Daniel Gordon talked to Film Ireland about his new feature documentary, George Best: All By Myself.
Maradona good, Pelé better, George Best. As far as iconic footballers go, George Best is up there with the gods – indeed, Pelé himself called Best the greatest footballer in the world. But sadly, for all his football genius, his name is also synonymous with the tragedy of his early demise and death from alcoholism. Director Daniel Gordon has brought the genius and the tragedy together in his feature documentary George Best: All By Myself.
Gordon originally got involved when a production company in Belfast approached him after seeing his powerful 2014 documentary about the Hillsborough disaster. Gordon jumped at the opportunity to direct a feature that could take in the scope of George’s life that could “only be served in a feature documentary,” according to Gordon. “The nature of TV is quite superficial so the opportunity with cinema in this case was to make a proper in-depth portrait of a great football player who had a dark side – we all knew a little bit about that but what really shocked me when I got into it was the depth of that dark side as well as the upside of the football – that was the attraction for me.”
To use a football cliche the film is a game of two halves taking the viewer on a journey through the highs of his success to the lows of his disease. Gordon says, “You can’t tell one side without the other, or favour one side over the other. They are both equally valid – the split between the genius and the flawed side, and I wanted to tell that deeper story of both sides. For me it would have been wrong just to focus on him as a wonderful footballer while at the same time it would have been wrong just to do a hatchet job on him and only pick from the interviews the dark bits.”
Watching those years when he was taking football to a new level, it is striking to hear the amount of warnings he was given concerning where off-the-field temptations may lead him – sadly warnings he failed to understand. Gordon adds though that “equally there were times when he was crying for help and there ‘s footage in Majorca when the press go after him but no one realises he needs help here. So it went both ways – people warned him and he ignored them – he cried out and people ignored him.”
As he struggled with life after football, George battled with depression and comes across as quite a lonely man. Gordon says, “Even though he was really popular and the centre of a room, he could be quite lonely. He didn’t like his own company, which always doesn’t bode well. He didn’t really have a gang of really, really close friends and he wasn’t particularly social. He became quite lonely and didn’t like to be on his own at all, which is quite childlike, that yearning to have people around him – which I imagine would have come from his own childhood.”
Ultimately, the film is a story of addiction as much as anything. Gordon notes that the football journalist Hugh McIlvaney says of George that he was addicted to football, “and you might thing that’s a safe thing – what better thing to be addicted to? But actually for someone like that it’s quite dangerous. You’re getting a high every week going out there and at that age where it’s all coming natural to him, it’s amazing. Everyone loves him and he gets all that success and the European Cup Final in 1968. What a high and he’s never going to get that high again. For someone like that, with that personality, he’s always going to be chasing the high. There you have the amazing thing about football but it’s all downhill from there. The level of addiction he had was something I discovered in the edit. That addiction is not something that can easily be switched on and off, and he couldn’t manage that. Even on a rehab programme when the counseller advised him, he walked out really quickly. He knew he couldn’t do it. He had to live with that.”
George Best: All By Myself is currently in cinemas.