Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 7 July 2015

George Best was many things, Eamon... cruel was not one of them

As controversial pundit Eamon Dunphy releases a new book which calls into question the character of a footballing legend, Belfast Telegraph Group Sport Editor Jim Gracey writes...

Published 07/10/2013 | 13:30

George Best with Eamon Dunphy
George Best with Eamon Dunphy
George Best with his 1967-68 Football Writers' Footballer of the Year Award
George Best at the peak of his powers shows kids how it should be done in a Cregagh estate street in 1969... if you were one of those boys, phone us on 02890 264427
George Best: Better than Messi?

Gratuitous cruelty. Two words I never thought I'd read in a character insight on George Best until they appeared yesterday in a serialised Sunday Independent extract from a new book by Eamon Dunphy.


It was a curious passage in an otherwise readable piece about author, commentator and former Republic international Eamon's time as a youth player at Manchester United when George arrived around the same time in '61.

Dunphy (68), an often controversial pundit, has recalled his time with the Belfast boy in new autobiography The Rocky Road.

Eamon, who didn't make it at United, seemed to find it remarkable how George was "fastidious about his appearance. After training every day, he produced shampoo and talcum powder from a washbag and groomed himself as if he were going dancing".

As boys do.

Later tension developed in the dressing room after George had disappeared at a party with another young player's girlfriend.

As boys do.

Then comes the peg on which Eamon hangs his character definition of the young George who apparently produced from his 'beauty bag' a collection of love letters his jilted team-mate had written to his, by now presumed, ex and read them out loud (though not in the player's presence).

It's a cameo I've never come across in acres of print about George... you'd have thought it would have got out by now.

If it happened it does George no credit but remember we're talking callow, aged 16 or 17 at most.

The age of lads now flashing text messages and pictures from girls, sure to be regretted in maturity.

To pigeon hole George as gratuitously cruel on the basis of that one thoughtless episode seems harsh. The George I knew, in later life was friendly, intelligent, approachable, generous and thoughtful to a fault.

He had his dark side in his battle with alcoholism, a disease no-one chooses, but even in drink I never saw him display a nasty or hurtful nature.

I am only left to wonder about Eamon's motive in revealing the episode in the context of good-looking, fragrant young bloke pulls girl, acts stupid... deserving of bitter condemnation even 50 years on. Was Eamon jealous? If so, he needs to get over it.

He never mentions George's football genius.

He didn't need the nugget to sell his book, being one of the best-read authors on the island.

And another thing jarred.

The unwritten Irish rule that if you've nothing good to say of the deceased, say nothing.

Otherwise one might be thought to be gratuitously cruel.

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