Hard to believe that this time tomorrow, George Best probably won't be with us anymore. Try as I might, and despite the cavalier way he’s dealt with his problems, I just can't bring myself to dislike the man. He was probably the first individual personality I was ever aware of back in the mid 60s and as any kind of fan knows, it's difficult to demonise your heroes.
Thinking back, I was probably aware of the name before I knew what he did. I remember being given a table football game when I was about 6 in '67 and my uncles joking about which of the players was Georgie Best (it was always Georgie, never plain old George). He's probably the reason why there are so many Man Utd fans speckled about the planet - kids like me felt allegiance to George rather than the team, and his team was ours. Were we gutted when he tripped off to Marbella for the summer and his United career stuttered to a halt? You bet! It was like the end of world! Was I ever envious of Tommy Barratt who had a pair of Stylo Matchmakers and seemingly could drop corners on the centre forward's head with consummate ease? Of course! Along with many of my friends down in Kent, we never saw him play in the flesh but we shared every moment: breaking Tony Book's leg in the derby game; throwing mud at the referee and getting sent off; the six against Northampton in the cup; stealing the ball off Banksy in the home internationals as he took a drop kick and having the goal disallowed for dangerous play. I was too young to remember the Benfica games but I've seen the tapes of El Beatle. There has never been a more mesmerising genius with the ball and we'll never see his like again. Individuality has long been bred out of the English game and any flickering talent is quickly snuffed out and more prima donna foreigners are brought in to further stultify our domestic game.
George was never selfish, he did it because he knew he could but he did it mainly for the team. He knew he was capable of moments of spellbinding genius (legend has it that he once bet Alex Stepney that he could take the ball the length of the pitch without grounding it and score. He did.) that could instantly turn a game and that most of his team mates were effectively superfluous but he still knew his place in the team and played as a team man. Wayne Rooney is like a fat and talentless donkey in Redwings compared to George.
The greatest sadness is not the passing of a sublime talent - it's over 25 years since he last kicked a ball competitively - but the fact that he never got the chance to prove he really could beat his addiction and prove the doubters wrong. It’s the one thing his legions of fans around the world feel cheated of because, despite the evidence against it, we always felt he could do it. I’ll treasure that moment I bumped into him crossing Dover Street back in the late 80s and managed, despite being awed, to say “Hello George” and shake his hand. 5 seconds to satisfy a lifelong wish? 5 seconds that will last a lifetime.