The late George Best | No end to allusions for a Piper and Pimpernel

Best left United in 1974, having scored 180 times for the side. But his name was now linked with drinking establishments as well as goals: the Brown Bull in Manchester, Phene Arms in Chelsea in London. He owned Bestie’s Bar in Hermosa Beach, California, during a stint with the Los Angeles Aztecs of the North American Soccer League. He also played for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and San Jose Earthquakes. Dave Wasser, organizer of the recent NASL reunion, ranks a match between the Dallas Tornado and Best’s Aztecs in 1977 as his fifth-favorite in league history; Elton John, an acquaintance of Best, takes credit in a halftime chat for suggesting that Best give the American league a try.

Burn calls on celebrity profiler Gay Talese to exegete the “hyperexistence” of what the writers, clearly reading Best’s biography as a cautionary tale, see as Best’s years in decline, the isolated years of wandering London streets with “a faraway look in his eye.” And Burn has a quiver of additional allusions at the ready:

Whenever I would see him in the Phene—old man’s glasses low on his nose, Daily Mirror crossword propped up protectively in front of him—he’d remind me of the life-lagged narrator of Peter Handke‘s short novel, The Afternoon of a Writer. After a day spent not getting any words down on the page, the writer of the title habitually hauls his carcass to the local “gin mill” to lose himself: “He recalled certain particulars concerning each one of them. Not a few had told him the whole story of their lives, most of which he had forgotten by the next day…. For today he required no more, no sight or conversation, and above all nothing new. Just to rest, to close his eyes and ears; just to inhale and exhale would be effort enough.”

In what now seems a morbid coincidence, read beside the yellow pallor on Best’s face in death-bed photographs, British pubs the night before Best’s death officially ended the 90-year tradition of 11 p.m. closings. Initiated in 1915 to curb drinking among World War I–era munitions workers, the law has been partially blamed for the English culture of binge drinking. Yet groups of physicians and police fear expanded hours “will encourage the darker angels of a hard-drinking society.”

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