The Peter Corrigan Column: Mischievous to the end, George sells his final dummy to an adoring media

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The Independent Football

George Best was selling dummies right up until the end. His lingering departure had the media's finest twitching over their flowery epitaphs for a week or more until Thursday when, convinced he wouldn't last the night, they plunged in to fill Friday mornings's columns.

But, with a final flourish typical of his unpredictability, he outlived his obituaries by half a day. If there's a funny side to that, he would have appreciated it.

As to the obituaries themselves they left no doubts about the legitimacy of Best's place in the marble halls where sporting legends roam but views differ on how many marks should be deducted for misbehaviour.

The enduring mystery of his time on earth is how someone so infuriatingly unreliable could have impressed so many for being overwhelmingly nice and well-intentioned.

Those who knew him well, or pretend to, have been queuing up to present the case for the defence and are very persuasive. Many have backed their opinions with personal reminiscences and you are not going to be spared mine.

As it happens, his life since he made his debut for Manchester United as a 17-year-old in 1963 coincides with my time in Fleet Street and anyone who made his living writing about the game was grateful for the brilliance of his presence on the scene.

Sadly, many have bemoaned that he quit the big-time when he abruptly ended his career at Manchester United at the age of 27 after falling out with an understandably exasperated Tommy Docherty.

In fact, he played for another 10 years; not always in the most fancy places but where he displayed his genuine love for the game and not the limelight.

In my spare time I was editing the Fulham FC programme when in 1976 the manager Alec Stock brought Best back to England from a stint in America with the Los Angeles Aztecs.

So low was the player's reputation, the Football League were not happy about sanctioning what was regarded by most as a blatant move by Best to cash in.

Fulham's secretary at the time was Graham Hortop who recalled last week that when Best arrived to sign a contract, it had not been filled in. "George took the blank contract, signed the bottom and told me to fill the figures in. He was more concerned with playing football than the money side of it.

"In my experience, the really great players were not money-grabbers like those who just thought they were great. Bobby Moore was exactly the same when he signed for us."

The fact that Moore was already at Fulham and that Stock also signed Rodney Marsh, another rebellious soul who'd been playing in America, would not have deterred Best and when he made his debut the Craven Cottage attendance was trebled.

Crowds flocked to see them wherever they played and Marsh recalls an early game. "George had scored fantastic goals all over the world but the greatest I saw was against Peterborough in the League Cup. It was a terrible game, 0-0 with an hour gone, and the crowd started to fidget and boo.

"Suddenly, he got the ball near the halfway line, flicked it up with his left foot and volleyed it with his right. It hit the net before the goalkeeper could dive.

"As I went to congratulate him I noticed that even the goalie was applauding."

Near the end of the game, Best again gained possession on the halfway line and this time passed all the way back to his own goalkeeper. They were 2-1 up at the time and, he explained later, winning was more important than showing off.

Best played 37 games that season and more often than not was man of the match whether playing at home or up north on a nasty winter's night.

He pleased himself when he trained but he was among the fittest in the team and revived a club that would have been relegated without his contribution. He returned to Los Angeles and later played for Hibernian in Scotland. His final League game was for Bournemouth against Wigan after which he played in Ireland and couldn't even resist turning out for Ford Open Prison.

That's the mark of the greatest. We all know where the paths of glory lead and the most admirable are those prepared to play on through their waning days. It is an acknowledgement that, no matter how brilliantly you have dominated it, in the end the game wins.

For once, Blatter hits the right note

If running world football requires creating as many controversial suggestions as possible then Sepp Blatter is doing a splendid job as the president of Fifa.

We are almost at the stage that no idea can be considered daft unless Blatter is behind it. His latest battering came after he proposed that the anthems should be scrapped before international matches.

"God save us from stupid Sepp" read one of the cleverer headlines on Wednesday but this time I think he is right.

He was speaking in the context of the recent trouble after Turkey's World Cup play-off defeat by Switzerland. Blatter believes the bad feeling was linked to the disrespect shown to the anthems.

Whereas the anthems in rugby have an inspirational value they have long proved an unpleasant prelude to a football match and as long as they remain the target of puerile international crowds they serve no purpose but to antagonise.

I am not sure from where footballers get their biggest surge of patriotism; hearing their anthem or hearing it drowned by boos and whistles.

Either way, they can't be that short of national pride that they need a band to stir it up. The tradition is already ruined and should be stopped.

The last word - and this time it is

After nigh on 23 years offering a sporting sermon every Sunday I am hanging up my hang-ups and ceasing to fill this space.

When I began a comment column in January 1983 it was generally derided as doomed to a short life because there were not enough important topics in sport to sustain a weekly debate.

Although there have been weeks when the good Lord has been late in providing a subject, sport's growing presence in our lives has guaranteed a ready supply.

Tragedies like Heysel and Hillsborough, Ben Johnson's infamy at the Seoul Olympics and a battle against drugs in sport that seems doomed never to end, the failure of successive governments to fund a proper sporting infrastructure, the television-driven popularity of our major sports, the 2012 Olympics, Sven Goran Eriksson - now a columnist can pick from a range of juicy subjects and a shooting gallery of the half-baked and the villainous who frequently find their way to the top places.

Which is why there are now more columns in sport than there are in the Acropolis - and there need to be.

But when you hear your bullets pinging harmlessly off the thick skins they are aimed at, it is time to give way to the better armed.

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