TV WATCH Review of the month on screen
On September 19, 1990, just half an hour before Manchester United kicked off against Hungary’s Pecsi Munkas in the first round of the Cup-Winners Cup, George Best appeared on Wogan. The interview became notorious, not just for Best’s glassy-eyed stupor, but for the final exchange which begins with the 44-yearold former European Footballer of the Year telling his host: “Terry, I like screwing, alright?” Wogan, for some reason, asks: “So what do you do with your time these days?” and Best, no more inclined to pass up an open goal than he was in his heyday, triumphantly replies: “Screw!”
The clip inevitably appeared in Daniel Gordon’s compelling feature-length documentary George Best: All By Himself (BBC2, June 19) and it made me search out the full interview on YouTube. Beneath the thin veneer of sozzled arrogance, Best simply looks lost. It’s a theme that recurs again and again in Gordon’s nuanced portrait. As former team-mate and friend Alan Hudson puts it, Best was “out of reach in so many ways”. The trick with this story is managing to keep the viewer interested in a life that burnt as brightly as a paparazzo’s flash bulb in those early years but then quickly sank into the monotonous self-sabotage of the committed addict.
Gordon achieves it by combining style and substance. The film makes great use of archive footage (photography as much as film) but the deftest touch is allowing large chunks to be narrated by Best himself, material taken from a radio interview given two months before his death in which, thankfully, he is the opposite of the character who appeared on Wogan 15 years earlier.
Documentaries like this live or die by their eyewitnesses and All By Himself offers a stellar cast of talking heads, including both of
Best’s wives, Angie and Alex, his first girlfriend Jackie Glass (now a Buddhist nun), and Paddy Crerand and Hugh McIlvanney who comprise a sort of irascible Scottish chorus. McIlvanney in particular is typically brilliant here, affectionate yet also brutally honest. When Best states in his last interview that he hopes people will remember him for “the football, not the rubbish” McIlvanney is not having it: “None of us is entitled to ask for that.”
Best’s old drinking buddy Rodney Marsh made a brief appearance in When Football Banned Women, Clare Balding’s Channel 4 documentary on the troubled history of women’s football. Marsh featured in his role as spokesman for sexist pricks everywhere. Asked in a 1980s interview about women’s football he replies: “I think they should stay at home, make babies and cook.”
Thankfully, most of the film explored events from 60 years earlier when women’s football went from a morale-boosting exercise in the munitions factories of the First World War to a hugely popular spectator sport. This culminated in a crowd of 53,000 packing into Goodison Park on Boxing Day 1920 to watch the most famous team of the period, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, take on St Helens Ladies. Within a year the FA had banned women from playing at their affiliated grounds, effectively exiling the women’s game to dog tracks and parks pitches. The ban was finally lifted in 1971. Balding simply can’t understand why a thriving sport that empowered women and raised thousands of pounds for charity was effectively drowned at birth by the game’s governing body. To which the only logical response is, it’s the FA – protecting power bases and narrow self-interest is what they do. By the end of the documentary you genuinely worry that someone might accidentally take her through the formation of MK Dons, with disastrous consequences.
Football needs more primetime polemics but as ever the professional media presenter is on much safer ground attacking the dinosaurs of the past rather than the present. Balding’s anger ran out just as she could have brought things full circle. Because, as a number of insiders pointed out on Twitter after the documentary finished, the FA are still actively hindering women’s football today. Nevertheless, this was a timely reminder that the women’s game was, for a short period, every bit as important as the men’s. Aired the night before the start of the Women’s European Championship, the programme’s punchline was provided by the slogan of Channel 4’s ad for the tournament that ran straight after the end credits: “Support a team that might actually win.” Somewhere in Surrey, Rodney Marsh choked on his microwave lasagne.
Modern times Football’s bid for world domination
Bolton News, July 12
Telegraph, July 23
Goal.com, July 17