Best: All by myself – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by Daniel Gordon
George Best, if he had lived, would be now seventy years old. His fame spread far beyond football at which initially he was a genius. He became front page news not only for his football prowess but for the cool way he dressed as he looked like a fifth Beatle. He became a celebrity at a time when football players were not super stars. However his celebrity was to last but for all the wrong reasons.
Gordon starts this documentary with a woman’s voice speaking while driving a car at night through a downpour as she recalls a similar night years before when she was driving her baby to a hospital. She sees, walking in the middle of the road, a drenched man reeling from drink as he walks. She has pity for him but then she realises it is her husband, George Best, the father of the baby in the car.
The cautionary opening Gordon immediately follows with a wonderful short clip of Best as a toddler with a ball nearly as big as himself with which he is playing. He is concentrated on the ball and the ball never gets far away from his foot as he controls it. He had a natural instinct to control the ball. That was to be his life for the next twenty five years or so. The interviews with his contemporaries and far from glamorous stadia in which he played demonstrate how far football has altered in the intervening years. Best explains his youthful obsession with football. As a kid it was the centre of his universe. He had an immense amount of natural talent which he refined into football magnetism by the discipline with which he honed his football skills. A football became an appendage of Best’s lithe body which he could place wherever he wanted. And his body bamboozled and hypnotised opponents (and colleagues) as literally he ran rings around them. It is exhilarating to watch.
He was twelve years old in 1958 when the Munich crash of Flight 609 tore the heart out of Manchester United’s young team of Busby babes. Sir Matt Busby, the manager of Manchester United, set out to rebuild his team for many reasons but not least in honour of the many young men who had been killed in Munich. In particular there was a need to win the European cup in pursuit of which the young men had died. Best became a central, if not the central, figure in this pursuit. However Busby, having achieved his goal, retired and Best’s father figure had thereby left Best’s daily life. He had lost his footballing father figure and had to grow up.
Gradually the cult of celebrity, booze and girls began to overwhelm his first addiction, namely football. Football loses pride of place in his life. It no longer comes truly first and he plays out his days in America. Gordon has interviews with both wives of Best and with his earlier longstanding girlfriend. The three of them provide a chorus of those closest to him but none of whom ultimately could help him find the inner peace which would free him from booze.
It is a cautionary tale even if a well-known one. But because Best was blessed with cherubic good looks, with speed, with agility and had honed his skills to control a soccer ball so that it was a vital part of his body, it is a tale worth the retelling. Gordon has made a documentary which makes for compelling viewing, even if one knows from the opening sequence and the direction in which the story is heading.