Sunday, November 27, 2005

Football and literature

I have been interested in the extent of remembrance for George Best. George was 59, his peak was when he was 20-22, and he "retired" initially aged 26. Nobody under 45 should by rights be able to remember his playing, yet a bit like seeing the Sex Pistols or the Velvet Underground, everyone seems to have a memory. It's also strange, because in the sixties at least, its hard to imagine the usual middle-class commentators now writing for the newspapers, being regulars on the terraces. My own George Best memories are fleeting, and simply involve being in the same pubs as him on occasion, here in Manchester. I've a vague recollection that he'd be at various gig venues - places like the Roadhouse, Dry Bar and Night and Day - since, in the late 80s, early 90s they were about the only places that you could get a late drink. Sad as it is, and I'm aware that his funeral in Northern Ireland will be more like a state funeral than anything smaller, it seems that key to this remembrance is the insistence from the baby boomers that their memories are our memories; and that their heroes are inevitably our heroes. You see it in the preposterous UK Music Hall of Fame; the endless lists that place the mediocre "Sgt. Pepper" as the greatest album ever; and, perhaps in the continued primacy of a generation of (mostly male) writers now in their fifties. Ironically, George Best's long endgame - one that will probably see him buried with hardly a penny to his name - is perhaps the more genuine; his undoubted skills and charisma being rekindled in the memory as his last few "soap opera" years have unfolded. Neither George Best the man, or George Best the footballer was long enough on this world. Elsewhere we wallow in nostalgia. There aren't new literary or musical heroes that are allowed the same primacy in our culture. Yet, unlike the Americans, who rail against the dying light, and come up with, say, "American Pastoral", "Underworld", or "Time Out of Mind", using the experience of the life and the century, we have the Eurythmics Greatest Hits or Harold Pinter's poetry. Whereas Americans use sport in their literature, we seem reticent to do so. George Best's death has reminded us, that football is not just about the sport itself, but about the myriad lives it affects along the way - and that it's also about memory, Best coming to the club that was resurrecting itself from the Munich air-crash, that took the lives of so many of the Manchester United tea, as if fate had decreed some little recompense for that terrible loss. If I'm not mistaken, its a story entirely absent from the literature of our great baby boomer writers.

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