By Nick Harris
11 May 2010
A book to be published this summer will lay out the despair that George Best felt, including in his owns words and writing, as his career hit the buffers in 1972, when on the cusp of his 26th birthday he sensationally announced he was quitting Manchester United.
The book is written by the veteran sports journalist and sportingintelligence columnist, John Roberts, who was Best’s “ghost” for the player’s column in the Daily Express in the period when Best’s career imploded.
The title of Roberts’ book, ‘Sod This, I’m Off to Marbella’, is a reference to the fact that Best fled to Spain and said he was finished with the game. The book comprises Roberts’ memories of the time as well as extensive contemporary quotes and hand-written reflections from Best, who died in 2005.
Writing in his regular column today for sportingintelligence, Roberts recalls the period in 1972 when Best took him for dinner and confided he wanted to quit United. The legendary Northern Ireland international – one of very few players to whom the description ‘legendary’ can be applied with real meaning – offered to sell the story to the Express, over and above his normal column, but the paper declined on the grounds it did not want to interfere in a matter between club and player.
(How quaint that attitude seems today, when many newspapers would drool then throw cash at the prospect of a global star complaining about their club and team-mates in print.)
Roberts also recalls an occasion when Best became so upset at being the target of abuse – he had received death threats apparently related to The Troubles in the same week as criticism of his on-field antics and off-field lifestyle – that Best hand-wrote his own column over four pages of a spiral-bound notebook. It was a unique occasion.
“I don’t know whether they’ll think it’s good enough to use, but here it is,” Best told Roberts, handing him the notes. The newspaper ran the column verbatim, and the original pages as Best wrote them will be republished in the book.