Best book has insight as well as memories

SJA members have been busy churning out sports books ahead of Christmas. Here, TREVOR BOND casts his eyes over two useful new volumes

Our members have been busy adding to the mountain of sports books available around the festive period. Ideal Christmas pressies for us grown-ups or to regale our children and grandchildren with the great players of yore or something for a good New Year read.

Christopher Hilton and former SJA chairman Ian Cole met when working together on the Daily Express sports desk. They have previously collaborated on histories of European football for a Tokyo publisher, but they both felt that there was a different book to be written about George Best beyond the legend of the hotel room with Miss World in his bed, which was covered with £50 notes, and the waiter bringing chilled champagne and asking, “Where did it go wrong, George?”

As Rodney Marsh says: “People have never ever, ever got the true side of George Best. Ever. Maybe you will.”

Dismiss Marsh, perhaps, but Pele once called George Best the greatest footballer the world has ever seen.

Best was also a mystery. A million adoring fans thought they knew him as he lived out their dreams – but they didn’t.

Hilton and Cole explore this man of mystery through the eyes and ears of those who did know him. The interviews are often intimate, touching, revealing, humbling, tragic. They bring together, from childhood through to his sad demise, the quick-witted man who could solve crossword puzzles as easily as he outwitted opponents, but who through drink became a parody of himself.

Take these examples.
The footballer: “He’s coming at me. I thought, ‘he’s going to flick it in that corner’ I had a tactic: I wanted them to put the ball there and it was half-covered. I thought, ‘ go on’George put it to that side’ and… he dropped his shoulders. I bought the dummy” – Kim Book, Northampton goalkeeper.
The womaniser: “He didn’t go chasing women; they chased him” – Itzet Bumberg, Johannesburg solicitor
The man: “He did so many favours for so many people at no gain to himself. It pisses me off big time when I read in the media what a bastard he was.. I could tell journalists ninety-nine Best stories out of hundred which were good. They did not want to know. That to me is criminal” – Barry Fry, footballer and friend.

Memories of George Best is a readable story of where it went right – and wrong. You do not have be a fan to enjoy it. It is so much more about the man than about one the greatest players to have graced the beautiful game.

IF IT IS nostalgia with a glitter and glory you seek, then look no further that Norman Giller’s Footballing Fifties, with a foreword by Jimmy Greaves.

Norman, who lost his darling wife Eileen last year after caring for her for many years, has now survived major cancer himself. How we all admire his courage and his determination to go on producing books such as this – a fantastic tribute to the great players of that era when the golden age of English football ruled the world until the Puskas-inspired Hungarians changed all the thinking.

The front cover alone has six pictures – Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Pele, Duncan Edwards (in his England schoolboy cap), Nat Lofthouse and Billy Wright, players who symbolised that golden age – before even the likes of Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves were to restore England’s glory in the Sixties.

It was the era of goals galore and wingers thrilling packed houses with their dazzling touch-line runs – but it was also the time when the likes of Matthews and Finney could expect to earn no more than £17 a week, there were no foreign footballers in sight and it was the time of a different football language – of wing-halves, inside-forwards and wingers, two points for a win and shoulder charges were allowed against goalkeepers. Red and yellow cards were only for magicians and referees “booked” only tackles that caused grievous bodily harm. And entrance fee was two bob(10p) to stand on a terrace and five shillings (25p) to sit in the stand.

Superbly illustrated and highlighting key match reports – eye-witness accounts of the World Cup finals of 1950,1954 and 1958, which memorably brought to the world stage players of the stunning calibre of Pele, Puskas, Kopa and Garrincha.

If it is a book essentially for golden oldies, then it also a book that our sons and grandsons should cherish as a reminder that, through the decades that followed the Footballing Fifties, the Moores, Greaves, Banks, Robsons, Gascoignes, Beckhams, Lampards and Rooneys owe a great deal to the past masters of the beautiful game.

Memories of George Best, by Christopher Hilton and Ian Cole, SportsBooks Limited (£14.99 Softback)

Footballing Fifties, by Norman Giller, JR Books Limited (£16.99 Hardback)

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