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George Best: All By Himself, the women who knew Manchester United legend most intimately

Just a few weeks before the 11th anniversary of his death, a new documentary interviews the people who were most-affected by the life of George Best

By Geoffrey Macnab

Published 12/10/2016

Life’s a beach: George and Angie Best enjoy life in America
Life’s a beach: George and Angie Best enjoy life in America
Intimate portraits: George and first wife Angie with their young son Calum in 1980 when the family was living in suburban San Jose, California, while Best was playing for the Los Angeles Aztecs
Family ties: George Best with his sister Barbara Best and his second wife Alex
George and Alex share an embrace

It's a poignant but pathetic image: a mother is in the car, taking her new baby for a check-up on a wet and miserable night. She sees a man walking down the middle of the road. "This poor man is all hunched over, soaking wet and I think oh my God, that poor homeless tramp and then I realise…it is my husband, drunk as a skunk, walking down the road, soaking wet."

The woman talking is Angie Best and the man she is describing is George Best, the football genius who has become a stumbling wreck. It's a scene from the beginning of Daniel Gordon's new feature documentary, George Best: All By Himself which has its world premiere at the London Film Festival this week.

It is now just over a decade since Best died. His story has been told many times before. It is a modern-day rake's progress. Best was the shy kid from Belfast who came to Manchester United as a teenager and went on to help the club win league titles and a European Cup. The manager Matt Busby regarded him as a surrogate son, a replacement for the so-called 'Busby Babes' killed in the Munich disaster of 1958. But then came Best's slide: the ignominious departure from Man Utd when he was only 27, the alcoholism and the broken marriages.

Director Daniel Gordon is too young to have seen George Best play in his prime but grew up in Manchester and was exposed to the 'Best legend' from an early age. He also witnessed Best during his long decline. In making his film, he was determined to "take a fresh approach to a story we all think we know". He argues that enough time has now passed to allow a more nuanced view of Best than the one that portrays him simply as the "good guy who drank too much" and had demons.

For Gordon, Best's is a story of "addiction". As a kid and young man, Best was addicted to football. "That's what he spent every waking hour doing and trying to be the best at," he says.

Everyone who played with him in the early years testified to how well he trained. Then, in the mid 1960s, came the money and the fame - the years when he was dubbed the 'fifth Beatle' - and he was a "little addicted" to that too. Then came the women and the booze, the most destructive of his addictions.

"One of the things that was a strong feature of this was not that it was going to be a football story, but that it was going to be a human story and for that you need women to tell the story, people who knew him most intimately," says Gordon.

The film has an impressive array of interviewees. Best's old teammates like Paddy Crerand; his great friend from the early Manchester years Mike Summerbee; girlfriends and wives, journalists, agents, fans and the son of Best's landlady in Chorlton. There are some notable absentees, his son Calum Best (reportedly making his own documentary) and Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law (both in poor health) among them. Several other prominent footballer - Brian Kidd, Alex Stepney, Willy Morgan and Sammy Mcllroy - were interviewed but didn't make it into the final cut.

"Everybody always says that the only person George Best ever hurt was himself. That's nonsense. He hurt an awful lot of people, especially his son," Gordon says of the footballer.

One of the paradoxes about the documentary is those who suffered most as a result of Best's drinking and erratic behaviour still retain enormous affection for him. That is true of the three women foregrounded in the film: Angie Best, Alex Best and Jackie Glass, his girlfriend from the 60s, who is now a Buddhist nun living in Edinburgh.

George Best showing his skills at a young age.
George Best showing his skills at a young age.
Manchester Utd V Glentoran at the Oval. A friendly pre season match which featured N.I World Cup star Norman Whiteside playing for Man Utd, and George Best, the legendary N.I player who played for the Glens that day against the English team who discovered him. George Best had asked Glentoran of he could play as a favour to his dad who had been a life long supporter of Glentoran.
George Best at Windsor Park.
George Best played winger for Manchester United and the Northern Ireland national team.
Best made his First Division debut, aged 17, on 14 September 1963.
George Best with son Calum at Windsor Park - August 1988
Best is described by the Irish Football Association as the "greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland".
Ireland v England Oct. 1966. Best and Parke outwitted by a headless Charlton as Englend mount an attack.

"She is very at ease with herself and with her past and was desperately trying not to moralise," Gordon says of Glass. As Glass and others point out in the documentary, Best was strangely subdued after winning the European Cup. For Best, as for Matt Busby, this had been a 'Holy Grail'. Glass talks of the deflating feeling of "and now what?" that Best experienced in the wake of his greatest sporting triumph.

Angie, who opened a bar called Bestie's with George, makes an acute observation about the fans who visited the bar. "If 70,000 men wanted to have one drink with George, they had one drink, George had 70,000," she says.

Best himself is heard throughout the documentary, narrating his own story as if from beyond the grave. Gordon scoured the archives to track down as many interviews with the footballer as he could. Generally, at least when he wasn't drunk and disorderly on the Terry Wogan show, Best spoke perceptively about his life and career.

Even at his lowest ebb, Best retained marketability. The tabloids always wanted stories about him. He could be off his head in a gutter or even on his death bed and the agents could still sell a story.

Watching the film now, it is hard not to be reminded of Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse documentary. The director acknowledges the similarity between the films. "If you look at all the headlines George Best generated, he was used and abused, belittled…when I saw Amy and I saw the paparazzi camped outside (her home), all those scenes, the wide shots of the press, you hounding her, it was probably 50 times worse than what George Best faced but George Best was the first one to have faced that."

Late in his life, Best could often be found drinking in the Phene Arms in Chelsea. He worked for a while as a commentator on Sky Sports. This period is skirted over in the documentary. "It's not that that was a less interesting period but I think if we had fully explored that period, it would have been one long tale of woe and decline. There weren't a great deal of highs of any description. I was working at Sky Sports at the time and there were plenty of times he didn't turn up," the director says. "The reason he didn't turn up was that he was still in the Phene Arms and decided not to bother. Everyone just shrugged their shoulder and said, 'well, that's George'."

George Best in action
George Best in action
George Best
Football legend George Best pictured in January 1964
George Best with the Portadown football team and mascot before they played Glenavon in 1981
Football legend George Best pictured in January 1964
George Best: Manchester United and Northern Ireland Legend
Memories: George Best trudges off the pitch after being sent off against Scotland
George Best larks around in his kitchen with Angie in 1976
George Best footballer in Manchester United kit
Alex with George Best in 1995
The birth certificate
Books:GEORGE BEST: The Legend - In Pictures, Ivan Martin, Appletree Press
George Best and his dad, Dickie
George Best advertising Cookstown Sausages
George Best has a drink in a Belfast bar
GEORGE BEST:FOOTLALL/NORTHERN IRELAND AND MANCHESTER UNITED LEGEND.
Belfast boy: George Best is the most heralded Northern Ireland sports star... but Rory McIlroy can close in
George Best is regarded by everyone as one of the greatest footballers of all time, and by many, including Brazilian icon Pele, as THE best of the lot. The Belfast boy, who lived a rock and roll life, had staggering skill and balance, which he used to score for Man United in their 1968 European Cup final victory, one of 179 goals for the club. A breathtaking talent.
George Best in a Glentoran shirt with another ex Northern Ireland international Norman Whiteside - and a young Stephen Chick
George Best, during the Northern Ireland v England match in October 1966
Manchester United legend George Best
George Best. Football. Manchester United and Northern Ireland. Ireland v England Oct. 1966. Best and Parke outwitted by a headless Charlton as Englend mount an attack.
HEALTH Best 11...Library filer dated 08/03/1969 of legendary footballer George Best who is "coming to the end of the long road of his ill-health", his doctor Professor Roger Williams said Thursday November 24, 2005. See PA story HEALTH Best. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo Credit should read: PA...A
Benfica's Goalkeeper Jose Henrique (left) races back to his goal in a vain attempt to stop George Best (right) of Manchester United from scoring his team's second goal in the the European Cup final at Wembley, 29th May 1968. United eventually won 4-3 after extra time.
George Best pictured with Pat Jennings
Football legend George Best pictured at Windsor Park
Manchester United footballer George Best with manager Tommy Docherty.
Best man: George Best (c) shows off the 1968 European Footballer of the Year award, which journalist Max Urbini (l) presented to him before the match, as team-mates Bobby Charlton (second l, 1966 winner) and Denis Law (r, 1964 winner), and manager Matt Busby (second r) look on
Simply the Best: George Best shows off some of his wide range of skills during his time at Manchester United, where he became a worldwide star
George Best playing at the stadium
George Best in training for Manchester United
Football legend George Best
George shakes hands with the Glenavon captain Alan Frazer and referee Malcolm Moffatt
George Best's wife Angie hands out balls during the game
George Best with Gerald Black
Angie Best with the referees
George Best leading the teams out with mascot
Excited young fans mob George at the game
Angie is greeted by fans
The Bests having fun on the pitch during the game
On the ball: George’s wife Angie on the pitch
Fond memories: mascot Stuart McKinley aged six
George Best relaxes with a cup of coffee as he waits for the action in Bulgaria to begin
Style icon George Best outside his Manchester Boutique in the 1970s
George Best in action for Manchester United
George Best puts pressure on Gordon Banks as he prepares to clear the ball from the England penalty area in the 1971 international at Windsor Park.
George Best with Lawrie Sanchez
George Best
John Chaffetz, an official of the Los Angeles Aztecs, points the way for soccer star George Best. Best was attending a press conference after joing the Aztecs in 1976
George Best and his mother Annie
Molly meets soccer star George Best
Football legend George Best, pictured with Pat Jennings (left) and Billy Bingham (right).
Lining up: George Best joins the rest of the Tobermore United squad for a team photo before the Irish Cup tie against Ballymena United in 1984
The late George Best with then wife Alex Best is pictured with family and friends outside his boyhood Burren Way home after he received Castlereagh's Freedom of the Borough
Close friends George Best and Mike Summerbee at 1966 World Cup Final
George Best in April 2002 at the house in Burren Way, where he unveiled a plaque after being awarded the freedom of Castlereagh
George Best with son Calum
George Best with his former wife Angie and son Calum
George Best with his former wife Angie and son Calum
George Best and Calum Best
Football legend George Best pictured in 1990
Football legend George Best with his wife Angie, brother Ian, father Dickie and baby son Calum
George Best with his sister Barbara McNarry
George Best at home in Belfast with his father Dicki
George Best, ex-Manchester United footballer, smiling with bruised eye
H&H auctioneer James Wheeler polishes up the Jaguar once owned by George Best
George Best
Manchester United and Northern Ireland football legend George Best
A bus stop on the Cregagh Road on the morning of George Best's funeral.
Flags at George Best funeral at Stormont. Saturday 3rd December 2005
The garden of the Best family home in Burren Way, Cregagh, on the day of George's funeral.
The George Best funeral cortege on the Ballygowan Road.
New stamp depicting George Best
Calum Best in the funeral cortege.
Calum Best shakes hands with well-wishers as George Best's funeral cortege leaves the Best family home
The George Best funeral cortege on the Ballygowan Road.
Calum and Dickie Best at George Best's funeral
The crowd on the Cregagh Road waiting for George Best's funeral cortege.
Crowds gather at Stormont for the funeral of George Best
A view from the balcony of Parliament Buildings in Stormont
Crowds gather at Stormont for the funeral of George Best
George Best's coffin is carried up the steps to the Stormont buildings
George Best's coffin is draped with the Northern Ireland flag
George Best's agent Phil Hughes (centre) with Eamonn Holmes next to George Best's coffin in the Parliament buildings in Stormont, Belfast, Saturday December 3, 2005. The world of football was today paying its last respects as George Best, one of the greatest ever players, was laid to rest. Best, 59, died last Friday in London's Cromwell Hospital.
The Best family at the George Best funeral at Stormont
Billy Bingham at George Best's funeral
Robert Dunlop at George Best's funeral
Dickie and Calum Best at the funeral of George Best funeral at Stormont.
Terry Neill at George Best's funeral
Paddy Kielty and Gerry Armstrong at George Best's funeral
Frank McLintock at George Best's funeral
Mike England at George Best's funeral
Derek Dougan at George Best's funeral
Milan Manderic at George Best's funeral
Pat Jennings at George Best's funeral
Phil Taylor, George Best's agent and Jackie Fullerton at George Best's funeral
Alex Higgans at George Best's funeral
Bobby Jameson at George Best's funeral
Barry McGuigan and his wife at George Best's funeral
Rodney Marsh at George Best's funeral
Dennis Law (centre) at George Best's funeral
Martin O'Neill at George Best's funeral
Callum Best and mum Angie at George Best's funeral
George Best's grave
George Best Belfast City Airport handled more than 2.5 million passengers last year
A mural of George Best and David Healy on the wall of the Times Bar, York Road. Brian Little/ Presseye
The Best family plot at Roselawn on the day before George's funeral.
Some of the Best memorabilia up for grabs at Wilsons Auction house today. Pictured a silver Benfica letter opener, dated 1966, given to George which marks Man Utd's 5-1 European Cup defeat of Benfica in Lisbon. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years
Best Fan - 7 year old Luke McMullan from Dungannon holding a replica European Champions Manchester United Trophy presented to Dickie Best when George Best died. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Some of the Best memorabilia up for grabs at Wilsons Auction house today. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Some of the Best memorabilia up for grabs at Wilsons Auction house today. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Best Fans - Mark McIlwaine (13, left) and David McCracken (13), both from Lurgan Junior High admiring some of the Best memorabilia up for grabs at Wilsons Auction house today. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Best Fan - 7 year old Luke McMullan from Dungannon (dressed in his school rugby kit) holding a cast from George Best's original match worn boots, pictured amongst Best memorabilia at Wilsons Auction house today. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Items on sale of the Dickie Best collection which will go on public auction on the 19th march at the Wilsons premises in Mallusk with 110 lots of George Best memorabillia available which was collected by Dickie over a 40 year period.
Family Portrait (left to right): Carol Best - Lisa Hogg; Julie Best (Twin) - Catherine Quinn; Ann Best - Michelle Fairley; George Best - Tom Payne; Dickie Best - Lorcan Cranitch; Grace Best (Twin) - Amy Quinn; Barbara Best - Laura Donnelly
George Best played by Tom Payne
Ann Best played by Michelle Fairley
George Best played by Tom Payne
Ann Best played by Michelle Fairley
Ann Best played by Michelle Fairley
George Best played by Tom Payne
George Best played by Tom Payne
Richard (Dickie) Best with a picture of his son, footballer George Best pictured at his home in Belfast. October 2005
Visiting George Best’s grave yesterday were Michelle McBride with Lyn Smyth
Visiting George Best’s grave yesterday was Ivan Little
Fans of the late football superstar regularly visit the grave to leave mementoes
Fans of the late football superstar regularly visit the grave to leave mementoes

Ask Gordon whether he admires Best more having made the documentary and the director gives an equivocal reply.

"You feel admiration for what he did at the beginning; you feel horror at how it turned out and you feel disdain at decisions he took; you feel empathy for what he faced; you feel a bit of anger at friends who weren't able to intervene and help. Then you realise that George made all those decisions for himself and that no one really forced him to be anything other than the person he became."

Gordon didn't want to make an overly depressing film. There's little danger of that when there are so many clips of him playing so brilliantly. One clip stands out more than any other. It is not from his Old Trafford years, but from his long stay in America. He was playing for the San Jose Earthquakes and their opponents had just scored a goal that was clearly offside. Best was furious. He was overweight, and not especially fit but his anger galvanised him.

Somehow, he summoned up the old genius and for a few moments he became the player he once was. From the kick-off, in his rage, he took the ball and embarked on an astonishing slalom-like run, dribbling past the entire opposing team before eventually finding the space to shoot and score.

"That's the greatest soccer goal I've ever seen," the TV commentator said at the time. Those few seconds serve to remind us why, 11 years after his death, everyone is still as fascinated as ever by George Best.

  • George Best: All By Himself is a world premiere at the London Film Festival on Friday, October 14

George Best pictured with other prefects at Lisnasharragh High School, Belfast, 1961. George is pictured second left, centre row.
George Best pictured with other prefects at Lisnasharragh High School, Belfast, 1961. George is pictured second left, centre row.
FOOTBALL: GEORGE BEST. Football legend George Best with Eric McMordie - pictured in the Belfast Telegraph Sports dept-1961- before leaving to join Manchester Utd.
George Best
Kate Middleton is pictured aged five.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
Kate Middleton, before scaling to the heights of Baroness Carrickfergus and Duchess of Cambridge, pictured aged three on a family holiday in the Lake District.
NADINE COYLE:Pop Stars Rival singer and member of girl band 'Girls Aloud',FRONT ROW SECOND FROM LEFT - THORNHILL COLLEGE YEAR BOOK 1996-97
A bit grainy but there's no mistaking Nadine Coyle's smile at Thornhill College in 1996
Nadine Coyle
ULSTER pop princess Nadine Coyle/Girls Aloud.
Liam Neeson ... can you spot the Ulster schoolboy who was destined for great things? Next picture solves the mystery.
Liam Neeson, pictured during his Ulster schooldays... centre of back row.
Liam Neeson
Jimmy Nesbitt and family during the Seventies
Jimmy Nesbitt - the cheeky grin being perfected at a young age
Jimmy Nesbitt
Liam Neeson is said to be in talks to reprise his role as retired CIA agent Bryan Mills
Eamonn Holmes:Tv Presenter/celebrating his fourth birthday at the family home on New Lodge Road
Eamonn Holmes:Tv Presenter/celebrating his fourth birthday at the family home on New Lodge Road
On ITV's Telethon in 1988. Eamonn stepped in at the last minute when original anchor Gerry Kelly, fell ill.
Eamonn Holmes
Lara and Zoe Salmon
Zoe Salmon
Zoe Salmon
Lara and Zoe Salmon
GERRY ADAMS SINN FEIN PRESIDENT.A very young Gerry Adams.
Gerry Adams
Van morrison
Van Morrison
VAN MORRISON:IRISH SINGER.
BBC presenter Stephen Nolan. Pic by Ian Magill. 1/10/09.David O'Dornan interview.
Stephen Nolan
A young Stephen Nolan.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/04/98 IAN PAISLEY AS A 12 YEAR OLD BOY
PACEMAKER BELFAST 15/04/98 Rev Ian Paisley pictured on his weding day to wife Eileen Date unknown
27/1/12 PACEMAKER BELFAST. The Rev. Ian Paisley poses with fellow clergy before the Special Farewell Service in his honour after 65 years of Ministry at the Martyrs Memorial Church, on the Ravenhill Road, Belfast. Picture CHARLES MCQUILLAN/PACEMAKER
A young Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins
73. Someone once threw a petrol bomb at Alex Higgins and he drank it!
Young Alex Higgins front left.jpg
Daniel O'Donnell 4.jpg
Daniel O'Donnell 2.jpg
Daniel O'Donnell: Irish Country Singer 1985
Daniel O'Donnell will crown the 2003 Mary of Dungloe on Sunday, August 3" data-title=" Daniel O'Donnell will crown the 2003 Mary of Dungloe on Sunday, August 3" >
Daniel O'Donnell will crown the 2003 Mary of Dungloe on Sunday, August 3
Taking off: Paddy Ashdown doing the high jump at Garth House School, Bangor in 1950
An Audience with Paddy Ashdown
Darren Clarke back in 1985 as part of the Fred Daley Team
Darren Clarke back in 1985 as part of the Fred Daley Team
British Open Champion Darren Clarke at his local bar the Bayview Hotel with the Claret Jug
Darren Clarke 1985 in his Junior Ireland Blazer
SANDWICH, ENGLAND - JULY 17: Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland holds the Claret Jug following his victory at the end of the final round of The 140th Open Championship at Royal St George's on July 17, 2011 in Sandwich, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

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