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ESPN 30 for 30 looks at George Best’s rise and fall

Former Manchester United and Northern Ireland soccer star

Former Manchester United and Northern Ireland soccer star George Best sits on the beach at Marbella, Spain, May 25, 1972, after announcing his retirement. Credit: AP

It is one of the oldest debates in sports: Who is the best Best?

Travis, the Georgia Tech basketball star? Neil? (The rugby player, not the rec softball player.) Cricketers Carlisle or Tino? Soccer players Clyde or John? Equestrian’s Greg? Former Giant Art?

But seriously, folks, the answer here is George, the soccer star from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who wowed England in the 1960s, briefly alighted in the NASL in the ’70s and died at age 59 in 2005, never having kicked a nasty alcohol habit.

On Thursday night, ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary, “George Best: All by Himself,” focuses on his meteoric rise and long, steady fall, a victim both of his weakness for booze and his inability to handle early success and fame.

The film benefits from the trove of archival footage Best left in his wake – both on the field and in the news – supplemented by interviews with his contemporaries, including both of his wives.

Best was England’s answer to Joe Namath, only more so, and it is easy to see why given his good looks and great skills, notably in leading Manchester United to the 1968 European Cup.

But it did not take long for it all to fall apart, culminating in his death three years after a liver transplant that he followed by continuing to drink against doctors’ orders and common sense.

“I wanted to make a film that dug beneath the surface of the caricature of ‘Britain’s First Pop Star Soccer Player’ and tell a tale of emotional depth that takes us on George’s rollercoaster journey of a life,” director Daniel Gordon said in a news release.

“This is a cautionary tale. It is a story of addiction and what can happen to someone who has so much at such a young age, who reaches unimaginable heights — and then hits the ‘self-destruct’ button throughout the rest of his descent to rock bottom.”

The film is set for 8:30 p.m. Thursday, followed by Manchester United vs. Manchester City from Houston.

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