No final message alert. No time left.

[George Best died on 25th November 2005 with his family nearby - Rest in Peace]

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