Another legend leaves us too soon
I was, a few years ago, lucky enough to become friends with George Best. I recall vividly and often the long periods of wistful reminiscence that we shared over an organic lychee juice or two (he was living at a Champney’s health spa at the time).
He remembered well the 1968 European Cup final against the mighty Benfica in front of more than 92,000 fans at Wembley. He recalled rounding the Portuguese champion’s ‘keeper before slotting the ball into an empty net, a trick with which he would become synonymous.
I was, of course, deeply saddened when he passed away. Upon venturing to Old Trafford earlier in the year to watch TUFC play in the League 2 Play-off final, I stood before the famous bronze of the Holy Trinity of Best, Law and Charlton and, in most unmanly fashion, I became somewhat choked by seeing my old friend there, immortalised for all but truly understood by a precious few.
I am not particularly accustomed to death. I have few relatives and I have been affected by the death of fewer still, so the news of George finally succumbing to his demons was not an event which will pass easily from my memory.
That feeling of emptiness which all but the most fortunate (or, more likely, the least loved) come to feel at some stage in their lives will haunt me until the unfortunate day when biology and the passage of time and space dictate that I should bestow upon my loved ones that same hollowness. I had rather hoped that that feeling would remain nought but a memory, and I was living out that hope rather successfully until last Sunday, when I read of the untimely death of Gary Speed.
I did not know Gary, I’d never spent hours round a table with him, pretending to be of helpful assistance when really just listening to him regale all around him with tales of fast cars and faster women. I’d never seen him effortlessly hold court with a group of a dozen eligible ladies, each half his age, while at a table no more than 20 feet away, a combination of Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock and Frank Skinner sat, dejected and alone, bereft of eye candy for it flocking to the real star of the show.
Yet, when I read of his apparent suicide on the BBC website, I felt that void begin to grow within me once again, as it had so many years before. I began to feel slightly light headed and ill at ease with the world, despite being at the home of my favourite girl and her beautiful baby daughter, a place I know well and feel most welcome.
There are some events which transcend the usual social boundaries and interpersonal ties of love and affection. They allow us all to feel an affinity with those we have never met, people often completely alien to us, by virtue of their (perhaps ill deserved) lifestyle and financial security.
It was, therefore, with elements of many different emotions, that I stood before the tribute to Gary Speed which had been laid in the car park outside Bramall Lane, home of Speedo’s last club as a player, Sheffield United.
I was at that place for the visit of Torquay United, with whom the Blades had been paired in the second round of the FA Cup. Prior to the match, there was, of course, a tribute paid to the dearly departed, and, although I missed the majority of the visuals due to the placement of the big screen in relation to the away end, the sentiment of the period of reflection was captured by all those present and is sure to be recalled by attendees with perhaps uncomfortable ease, certainly for the time being.
As for the match, well, it happened precisely as I predicted on this very blog. Sheffield United were the better side and they duly ran out 3-2 winners.
However, what the score line doesn’t tell you is that their goals came courtesy of a million-to-one own goal from Mark Ellis, a total failure to re-focus immediately after that own goal leading to them scoring straight from our kick off, two goals in less than 20 playing seconds, and a horrifically bad and catastrophically unlucky mis-kick from our man-in-net Bobby Olejnik.
On any other day, Mark’s sliced clearance goes anywhere but into the top corner of his own goal. Or Bobby’s panicked hack goes for a corner, or doesn’t stick like superglue to the foot of the advancing striker, and perhaps, just perhaps, we take them back to our place. Still, it wasn’t to be, and on an afternoon where we remember the tragic loss of a man none of us knew, it all seems rather not to matter so much after all.
Back soon, more cheery, we hope.