GEORGE BEST WAS SPORT’S FIRST ROCK STAR

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By Jason Sulligoi – Chief Sports Writer

 

 

Live fast die young. History is littered with famous people that put the pedal to the metal during their lives before the eventual crash and burn. For some it was a tragic accident, for others it was an inevitable end from over indulgence. Some pass by like shooting stars while others linger beyond their expiry date in what can only be described as a slow death.

 

The big screen has its fair share of immortals that met an early end – such as Marilyn Monroe (aged 36), James Dean (aged 24), and more recently Heath Ledger (aged 28) and Paul Walker (aged 40).

 

Music has its share of goliaths whose song finished too soon. Elvis (aged 42) is the standout, then there is the infamous ‘27 club’ which contains a list of names that include Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain.

 

Hunt’s rise to fame coincided with the global boom Formula One enjoyed in the mid-70s and he was the perfect playboy stereotype for that era.”

 

Sport has seen many lives cut short, such as Ayrton Senna (aged 34) and Florence Griffith Joyner (aged 38). Formula One ace James Hunt, who was portrayed in the 2013 film RUSH, lived his life at full throttle before dying of a heart attack in 1993 aged 45. Hunt’s rise to fame coincided with the global boom Formula One enjoyed in the mid-70s and he was the perfect playboy stereotype for that era. Boy, did he lap up the alcohol and sex.

 

Aussie Rules had its first true superstar in 1949, with the emergence of Essendon youngster John Coleman who kicked 12 goals on debut (still a record). With his matinee idol looks and freakish talent, he was the perfect drawcard to keep the turnstiles ticking during the post-war boom. His career ended in 1954 after a tragic knee injury. Coleman died of coronary atheroma in 1973 aged 44.

 

Now to the man who came to fame during London’s Swinging 60s and who bridged the gap between sport and superstardom. George Best was a 15-year old Belfast boy who was spotted by Manchester United talent scout Bob Bishop, who said to United manager Sir Matt Busby ‘I think I’ve found you a genius.’

 

Not only gifted with rare talent, including the ability to run straight at defenders and treat them like witches hats, he was blessed with model good looks and was therefore always going to stand out. The fact he played in such a dominant English side dubbed ‘Busby’s Babes’ alongside Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, winning the English first division twice and the European Cup in 1968, meant he attracted attention beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

 

This was a time when footballers still had short back and sides and trotted out the usual ‘umm ahhh errr’ responses at press conferences.”

 

This was a time when footballers still had short back and sides and trotted out the usual ‘umm ahhh errr’ responses at press conferences. Here was a shy kid the Portuguese media dubbed ‘the fifth Beatle’. With jet black hair and the most piercing blue eyes you’d ever see, it wasn’t long before women swarmed to see the little Geordie. In Morrissey’s autobiography, the Smith’s frontman tells of fainting at a game in the early 70s and being carried out by his embarrassed Dad due to being overwhelmed by the sight of George Best tearing it up on the pitch.

 

Unfortunately for George, when Sir Matt Busby retired, Manchester United’s on-field fortunes faded through lack of succession planning. Although he was still mega-famous, he couldn’t deal with United’s fall from grace. He wanted more, and found it in the company of women and excessive drinking. The wayward star began to hate being mobbed everywhere he went and holed himself up away from his fans at every opportunity. He quit United in 1973, and in an attempt to disguise his alcoholism, he joined a succession of lower grade clubs, before heading to the Los Angeles Aztecs in 1976. There, he could enjoy being a star in a low grade competition and also indulge in alcohol excess and womanising.

 

Best lived longer than most shooting stars, eventually dying of lung infection and multiple organ failure aged 59. He was regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. Brazilian legend Pele said George was the best he saw. Even George said ‘If I’d been born ugly, you’d have never heard of Pele.’

 

Some famous Best quips were… ‘In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol – it was the worst twenty minutes of my life.’ Also, ‘I went missing a lot…Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World.’ Lastly, ‘I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I squandered.’

 

Jason Sulligoi is a multi-tasking chameleon; an experienced sports writer/ journalist, professional musician / composer, a respected drum teacher, and a mad Essendon supporter.

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