It’s weird – I’m 26, so for pretty much all my life George Best has been a byword for has-been, piss-head, mid-life-crisis-man. Yes, I’d seen all the amazing goals, taking his boot off to play a pass et cetera – but it has literally only been in the past few days that I’ve realised how big a star he really was. The BBC’s early evening news bulletin was half devoted to the report and obituary. There are few people who merit that sort of coverage, and certainly no other footballers.
Whilst there’s obviously been an ‘outpouring of grief’ (copyright the death of Princess Diana) and the ‘celebration of his life’ we always get when a public figure goes, with Best there was a bit more to it. It wasn’t his whole life that we were celebrating, it was his first ten years or so as a professional, when he was inarguably one of the best players in the world, and this came with what was almost a sense of relief that his decline was finally over, that his family, friends and fans would no longer have to watch him damage himself – and take himself further and further away from the great man he was.
None of us would be so callous as to actually wish someone dead, not unless we want to get chucked down a well like that girl in ‘The Ring’. I always think it’s appalling when people say that it’s a good thing that the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain died young and never ‘sullied’ their own legacy. It’s the worst kind of selfishness. However, the fact that people project their desires onto celebrities (and, as we’ve been told repeatedly in the past few days, Best was the first celebrity footballer), and the fact that this becomes more difficult when somebody cuts a less impressive figure than they used to, helps explain why Best’s death has been such an event (for want of a better word).
It’s telling that the BBC’s online report of Best’s passing was initially accompanied by a recent photo, but this was soon replaced with an early 1970s shot. The middle-aged, alcoholic, model-chasing George Best will fade from the public consciousness, to be replaced by the George Best who made being a footballing genius look easy. I think this is why his death has attracted so much attention – those old desires are being projected on him once again. And bloody hell, there are a lot of them.