10 years after George Best's death, son reveals extent of alcoholism and rage, angering family

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FILE - An April 7, 1978 file photo showing Pele, left, and former Irish soccer star George Best, smiling together during an awards luncheon for Pele in Los Angeles. Approaching the tenth anniversary of the death in November 2005, His son Calum is telling the full story of their turbulent father-son relationship for the first time. "Although he was on this pedestal of being this amazing, iconic footballer, which I will always be proud of, there's a darker side to it," he says. "My dad suffered from a drink problem, which meant we suffered, which meant our relationship suffered."(AP Photo/George Brich, File)


FILE - A Thursday, March 16, 2006 file photo showing Calum Best leaving Manchester Cathedral after a tribute service to his father the Manchester United and Northern Ireland soccer player George Best in Manchester, England. Approaching the tenth anniversary of the death in November 2005, Calum is telling the full story of their turbulent father-son relationship for the first time. "Although he was on this pedestal of being this amazing, iconic footballer, which I will always be proud of, there's a darker side to it," he says. "My dad suffered from a drink problem, which meant we suffered, which meant our relationship suffered."(AP Photo/Jon Super, File)


LONDON — There's one place where the memory of George Best is forever of the stylish winger who bamboozled defenders and thrilled fans. Immortalized in bronze outside Old Trafford, a statue featuring Best is as much as a crowd-puller as the Manchester United icon was in his footballing prime.

It's where Best's only child now goes for a glimpse at what one of the game's first international superstars looked like before alcohol took over his life, and then destroyed it.

"I go up there and take pictures in front of him, just like everybody else does," 34-year-old Calum Best said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm a fan in that respect."

Calum never got to see his father winning trophies at United in the 1960s, and collecting personal accolades for his extraordinary dribbling and goals. Born in 1981, Calum instead endured a tumultuous relationship with a father who struggled to cope with the end of his playing career and reveled in a hard-drinking playboy lifestyle before dying at 59 from multiple organ failure.

Approaching the 10th anniversary of the death in November 2005, Calum is telling the full story of their turbulent father-son relationship for the first time.

"Although he was on this pedestal of being this amazing, iconic footballer, which I will always be proud of, there's a darker side to it," he said. "My dad suffered from a drink problem, which meant we suffered, which meant our relationship suffered."

Nothing is off limits in Calum's book about his father, which was published Monday: violence, neglect and, of course, the extent of the drinking problem.

The focus on the flaws over the footballing exploits in "Second Best" has angered George's family in his native Northern Ireland, with his sister's husband, Norman McNarry, telling local media in Belfast that the book's "nastiness" was a "betrayal."

Raising the family rift himself at the start of the interview, Calum acknowledged: "It's kicked up a fuss."

"Belfast feel they are probably protecting their own," Calum added. "It's not an attack on my dad. I'm my dad's number one fan. I love him to bits, more than anybody. But this isn't about George Best the footballer. This is about me having alcohol dependency in my relationship with my father."

The relationship was as fraught as it was fragmented, with the Atlantic Ocean separating them for much of Calum's childhood.

The 1968 European player of the year was at the San Jose Earthquakes when his first wife, Angie, gave birth. Calum's arrival didn't curb the binges, and the couple separated from George. By 1986, Angie sought to shield Calum from his father's chaotic life, applying for divorce before returning to California after a few years in England.

George didn't even turn up to the custody hearing, and the sense of abandonment felt by Calum is reflected throughout the book, as is a constant pursuit of his father's love and attention. It was rarely fulfilled.

Back in the U.S., Calum started discovering the extent of his father's past prowess through "absolutely mind-blowing" videos of some of the 180 goals scored in 465 United appearances.

But Calum's first visit to Old Trafford with his father was far from a bonding experience. Like so much of their time together, it ended in tears. The 11-year-old Calum was abandoned in the evening by his drunken father, who took until the following afternoon to re-emerge.

And by then Calum was old enough to realize his father's alcoholism was being splashed across newspapers.

"I would come into town for my trips to see him and everyone would be like, 'He's so excited to see you,'" Calum recalled. "As soon as I'd get here he'd go on a three-day brandy bender."

One trip to London in 1995 was traumatic. Calum had enough of trailing around pubs so returned to his father's flat. When George later returned in a drunken mess, he accused his 14-year-old son of having an affair with fiance Alex.

"You're not my son," Calum recalled being told as his father attacked him. "You're not even meant to be. I hate you."

Reflecting on the night 20 years later, Calum said: "It was one nasty situation."

The constant rejection hurt, and seems to explain Calum's own wild ways as a hell-raising teenager enjoying the surfer-boy lifestyle on the West Coast while binging himself on drink and ever-harder drugs. Calum played football, but never wanted to emulate his father.

"It was hard enough living up to my dad's reputation without trying to play," Calum said.

But Calum's life has mirrored his father's. A modeling career faded after his teens as drinking, drug-taking and womanizing took over, even as George was seriously ill.

Although George received a liver transplant in 2002 and briefly looked to have turned a corner, alcohol was just too hard to resist.

The yearning for a drink made a coaching career impossible. George looked increasingly gaunt while working as a television pundit — when he turned up.

"I saw in his eyes he wanted to change but he wasn't able to," Calum said between sips of mineral water in a fashionable London hotel.

A bad reaction to medication to control the alcoholism forced George into hospital in 2005. He never left, dying two months later when his organs gave up.

"If alcohol didn't take over he could have had a whole second chapter that we could have shared together," Calum said.

Now he feels closest to his father on visits to Manchester to see United, joining in the enduring Best songs and always stopping to take pictures at that statue of Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, the "Holy Trinity" who won two English titles and the 1968 European Cup.

Even today George Best is regarded as one of the most talented players to grace the game despite leaving United at 27 — initially retiring from football completely — and never playing in a top league again.

"Not a day goes by when I don't get into a black cab or meet someone somewhere who talks about what a legend my dad was and I'm the first person to say, 'Thank you,'" Calum said.

"He's such a hero in the football world. I don't think that legend will ever die. If I've got anything to do with it, it will never die."


Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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