As Best and Marsh (or to give them their formal titles, Bestie and Marshie) took up their position, the first thing that you noticed was their footwear. Both pairs of feet - feet which once gave so much pleasure to so many people - were squashed into identical patent leather evening pumps. Bizarre items these were, cut low across the toes, squeezing the feet so efficiently you assumed that they must have been bought from a shop which outfits geisha girls. "Fat ankles," whispered the man next to me. "Gout."
It was not just my neighbour who had noticed. When Marshie invited his audience to ask the pair questions ("Anything you like, we don't mind, the more controversial the better") the comedian Arthur Smith put up his hand.
"What I'd like to ask these two giants of the modern game," Smith said, "is how come they can't buy shoes which fit?" In answer, all Marshie could do was grin a jovial grin while Bestie mumbled an indistinct obscenity.
It was an instructive moment. Here was a professional comedian, an expert in timing and observation, showing two would-be comics how it was done. And seeing them failing to respond. Indeed, watching Best and Marsh on stage is a bit like, well, watching Arthur Smith play football. In common with several other former sportsmen attempting to insulate their retirements by engaging with the current boom in sporting nostalgia, Best and Marsh appear to assume that merely by dint of having once been great at football, they will be great gag-tellers. They are wrong.
"Bobby Charlton, was he a miserable bastard or what?" Marsh said, opening a typical exchange. "Yeah, a miserable bastard," rejoined Best.
Maybe they were having an off-night. Best was on particularly low form, the sort of wet-Wednesday-night-in-January-and-you're-away-at-Sunderland lack of interest which he displayed towards the end of his time at Old Trafford. As he slowly sank, out came the old gags (yes, including the one about being on a hotel bed with Miss World and pounds 25,000 and the porter asking where it all went wrong) delivered with an exhaustion that was depressing to observe. Marsh tried his hardest to spark some interest in his partner by feeding him the lines.
"You played for some characters, George, eh?"
"Well, Tommy Doc."
"He was a funny guy."
"I never laughed."
The thing was, an audience hungry for titbits of gossip and opinion from their heroes do not need bad and badly timed jokes. They would have loved the pair if they had just delivered chat: informed and opinionated, an elevated version of the kind of conversation they had with their mates. To be fair to Marsh, trying to inject some spice into proceedings, he did his best to provide it. Unfortunately for him it was not only Best who was an unwilling collaborator. Spotting John Fashanu in the audience, Marsh called him up on stage. "Tell us about Gary Mabbutt, then," he goaded.
"Well, there have been depressed fractures of the cheekbone before, they are part and parcel of the game," Fashanu said, speaking in the tone and cadence of an on-the-record television interview. "When I went up for the ball, I didn't even know Mabbsie was going up with me. It just wasn't deliberate. But what disappointed me about the whole affair was the reaction of the press."
Ah, so that's it then. It was the bloke at the Sun's fault that Mabbutt was within an inch of being blinded.
It was left to Jack Charlton to show how these things should be done. He was called up on stage and immediately his presence set the room alight as he chatted, easily and fluently about his little black book ("Never had one, I kept it all in ma heed,"); about how close Gazza came to winning an Ireland cap ("I spoke to his parents and discovered there were relatives somewhere who'd once been to Ireland,") and about why he wouldn't describe himself as a dirty player ("Nah, you misunderstand. It was a professional game played by professionals. I was merely paid to do a job stopping bastards like Rodney playing,").
Moreover, the notoriously forgetful Charlton was, indirectly, responsible for one of the few genuinely funny moments of the night. He had just pointed at John Fashanu and said how glad he was that he never played against "young Justin here", when the compere asked if any women in the audience had a question.
"I do," said a glamorous woman at the back. "I want to ask the big bloke something. I didn't catch his name, but I seen him on them Weetabix ads." George Best was spotted in the bar after the show chatting to her. Trying to convince her to become his script-writer, presumably.Reuse content