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.

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