Belfast Telegraph

The day Morrissey saw George Best and fainted from pure joy

By Mike Gilson

Sometimes you read something so wonderfully unexpected, so surreally pleasing, that it makes your day. The following did mine and maybe it will some of you.

Did you know Morrissey was so overcome by the aura and magic of George Best on a childhood visit to Old Trafford that he fainted and had to be taken home by his cursing, United-supporting father before the match ended?

How worlds collide in a kaleidoscope of cultural colour. You can almost imagine yourself there, can't you? On the pitch, the bearded Best insouciantly dropping the shoulder and sending yeomen defenders back into last week, a wink in the crowd for his latest Miss World. In the stands beside his manly, sweary, absent Irish dad, the future bard of the back bedroom casualty theatrically mops his brow and slips silently from his plastic seat.

I know this because I am now half-way through Morrissey's autobiography, a Penguin Classic, much pooh-poohed by the stuffy literati given the vapours by the decision to place him instantly among the Zolas, Homers and Tolstoys in that vaunted stable.

Don't read the critics, read the book. Autobiography is brilliant, infuriating, eye-popping, beautiful and coruscating. Often in the same, page-long sentence. If we didn't have Morrissey he would have had to be invented. The man, who along with Marr, saved a million delicate males from punk's snotty grasp with articulation, alliteration and riffs that will be played for all time.

I would go out tonight/but I haven't got a stitch to wear, we sang along with him, foregrounding our own teenage confusion on masculinity and risking a pasting in the pool halls.

And now a different role, so misunderstood as always by the lumpen mass and the middle-market titles: that of England's exiled curmudgeon, the speaker of truths that no one should utter, the heir to Kenneth Williams as the new poet laureate of waspish, one-step-too-far, bitter-sweet barbs. What stays with you from Autobiography is the sense of monochrome upbringing the like of which all of us of a certain age and class can recognise.

While he is determinedly of Irish blood, it is the rain-soaked streets of Manchester that form him. The world of three-channel TV, blackboard rubber-throwing monsters masquerading as teachers and casual cruelty combines to create the rocket fuel he needs to escape the humdrum. And what is remarkable is just that. In the most unpromising of times, up through the cracks in the council-abandoned mean streets grow the brightly coloured wild flowers, cornflower blue-eyed Steven Patrick Morrissey the tallest of them.

It is a time of Myra Hindley, but it is also the time of our George. While Myra's beehive and cold stare will forever be black and white, in 70s Manchester, George's red shirt could have been seen from space.

It is, says Morrissey, "the physical and facial glamour of George Best that gains him so much love and hate, for everyone wants what he has".

As an eight-year old at Old Trafford, he watches this other boy from rain-soaked, working-class streets and writes "as I see the apocalyptic disturber of the peace swirl across the pitch I faint. Squinting in the sun it is all too much for me."

Two outsiders for sure, but when it comes to contributions to our cultural life both get the Man of the Match award.

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