Conlon in line for Best part

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The Independent Online
IT IS an unlikely combination: a sporting legend who wrecked his career on drink, women and nightlife, and a petty thief forced from obscurity to celebrity by 15 years in jail due to a miscarriage of justice. But according to film-industry sources, Gerry Conlon, Guildford Four member and aspiring thespian, is being considered for the role of George Best in a new film about the footballer's life and times.

It will not be Conlon's first movie role: last year he had a small part in The Face with Robert Carlyle, who starred in The Full Monty, and Damon Albarn of the pop group Blur. Conlon himself was portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis in the award-winning film In the Name of the Father.

The new film is the brainchild of actor John Lynch, who appeared with Helen Mirren in Cal and in the television adaptation of Moll Flanders. Work on raising finance and on the script has been going on for more than two years, and details are not being revealed. However, it is expected to mix episodes from Best's life with a background including the troubles in Northern Ireland.

Best, now a televison football commentator, declared: "It will cover everything, the Sixties, the football, the drinks, jail [he served 54 days for drink-related offfences]. It will be my life story, good and bad ... It always amazes me that people still seem to be fascinated by my life."

Best came from a Protestant family, but avoided involvement in Ulster's politics and sectarian feuds. He has said he does not want the film to be a political one. In 1996 he was caught up in a riot on a visit to Belfast when a petrol bomb was thrown. "I just drank the petrol," he said.

Conlon's brush with the murderous politics of Ulster was of course far more traumatic. He was 20 when arrested in December 1974 in Belfast and was wrongly convicted the following year over two IRA pub bombs which killed seven people in Surrey. He was 35 when freed from his life sentence along with Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson.

Since then he has said that his life has been going steadily downhill. The money he got for the film rights for In the Name of the Father went in a haze of cocaine and he ended up back in Belfast living with his mother.

He said afterwards: "I was lost in that drug for a long time. At one stage I had the numbers of two dealers, and I called them night and day... madness. I had been paid pounds 120,000 for the film rights and every penny of it went in six weeks."

Although the film was a critical and box-office success, Conlon was unhappy with the way it was made. He says he felt used.

He has been offered a total compensation settlement of pounds 550,000 by the Home Office, and negotiations are still continuing. In the meantime he has already been given instalments from the final sum, pounds 50,000 the first year of his release, pounds 100,000 the next, pounds 50,000 the third ... but most of it has gone.

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