The world goes to sleep a lesser place tonight.
This afternoon, in a quiet London hospital room surrounded by friends and family, the shining light that was George Best finally burnt out - his body finally giving up its brave battle to stay alive.
There was never a name more apt for a person, because, George – “The Belfast Boy” – was, quite simply THE BEST footballer the world has ever seen.
An artist - with the football as his paintbrush and the football pitch as his canvas – George Best dazzled the world with his breath-taking skills: mazy dribbles with both feet, powerful shots, deft touches, superb balance, tenacious tackling, a lion’s heart, he had it all – there really are no superlatives too great for this footballing genius - superlatives that get thrown about too easily in this modern-day era of the football superstar with big wallets and even bigger egos - most of whom wouldn’t even have been fit to lick George’s boots.
On top of all that he was unbelievably cool and handsome.
From having no football icon, no style guru, no pop star to worship, the people of Northern Ireland suddenly had all three overnight. He was - and still is - a God, revered by his people.
I’m not going to say a lot on the matter, I’ll leave that to others more capable than I am but I want to use this blog to share some of my thoughts with you.
I remember as a teenager reading George Best’s autobiography “The Good, the Bad and the Bubbly” where one of the opening lines read: “I am the greatest player that ever lived.” I remember reading it at the time and after that thinking that was a bit big-headed until you read the next sentence – “That’s what Pele said and who am I to argue with him?”
Now as you all know I’m a Liverpool supporter. But some of you may not know the reason why I’m a Liverpool supporter and how Manchester United’s George Best played a big part in it. You see - when my da was growing up and kicking football, all the kids WERE George Best. There were no other footballers on the planet. And therefore everybody supported Manchester United.
My da and his mate decided to buck the trend and started to support Liverpool, to wind the rest of their mates up - a legacy borne onto me as well (including the winding up of Manchester United supporting mates).
When I recently told a football-knowledgeable mate of mine, and a life long supporter of Manchester United (do those two things go together?) he had a good old chuckle to himself and said “See?! It’s always about Manchester United!!”
Well in this case it was ALL about George Best but it wasn’t that my da didn’t like him – far from it. We may have been Liverpool supporters but there was never, ever a bad word said about George Best. He had his faults. Lord knows he had his faults, but the people of Northern Ireland loved him like one of their own. And let’s face it – he was one of us.
George Best, the boy from the Protestant working-class housing estate in the Cregagh area of Belfast had given the people back home more than just a footballing icon that they would be forever proud of, long after his death.
At the height of his game, he also gave the people of Northern Ireland hope at a time when his beloved homeland was staring into the abyss with the madness of the Troubles just about to start.
Nobody could have foreseen the tragedy of the following 35 years.
As Northern Ireland became a battleground where the price of a life became less and less with each murder, George Best was fighting his own war - a war against himself and his inner demons. Disillusioned and deserting the beautiful game at the criminally young age of 26, he was already battling against alcoholism.
Over the next three decades his life went on an amazing roller coaster ride - a ride which has been well documented by the world’s press as he made front page news for all the wrong reasons.
But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m not even here to talk about the football (and that’s saying something). I am quite simply here to say that I’ll miss the guy. It’s a weird thing mourning the loss of somebody I didn’t know personally but that’s the way it’s been with George. We all lived his life. The highs and the lows.
I discovered this piece of text this afternoon which I think sums up the football perfectly. Former Observer sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney described him thus:
'With feet as sensitive as pickpocket's hands, his control of the ball under the most violent pressure was hypnotic. The bewildering repertoire of feints and swerves, sudden stops and demoralising turns, exploited a freakish elasticity of limb and torso, tremendous physical strength and resilience for so slight a figure, and balance that would have made Isaac Newton decide he might as well have eaten the apple.'
He was only ever truly happy when he was on the football field which is rather fitting considering the joy he gave to millions of people world-wide.
Let’s hope that as I type this blog, God is getting ready for a kick-a-bout, because it’s about time the Big Man Upstairs got a chance to see first hand the talent that he bestowed on that shy, little boy from Belfast.