When my drinking career was at its height in the early eighties George Best was seeing out what remained of his playing career or indeed often not playing career for Hibs at Easter Road. I was even misguided or deluded enough then to take some comfort from the fact that somebody of his stature was having the same troubles as I was, as if that would somehow excuse the heartbreak and damage that drinking was causing for me and those around me.
Why is it then that 20 odd years down the line drink no longer plays a part in my life, a fact with which I am very comfortable, and George, after spending these same years engaged in what the tabloid press are given to present as the ‘battle against booze,’ is dead?
Drink played a hugely important part in both our lives so much so that it warped how we saw the world – drink becoming the main focus, the arbiter of everything we did and just as often didn’t do. The fact that he was a superstar gloriously entertaining those who were lucky enough to see him play and I was an ordinary working guy stood for nothing. We both suffered from blackouts, from illness, missed work, crashed cars, endangered and destroyed relationships – the full Monty really. We were both brought to our knees by a compulsion to drink alcohol. Ok he performed both on and off the field in the full glare of publicity and some would argue that it was this pressure that made him drink but I have the feeling that George Best would have had the same problems had he been a shipyard worker in Belfast like his dad instead of one of the most dazzling football players the world has ever seen.
I think there are two areas that George failed to get his head round in relation to his drinking. Firstly he bought into this whole fight/battle idea. Fighting at times not to drink but probably just as often, if not more so, to prove that he could. Secondly, and as a consequence of that mindset, he could not achieve the depth of change, change which it might not be too fanciful to refer to as being at the level of the soul, which would enable him to envisage even the possibility of a life without alcohol.
Now there are as many and varied theories surrounding alcohol abuse as there are ‘treatments’and I know that we were both exposed to many of them ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to drug therapies, various forms of counselling, you name it, it was tried. So again, why did I get it and he didn’t? I can’t say I had a ‘Road to Damascus’ experience and indeed, like George I tried to stop drinking many times and failed, I tried to control my drinking many times and failed, but somewhere along the line these organisations I was touching and people I was talking to were rubbing off on me and, even at a subconscious level, were starting to lay the foundations of a platform for change.
Looking back, if I were to try and define a turning point I would have to say that when I came to realise that this ‘fight’ this ‘battle’ that everybody was talking about was, at least for me, one best not entered into, things started to get better.I didn’t need to look any further than my own experience to realise that this particular fighter had climbed into the ring to contest this same ‘mismatch’ once too often and had suffered some fearful beatings in so doing. So why should I expect the result to be any different this time? I simply threw in the towel – I didn’t win the fight against alcohol, I gave up the fight.
A fighter to the last, this was one area of his life where perhaps the competitive streak, the fighter in him, worked against George. We’ve all got our race to run and he should be remembered for his short lived brilliance which, like a comet, lit up the sporting world. And well, at least he should be better placed to sort out that other business next time round.
Edin Nov 2005