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George Best film opens up football's flawed genius

[LONDON] George Best's prodigious rise to football superstardom and plunge into alcoholic self-destruction is laid bare in a new documentary film that focuses on the character behind the tragic tale.

George Best: All By Himself, which has its world premiere at the London Film Festival on Friday, looks at what lay behind one of football's greatest-ever players - a man who drove himself to the top of his game and the bottom of a bottle.

"George Best is a story that we all think we know, and what interested me about doing the film was the opportunity to tell a story that we didn't know," the movie's director Daniel Gordon told AFP.

"George was a lot more complex than we thought, as were the reasons for his downfall." Rather than relying on old television interviews with Best, his disembodied voice is heard telling the story of his own life.

"It's almost like he's talking from beyond the grave," said Mr Gordon.

The film also uses fresh interviews with the people in Best's life - the wives and girlfriends, friends, and fellow players - to see how his turbulent nature consumed those around him.

"You see his career of addiction," said Mr Gordon.

"At the beginning of his life, he's totally addicted to football. Then he's addicted to the women, the fame and then to the booze - and the last addiction is the one that absolutely kills him." Born in Belfast in 1946, Best left for Manchester United aged 15 and made his debut two years later.

Best became a cultural icon as he propelled United to the English league title in 1965 and 1967, and the European Cup in 1968. He was even nicknamed the fifth Beatle.

"Understanding what it does to take a child out of their environment, dump them somewhere, and within two years he's playing in front of 60,000 adoring people and becoming the first football pop idol, and all of the dangers that come with that, no-one could foresee, because he was the first," said Gordon.

Having won the most glittering prizes available at a young age, Best's hunger waned. Womanising and excessive drinking took over.

Manchester United kicked him out for good at 27 and Best ended up drifting around soccer clubs in the United States.

The film concentrates on his playing years, though it is not a documentary about his football career.

"It's not the sport that I'm after, it's the human story behind it," Mr Gordon explained.

"Everyone wants to know about a flawed genius and what made them tick.

"People are still fascinated by the people who have it all and in our opinion, throw it all away." Best's 23 years as an alcoholic ex-footballer are presented like a haunting, 10-minute epilogue.

A liver transplant gave Best the prospect of starting anew, but he returned to the booze. Gaunt and almost unrecognisable, Best died from multiple organ failure in 2005, aged 59.

The critically-acclaimed and commercially successful 2010 British documentary film about Brazilian Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna paved the way for the Best movie.

"The Senna film really broke the mould and opened up an awful lot of people to cinema documentary," said Mr Gordon.

The director crossed paths with Best when they both worked at Sky Sports television in the late 1990s.

"I always found him to be really lovely. Sometimes he didn't turn up, and everyone knew why," the film-maker said.

As the film explains, Best was often a man out of reach.

"You get the impression that if George Best lived his life all over again, he'd make exactly the same decisions," said Mr Gordon.

"He was his own man and it didn't really matter about the consequences."

AFP