George Best: All by Himself (2016)

Could ‘George Best: All by Himself’ (2016) happen today?

Director Daniel Gordon brings different insights to his @ESPN3030 George Best movie, but is the story even relevant today? Players now are too valuable to let fail.

Gordon covers every pertinent inch of George Best’s early innocence and fabled downfall. Although Georgie wanted to be remembered for his football, his life story is instead a cautionary tale, now taught to young ManU players.

At 19, Georgie Best became the first pop star of football, equivalent to the Beatles, but he was sorely unprepared for the massive adulation and financial opportunity. The film is fascinating for its compendium of game footage, video interviews and voiceovers by George, and interviews with Best’s friends, teammates, significant others, and coaches.

The film emphasizes how severe his alcoholism was, leading him to semi-retire at age 27. He often went on “benders” as long as 2-3 days to as many as 22 days. And when he was a mean drunk (usually), he was violent. Although his post-ManU career lists many teams until his official retirement at age 37, it appears he was mostly paid for his name recognition and often missed practices or games.

A Georgie audiences didn’t already know

In 2014, Daniel Gordon was commissioned to do this film, having already directed Hillsborough as one of ESPN’s 30 for 30 soccer stories. There have been several movies and documentaries about George Best, so Gordon’s objective was to tell a story that audiences didn’t already know.

Perhaps that is why he delves heavily into George’s alcoholism. Plus, he pursues two tenuous threads that derailed George’s career along with the alcohol. First, Best lost his motivation after winning the Ballon d’Or and the Euros at age 22; what else was there to achieve? And second, Matt Busby retired from managing a year after the 1968 Euro win, having finally compensated for the 1958 Munich air disaster. Thus, George lost his father figure on the pitch.

It seemed a bit of a reach to connect the Munich disaster with George’s decline, since he was only 11 when it happened, and also Busby continued as Club Director and maintained a presence in George’s life.

Are players today too big or too programmed to fail?

While the film is thorough, it doesn’t feel very relevant today. With drug-testing, the competition for playing time, and the need to maintain fitness, an athlete cannot play at the highest levels and be drunk or stoned most of the time. Plus there are so many people dependent on an athlete’s health–agents, teammates, coaches, family, etc—that interventions and rehab are readily available.

As a San Jose Earthquakes fan, it was very surprising to see Quakes commentator Chris Dangerfield in the film. I didn’t realize that he was George Best’s brother-in-law during Best’s first marriage to Angie Best.

This detailed film is the first soccer documentary I’ve watched that did not require any additional research.

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7