The Way I Was: Happy again, and still chatting up the girls: They said the disabled youngster would not speak. George Best tells Nicholas Roe how he made her play ball

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Indy Lifestyle Online
TEN YEARS AGO I was having a lot of problems with alcohol. I was in fights. I was in and out of hospital for treatment. I tried having implants. I went to prison. It all related to booze, and really I wasn't going anywhere.

I realised I was trying to find something to replace the buzz that football gave me. Then I decided to dig my heels in and start doing this sort of personal appearance work, and television and radio.

I suppose it's just a carry-over from what I did before: I've always called myself an entertainer as opposed to a footballer, and basically that's what I'm still doing.

This photograph was taken about four years ago in Australia, on the first big tour I did on the after-dinner circuit. During the day I was coaching kids, and most evenings there were sportsmen's dinners. But while I was there, people asked me if I was interested in helping physically and mentally handicapped kids, and I said yes, great.

I went to this school in Cairns, in Queensland, just to kick a ball about with them. But without telling me, somebody had told the local press and television. When I arrived all the cameras were there, which I thought was unfair to the kids, so we got rid of them. I wasn't doing it because I wanted my photograph in the paper, I was doing it because I wanted to.

I went out with the ball but the young girl in the photo was sitting in her classroom and wouldn't come out. I asked one of the teachers what was wrong, and was told she never spoke to anybody. I said, 'I'm going to get her out.'

I sat with her for about an hour. I started talking to her, asked her name and so on, but there was nothing at all from her at first. Then I pointed at a picture of a dog in her book and said, 'Oh, a cat,' and she looked at me like I was the one with problems. And I pointed at the car and said, 'Oh, bus . . .' and she kept looking at me and eventually she said, 'no', and we started arguing and went through the whole book and at the end she was in tears of laughter, so it was terrific. She came out, yes, she got involved with everything after that.

That night I was coaching a group of kids and I found it difficult to get through. I was so drained - in a nice way.

That whole trip was hard work, but enjoyable hard work. In the seven weeks we did 22 flights and averaged at least one speech a day.

After that first tour it was the Middle East. I've done Hong Kong five or six times, Australia four times now . . .

It's funny: you don't mind going out in front of a hundred thousand people doing something you know you're good at, but the first few speeches I did I was frightened to death.

I've been doing them now for about eight years, and when I first started it was maybe one a month. But now I'm doing 10 a week, and what I've found is that it gives me satisfaction - that, and television and radio or whatever. Because if I've done a good show I'm really on a high. It sounds corny to say it saved me, but it's given me something to look forward to that I didn't have a few years ago. It's how I earn my living nowadays, and I can think of worse ways of earning a living.

George Best is in ITV's 'Trouble with the Sixties' tonight at 9.55pm.

(Photograph omitted)