Sport on TV: Bests lose fight with bottle but Falklands hero wins his battle

By Simon Redfern
Saturday 02 May 2009 23:00

Hard on the heels of 'The Damned United' comes another drama about a football genius inexorably destroyed by drink. You don't see a team bus for ages, then two come along at once, but the problem with George Best was that increasingly he didn't turn up to catch his.

You would have thought the bones of his life would have been picked clean by now, but Best – His Mother's Son (BBC2, Sunday) focused on the parallel tragedy of his mother, Ann, who took her first drink at 44 and died an alcoholic 10 years later. The suggestion was that this spirited but vulnerable woman, played with haunted perfection by Michelle Fairley, couldn't cope with the pressures her son's sudden rise to fame exerted on her hitherto settled family routine on a working-class estate in East Belfast.

Snide comments from jealous neighbours, relentless doorstepping from the media, her sense of loss at her son's departure, all combined to tip her over the edge, and she blamed herself. Her dawning realisation of George's own galloping booze habit enveloped her with guilt for sending him off to Manchester aged 15. "Look what I did to you," she wept. "I gave you up; it was supposed to be your chance." Powerful stuff, and impeccably staged, the beige tones of Belfast in the Troubles contrasted with George's canary-yellow sports car and the bright lights of life in England. Tom Payne portrayed George as a wide-eyed ingenue but the clip at the end of a jowly, middle-aged Best reviewing the wreckage of his life on 'Parkinson' was a sombre reminder of what happened next.

* As a player, Phil Stant wasn't fit to lace Best's drinks, to borrow the cruelly apposite phrase of my former colleague John Roberts. A peripatetic lower-division striker, he played for Hereford, Notts County, Lincoln and Mansfield, and now works as a youth development officer for the Football League.

But before that he was in the Army, a Falklands War veteran, and Nightwatch (ITV1, Tuesday) showed him revisiting the islands on the 25th anniversary of the conflict. "We were told the war was over, we were just garrison troops," he recalled. But, dug in on a hillside at Bluff Cove, he witnessed the bombing of the troop ship Sir Galahad, when 48 men died: "And suddenly it wasn't an adventure any more."

His return clearly moved him but also seemed to give him a sense of closure as he paid respects to former foes as well as colleagues. His spirits rose when he played a football game for the islanders against a Navy side: "Forty-four years old and my first international cap – for the Falkland Islands," he beamed.

A very different footballer, a very different battle but, unlike Best, Stant ended the day as a survivor.

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