My earliest memories of football (outside of kicking a ball around with 20 or so other kids at the local park) are watching ‘Star Soccer’, along with the BBCs Match of the Day my weekly insight to the world of professional football.
Broadcast via ATV and concentrating on the highlights from that weeks Midlands located teams, home and away, it was my introduction to the pinnacle of the sport referred to as ‘the beautiful game’. I can’t recall any specific matches, or flashes of brilliance but what I do remember is seriously muddy pitches, soaked to the skin players, eeking out results from stuck in the mud balls hoofed forwards, semi assault tackles from hard man defenders and goals earned via scrambled efforts. Digging deep – workmanlike shifts, cynicical attitudes to do or die winning at any cost appeared to be the order of the day, pitch based flashes of brilliance and the sparkle of magic the modern game believes it thrives on were all too rare – the idea of attaching the word beautiful to the English game seemed like a nonsense. Except for the contribution of George Best.
Best emerged onto the English football scene in a Manchester United shirt at the tail end of the 1960’s. A naturally talented, Belfast born teenager playing alongside recent World Cup winners who would quickly reveal and bring an accelerated edge to the game, expanding the boundaries of a team sport, creating the template for the idea that individual moments of brilliance and sheer audacity and self belief could turn games that so much of current era football is all about.
Capturing the spirit of the times and extolling the virtues of youthful optimism Best seemed truly to have the world at his feet. On the pitch a quick witted audacity carried him ever upwards into the hearts and minds of a wider public consciousness. Off the pitch it’s difficult to say how much the glitz, glamour and clamour of universal intrusion weighed on this young mans shoulders. As the footballing seasons and accolades rolled on and in, the spotlight burning brighter the beautiful simplicity and creativity of his footballing exploits were pitted against darker, internal pressures, the results of which would years later garner as much attention (and for a period overshadow) his footballing brilliance.
Recently issued via the Suave Collective imprint Pete McKennas ‘Maradona Good, Pele Better, George Best’ is an affectionate, realists tribute to the story of Best. Affectionate in the sense that having been drawn to Old Trafford as a youngster by rumours and tales of wonderment McKennas memories of those early halcyon performances clearly burned brightly for him, realist in the way that Bests battle with alcoholism echo with loved ones for him closer to home. Part historic overview (there’s a fine section on Man U players who have donned the number 7 Shirt for the club), part personal recollections and part road trip (well sea trip) as McKenna recalls the balmy few days surrounding his decision to travel to Belfast to pay his respects and soak up the feeling of loss at Bests funeral in that city.
It’s this trip that Mckenna’s book built around. An escape of sorts from the pressures and confusions of his situation closer to home, a sudden urge to take some time and search to celebrate something he holds dear, to park to one side, for a moment, the weight of sadness to celebrate a memory of the goodness.
The journey hooks McKenna up with a fellow traveller, outwardly from a different world, but with whom, he shares not only a destination but a past. A past that celebrates, a search for goodness. The reveal of something magical wether it surfaces via a passage of play on a muddy football field or the momentary lift from the mundane supplied by the spinning of a previously ignored 45 rpm record in an ignored northern town. It’s these brilliant moments of light that flicker and shine, however briefly in the scheme of things, that this book seeks to remind us of and that our desire to seek perfection shouldn’t keep us from celebrating the moments which approach it.
‘Maradonna good, Pele better, George Best’ is well worthy of your hard earned and available from the suave collective click here to buy