Doing our Best by the legend

9th December 2005 at 00:00
f you can remember the Sixties, you weren't there, goes the saying. I do remember it: as a decade of homework and school uniform, hardly worthy of its capital letters.

However, for one three-minute spell, in 1968, I was gloriously touched. I was in a minibus, in Manchester, after the FA amateur cup final replay.

Traffic going in both directions was stationary and what should be halted next to our bus, going in the opposite direction, but the iconic white Jaguar of George Best, with the Belfast boy himself at the wheel.

With the innocence of youth, or maybe the decade, we wound down the window:

"Hi George! How did you get on?"

"Won 3-1. Where have you boys been?"

"At Maine Road, for the amateur cup replay."

"Right. Did Skelmersdale do it?"

"Naw."

"That's a shame. See youse."

"Bye, George."

Of course, we were delighted with our meeting and dined out on the story for days, and I was only a little disappointed when George signed for Hibs some 12 years later and showed no sign of remembering me when I asked for his autograph.

So what made me shed a tear when he died last month? Well, as it would be for any supporter, the loss of such an exciting and sensational talent was an unwelcome reminder of mortality; cricket fans mourned Bradman and rock fans grieved for Lennon. But with Best, it was more than that.

In an excellent and emotionally searing piece, Best's fellow Belfast native, Lesley Riddoch, made the point well in her attack on the media for their sanitisation of the footballer's demise. Fair enough to lionise him for his talent and limit the coverage of his demons but, despite the odd witty one-liner, Best himself never sought to glorify the aggression or the disappointment and hurt he caused through his addiction, even authorising that "deathbed portrait" in the hope that the reality of the effects of his off-field lifestyle might be clear for all to see.

Riddoch summed up Best's problems thus: "He was celtic, male and tragic."

As we work with our pupils, in an age where excessive drinking, irresponsible behaviour and, inevitably, depression are greatly increasing among adolescent males, it would be good to salvage something from the wasted areas of George Best's life, so that it could match the influence of his footballing achievements.

We may not be able to teach how to play like him, but we should be encouraging our pupils to learn from his mistakes. As I review our personal and social education programmes, the image of that white Jag is never far from my mind.

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