November 26, 2005: It’s a beautiful autumn day here in Tokyo. The sun is shining and it’s a crisp, cool morning.
But it’s also an extremely sad morning, because, a few hours ago, George Best died at the age of 59.
Alcoholism was the only opponent he could not beat, and it led to his inevitable early demise.
BBC World has been paying tribute to him non-stop, and rightly so, but asking a question that, for me at this time, is irrelevant and unfair.
Will George be remembered for his football or for his extravagant lifestyle?
Of course it must be the first, as he would not have been able to live his celebrity lifestyle if it hadn’t been for the football.
Many Japanese readers will be too young to remember Best, and there will be some who have never heard of him as the global game was late arriving here in Japan.
Georgie was a footballer and an entertainer. He was fast, had the balance of a ballerina, and was brave. When he had the ball at his feet defenders were terrified, as he could humiliate opponents at will.
Sometimes it was like watching a bullfight. George holding the cape and the sword, the bull hoping for a quick death after being worked to exhaustion.
I remember watching George Best play once, for Manchester United at my hometown club, Halifax Town.
It was in a pre-season competition long since scrapped called the Watney Cup, which featured the highest scoring team in each of the four divisions from the previous season.
So the great Manchester United came to the humble home of Halifax Town, the Shay, in the early Seventies. It was raining, and I remember an argument breaking out because a woman standing in front of us had put her umbrella up, blocking the view of some men behind her.
In those days, men did not carry umbrellas. They were too tough for that. They wore flat caps to keep out the rain, with a peak to protect their cigarettes from getting wet as they smoked the whole match.
And we were all standing up, of course, because, in those days, seats were only for the wealthy. True fans stood on the terrace, in the wind, rain and snow, stamping their feet to keep warm and watching the last five minutes from in front of the gates, so you could beat the rush to the car park or the bus station.
Anyway, amazingly, George Best came to the Shay…and he missed a penalty! If I remember correctly, and it’s over 30 years ago, he hit it too softly and the Halifax keeper made an easy save.
His team-mate, another wing wizard called Willie Morgan, would score from the spot, but Halifax won 2-1. What an upset!
Everyone in Britain followed the life of George Best, the “fifth Beatle”, after he stopped playing, but there was nothing anyone could do to help him, although many tried.
Yes, it’s a sad Saturday, and I urge you to watch all the sports news programmes and buy a video if possible, because he really was an extraordinary talent.