It wasn’t just his unusually long hair - football was still a decidedly hetero world when he became a pro - that got
Best football’s first fashion-led endorsement deal; though certainly his hair was much better than that captured by
the widely-mocked life-sized bronze of the player, unveiled at Northern Ireland’s national football stadium Windsor
Park earlier this year. It wasn’t his sideburns or even those celebrated blue eyes. It wasn’t just that he liked
standing out - he was the first player to wear his football shirt not tucked into his shorts, a small but
much-emulated act of defiance against the old guard.
Rather, Best took his interest in fashion - and his eye for business - seriously, in 1967 going into partnership with
fellow player Mike Summerbe to open his own chain of menswear shops, by turns called Edwardia, Rogue and the George
Best Boutique. Then he opened hair salons and night clubs, the latter together with Malcolm Wager, his personal
hairdresser, naturally. In times before celebrity was anything other than a US import, George Best pictured in a
pink round-collared shirt and double-breasted velour jacket, leaving the grounds in his jet black E-type, was an
image that defined British lives.
It was, of course, the excesses for which Best would be remembered, his talent for a one-liner defusing any envy, his
undiminished talent as a player granting him a degree of free license. Such lines are so delicious, they’re hard to
avoid repeating. But they define his life and times. “In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol,” he once noted. “It was
the worst 20 minutes of my life”. “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just
squandered,” he once explained. Oscar Wilde, as far as we know, never played football. Best was outspoken too, about
players he admired, but also those he thought were not up to much: “[David Beckham] cannot kick with his left foot,
he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn’t score many goals. Apart from that he’s alright.”
Those excesses, of course, are what did for him. The peak years of his playing career in Britain were all but over by
the time he was just 27 - and that was five years after he’d won the league title, European Cup and European Player
of the Year award. Famously, this flawed man was less the gentleman and struggled with the booze - he once took
money from a woman’s handbag to pay for the next round, and he died, aged 59, following complications relating to
the drugs he had to take after receiving a liver transplant (and, yes, he’d kept drinking afterwards).
But long before then he seemed torn between his immense skill and the lifestyle it afforded. He was regularly fined
for misconduct. He was suspended by United after missing his train to match against Chelsea in favour of a weekend
with Sinead Cusack. Later he’d fail to turn up for training for an entire week in order to spend the time with Miss
Great Britain. He was finally put on the transfer list after going missing again - somewhere in London clubland. His
priorities were some place other than on the pitch. That all came too easy.
Apologists have claimed that Best was simply frustrated with Manchester United’s failing performance - and on
occasion Best said he felt that he was carrying the team. But old habits die hard: moving to South Africa to play
for Jewish Guild, he’d miss further training sessions. He played more consistently in the United States through the
1970s but spent a lot of time at his new hangout, Bestie’s Beach Club, which he opened on Hermosa Beach.
At least it was sunnier than Manchester. But it seemed to many fans like an ignominious fading away for a man who,
for sure, was a genius in sport and, perhaps, one in high living too. As the waiter put it in the the oft-told but
no less apposite tale of delivering champagne to Best’s hotel room, only to find him in bed with Miss World and
under a downpour of casino winnings, “Mr. Best, where did it all go wrong?”