Best of times and the worst

Before we completely end our “coverage” of George Best on Slugger, just a few concluding thoughts. My favourite Best story was told to me second hand by my old mate Bernard on Saturday night. It is from the Swiss German woman who opened the whole food shop in Holywood back in the mid eighties. If I get some details wrong, it’s due to the lateness of the hour and the fact it was told to me some time after my third pint in Neds.

One day, not long after opening the shop, it came to lunchtime and it being a pleasant summer’s day she decided to close the shop to have her lunch and read her book down by the shore at Seapark. When she got there, there was no about except a couple and their young boy playing on the beach.

After a while they got talking, and the man asked her what she did. She told them about the shop at some length, and then with a pause in the conversation, she asked him what he did. He said “I don’t really do anything now, but I used to be a footballer”. She asked him his name. “George Best”, he said. “Oh”, she replied, “I don’t think I’ve heard of you”. Best smiled warmly saying, “You don’t know long it is since I last met someone who didn’t know me”.

They said their goodbyes and the couple promised to look up the shop before leaving town. And sure enough, the three of them came in. Before they left, Best bought her complete stock of imported wooden toys, leaving her with twice her weekly takings in one transaction.

Several commentators remarked of the ceremony on Saturday that all the bad times of Best’s life were now forgotten. But I don’t think that’s true. The Greek origin of the word hero is “a man of superhuman qualities, favoured by the gods; a demigod”. It is also given as “the chief male character in a play” and “the idealisation of an admired man”.

So much of what Best meant to the thousands of people who grieved him on Saturday, but who never knew him, was myth and story tale. The Greeks used their myths as cautionary, and morality tales. Only in the fairy stories we tell our youngsters must the hero win through in the end.

As Nicky Campbell eloquently pointed out in the Guardian in the middle of last week, we do not need our mythical heroes to be perfectly ethical role models. Indeed we learn as much through the pain of their mistakes, as much as we are inspired by their great feats.

As Pastor Roy Gordon clearly understood, the George Best story was indeed “the best of times, and the worst of times”. In the end he touched people all over the world with his genius, and the suffering of his long departure from the pitch.

  • Donnie

    The whole funeral was entirely disproportionate to who he was or what he did.

    Will Stormont be opened for another “state funeral” when the Rev.Dr. finally/thankfully (delete as appropriate) pops his clogs?

  • Baldrick

    Made a similar point a few days ago…

    At least Papa Doc is a “Statesman” (yeah – a I know that’s potentially another whole debate in it’s own right), and so there would be some tenuous linkage to a funeral from PB.

    Thankfully however he’s likely to want the full “Martyr’s Memorial” treatment (Non-Free P’s need not attend) so it’s unlikely to be an issue for Joe Public Taxpayer on this ocassion.

  • Concerned Loyalist

    Donnie,
    You’re missing the whole “thing” about Georgie. He transcended religious and political boundaries. His footballing talent, matched with his humble, working-class demeanour and abundant charm made it impossible for anyone to dislike him, be they Protestant or Roman Catholic, Loyalist or Republican…he brought the people of Ulster and further field together, in a common admiration for his talent and humility…

  • I walked up Cregagh Road on Saturday morning at 9.00 am on the way to the funeral. It was a horrible wet morning and there were’nt that many about at all. Simply a few people braving the pouring rain. As i reached the shops close to Burren Way the crowds had began to assemble. Two things struck me most and will remain with me for a long time. Firstly, this was a (GENUINELY) working class occasion. It was, for the most part, (and definitely on Cregagh Road) an assembling of thousands of ordinary working class people paying respects to an extraordinary sportsman. An individual who rose above his supposed station to achieve glory, fame and the admiration of millions around the world. There was incredible dignity on the Cregagh Road on Saturday. The applause was both dignified and respectful and there was none of the “grief-culture” rubbish which had been alluded to by some ill-informed hacks in the days preceding the funeral. People knew George’s faults but they also knew that we all have faults. They knew what others cannot admit. Secondly, I was struck by the respect in which the entire Best family was held by local people. I spoke to a number of people who knew the family (particularly) his Dad Dickie and they had nothing but glowing praise for the way in which they had conducted themselves. There are many people and genuine friends who will be looking out for Dickie in the difficult times ahead. In the end, it was the ordinary working class people who braved the downpours to bid farewell to George in their tens of thousands. It is said that you never know what you have lost until it is gone. As it said on the Cregagh on Saturday morning :

    Maradona – Not Bad
    Pele – Better
    George – Best!

    Keep her lit George…

  • Mick Fealty

    Donnie, that was a one off. As another Northern genius Flan O’Brien might have said, “we’ll never see its like again”.