Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Don’t all football fans miss the “good old days”? The days before money ruined everything, before diving disgraced the game, before overpaid stars’ haircuts cost more than your daily wage?
Central to this was the lifestyle. Booze and cigarettes, and that was all before half-time. The days when George Best would score a 40 yard screamer then head down to the pub afterwards to drink with the lads. The man himself famously said: ‘In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol’. ‘It was the worst 20 minutes of my life.’ Just how bad was sport’s relationship with alcohol?
Taking George Best (pictured above) as an example, it’s quite clear that his story is one that ultimately ended in tragedy. An epic tragedy, but a tragedy nevertheless. An incredible footballer, blessed with skill and an eye for goal that stunned even those at the very top. Not just that, but the first true celebrity personality English football had ever seen. Dubbed the fifth Beatle, Best was trailblazing through an era notable also for the likes of Muhammad Ali and the aforementioned Beatles. He paved the way for figures such as Brian Clough, David Beckham and José Mourinho. Best had his own fashion line, owned restaurants and had appeared on Top of the Pops just as colour televisions were becoming popular. He was larger than life, becoming notable for his wit, style and ultimately, his drinking.
This was an era alien to nutritionists, sport scientists and footballers shamed for nights out. George Best was the ultimate football “lad”. One of football’s most beloved, he suffered severe liver damage at the age of 54. His liver was said to be functioning at just 20%. A liver transplant on the NHS caused controversy due to his alcoholism. The question was asked how much help should the state provide? When he passed away in 2005 due to a lung infection, he requested a story be printed nationwide. Sure enough, on a double spread in the News of The World, Best was pictured in hospital, his skin an awful yellow. Printed below were the bold words Best sent to the public: ‘
Don’t die like me.
If we are listening to our heroes then, we should heed his warnings – warnings coming from experience too – about drink. It brings up a question always lingering over past heroes in any sport – what if they could have had modern training methods, modern techniques, better lifestyles? The greatest in an era of drink and poor diets would surely be untouchable. However, then perhaps it was these qualities that made them so great. The cavalier attitude, the outspoken nature and genuine personas. A world away from the sterilised world of sport now, of football players so dull and media-trained that their press interviews are less entertaining than paint drying. They say George Best was part of the ’27 club’, the stars who peaked at this age. Unlike the other members of this club though, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Best didn’t die at 27. He retired and then lived through his mistakes. This immortal quality we give to our stars works if they died after their choices. Yet Best actively preached, in his dying moments, warnings and dangers.
Perhaps we should not live out the lives of our heroes exactly. Do as they say, not as they do.