Best at his best provides haven from shopping storm

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The Independent Online
A LETTER comes from a firm in Jermyn Street, saying: "One day you will buy all your shirts from Charles Tyrwhitt..." I have to confess this news has taken me by surprise, as I rarely buy any clothing voluntarily and my shirt stock has not been replenished for at least five years. Foolishly, at that time I chose shirts which had a tendency to become increasingly tight around the collar and the middle. Rest assured, I shall purchase only quality items in future.

The point about the letter is: If people have these powers, why can't they send me useful information? What's wrong, for instance, with "One day you will see a horse called Outside Bet at 100-1. Put money on it and you will win." Or "One day you will think it is a good idea to wear a leather jacket. It won't be."

Even something more cheering would be... well, cheering. "One day you will be sent a cheque for overpayment by the Inland Revenue... One day you will clear the front room of newspapers... One day you will learn the difference between a dark and a coloured wash..."

This is the time of year, of course, when every company, shop, manufacturer and mail-order firm shouts at us to spend, spend, spend. I look up and see my children's advent calendars, their opened cardboard doors pointing at me accusingly. Have you done it all? Have you bought them all? Why not then? Why not? In my mind, the Countdown music is running, faster, faster...

I pick up one of Mr Murdoch's newspapers. It shouts at me from above the title. "Cut the cost of Christmas at Habitat." Yes, I think. Don't buy anything there. No doubt some popular American therapist has already devised a name for what I am experiencing, and written a best-selling book on the subject. "Mr Rowbottom, you're suffering from what has come to be known as SSS - Seasonal Stress Syndrome."

At such times I have sometimes found it useful to switch on the television and watch anything. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Hello. Someone is doing something festive and creative with Jane Asher on BBC 1... "Get a bit of ivy in there... you can tie it round with some wire. Smartens up a staircase..." Switch channel. It's an advertisement for Disney videos. "Don't miss your chance to bring home the one gift they'll want to open - again and again..." Switch channel. Richard and Judy are interviewing Father Christmas. Switch off television.

There's no refuge right now. But later in the day a haven shimmers...

Match of the Day Greats. I chanced on it a couple of weeks ago - black and white footage, a leather-coloured ball, and a pitch of mud and patches that was a world (and 32 years) away from the immaculate Premiership weaves of today.

Were the current Manchester United team expected to play on such a surface, Alex Ferguson would probably blanch to the lips in outrage. But the Manchester United team of Law, Best, Charlton, Crerand and Herd was clearly equal to the challenge as they earned a 4-3 win at West Bromwich Albion.

Those who never saw George Best play have grown accustomed to glimpsing the man's greatness through familiar video snapshots - his Greatest Hits.

Thus, periodically, we see Best rounding Benfica's keeper in extra-time to tilt the 1968 European Cup final United's way. Best protesting at the disallowing of his "goal" against England, when he put in an impudent foot as Gordon Banks threw the ball up to kick downfield. Bearded Best shuffling and accelerating clear of three Sheffield United defenders before scoring from an impossibly acute angle. Impudent smile. One arm raised.

What was compelling about the half-hour of action from The Hawthorns was the context it provided. Abbreviated it was, but the game's outstanding moments gained immeasurably from being set within the ebb and flow of a real contest.

There was time, too, to see the ordinary bits and pieces. Charlton moving the ball around efficiently rather than spectacularly. Best tackling back - a part of his game that is rarely recalled. And Best at less than his best - lithe, long-sleeved, elusive, moving past the full-back Graham Williams as if the latter were a Sunday League player rather than a Welsh international, but then crossing a ball which drifted out of play beyond the far post. Best making a mistake.

For a few moments, you could imagine being there at The Hawthorns, and knowing that next time, Best would probably get it right. Which, as it turned out, he did.

It was a luxury. An early - and welcome - Christmas gift.