Among tributes paid to George Best, who died Friday, there have been a few comments about how Britain's first iconoclastic footballer brought about his own downfall.

Best succumbed in a London hospital aged 59, three years after a liver transplant which offered hope he might beat the alcoholism that had brought him to the nadir. The most prestigious doctors in England warned him never to booze again. Their advice was expensive; he failed to heed it.

Amid tributes ranging from the prime minister to his Manchester United teammates, plus Pele, Eusebio and the world of soccer, none are so poignant as a generation of fans my age and slightly older who were dazzled at Best's artistry on the field and envious of his playboy lifestyle off it. Comments from India to Indiana posted on his memorial Web site tell of worldwide affection for the cheeky boy discovered kicking a tennis ball around Belfast's back streets who caused a talent scout to wire his boss, "I have found a genius."

They used to say Liverpool had The Beatles but Manchester had Georgie Best. Portuguese fans dubbed Best "El Beatle" after he scored key goals in two classic victories in the mid-1960s over Benfica, previously regarded as the top team in Europe.

With his tousled black hair and drop-dead looks, all the girls fell for him, all the moms wanted to mother him, and all the guys wanted to be him. His team is hated around the world for its arrogance, its check-book and its boorish fans. Yet Best transcended club affiliations. Diehard supporters of rival teams could not help admiring the magic he conjured up. He dribbled through opposition defenses, the ball tied to his bootlaces. The hardest tacklers did their business. Up he jumped, then beat them with speed and guile.

Off the field, excesses caught up with him. Drunken nights and hung-over mornings led to his departure from top-level soccer.

The story is told of a room-service waiter who arrived at Best's hotel suite to find him lounging on a bed containing 25,000 pounds in gambling winnings and a scantily clad Miss World. As the waiter uncorked the vintage champagne, he asked, "Where did it all go wrong, Mr. Best?"

My personal memory is from February 1970 when Manchester United played a lower-division team in the FA Cup and Best beat the single game scoring record. There was no live soccer on TV then, so families gathered at 4:40 p.m. and gawked at a BBC teleprinter as it churned out results in random order with no fanfare or embellishment.

Came the unforgettable notation: "Northampton Town 2, Manchester United 8 (Best six, yes SIX)."

In England, the schoolboy euphemism for a spanking is "six of the best." The next morning, every newspaper headline played a variation on the theme: "By George! Six of the best."

Those hapless Northampton players, now grandfathers, still are trotted out for interviews. Roy Fairfax, the defender assigned to guard Best, once said: "The closest I got to him was when we shook hands at the end of the game."

For the record, Best scored 180 goals in his 465 appearances for Manchester United, which spanned 12 years. He dabbled with lesser clubs in Britain before joining the North American Soccer League where he played for the Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and San Jose Earthquakes, retiring in 1983.

Before Saturday's British professional games they tried to hold a minute's silence. Instead, most fans applauded then broke into a chant that rang around stadia from London to Scotland. "There is only one Georgie Best!"

The tributes did not follow the rules; that would have made George smile.

Patrick Webb is managing editor of The Daily Astorian

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