The decision of the Ulster bank to issue a commemorative fiver bearing the image of revered soccer idol, and slightly less revered liver transplantee, George Best has set me wondering what's going on up above there in the North. The notes are available from Ulster Bank from November 27th.
Announcing the issue last month on BBC Northern Ireland, Ulster bank chief executive Cormac McCarthy said, apparently without a hint of irony,
"...we wanted to ensure that...we paid fitting tribute to his contribution to football in Northern Ireland and beyond. We wanted to make it possible for fans throughout Northern Ireland and further afield to own their very own piece of unique George Best memorabilia. By selecting the most affordable note denomination, five pounds, we have tried to make the notes as widely accessible as possible."
It would be pedantic of me to point out that if you have a million of something they can't be unique but, mere pedantry aside, the idea of Georgie (they call him) the Belfast boy on a note of the realm I find deeply ironic and not a little bit, how shall we say, uncharacteristic of the image of thrift and sobriety normally fostered by an austere financial institution like Ulster Bank. I wonder what Dr Paisley has to say about this?
Our Georgie was never averse to spending fivers (like a docker on payday, some unkind souls might say) and doubtless used one or two to light the odd havana in his time after a good night at the casino with a former Miss World or three on his arm. Sporting icon and national hero he might have been but a model of the Protestant work ethic, thrift and sobriety much favoured in Belfast, so I've heard, he most certainly was not.
Now, don't get me wrong, I loved the bones of George even though he played for the forces of darkness (i.e. United as seen from Liverpool). To me, like thousands of working class kids of my generation, George Best was a major inspiration in more fields than the soccer variety. George showed us that class barriers could be broken down (preferably in an E-Type Jag), that you could party into the wee small hours, drink copious amounts of champers and still break Don Revie's heart with a hat trick later the same day. A man who retired at the age of 26, for heaven's sake. What kid from inner city Liverpool, Belfast, or Birmingham looking at a future in a factory wouldn't see that as an aspiration?
Who could not admire a man who once said "I spent a lot of my money on booze, birds and fast cars - the rest I just squandered." Well no one whose moral and social values were shaped in those heady days of the late 60s and early 70s when women were women and men wore flares.
Those values of innocent hedonism and devil may care decadence that George embodied are perhaps best summed up in his admission, on the Jonathon Ross show, I think, that after his liver transplant he felt for a while that the new liver had wiped the slate clean and the partying could resume as per usual. What a man for even owning up to having had such a thought!
The sad thing is that most of the million fivers won't be used in a way George would appreciate. You won't see many being passed across pub counters,lost on the turn of a croupier's wheel or soundly invested in a sure thing running at Kempton Park. They'll be up on ebay and turning a nice profit for some dull micro-capitalist exploiting the acquisitive desires of the type of anorak who can tell you who scored the winning goal for Altrincham Town in the 1st round of the 1972 FA Trophy but who wouldn't recognise the pure and redeeming beauty of great football if it nutmegged them on the edge of the 6 yard box. How times change.
Anyway, always one to think ahead me, any takers for a commemorative nicotine patch for Alex Higgins then?