It’s a bold claim.
But True Genius – the family-backed biography of George Best, which is published tomorrow – contains the biggest untold story in Manchester United history.
The book chronicles George’s entire playing career in great detail. From his days as a youth player at Manchester United’s Cliff training ground, making fools of his peers, to his ascent as the world’s greatest player, right through to the end of his career, with a much greater focus than there has ever been on the clubs he went to after his career at Old Trafford was over. This is a celebration of George Best the magician.
There are over thirty brand new interviews. Family. His team-mates at youth team levels. Notable opponents. Former managers. His former ghost-writer for his newspaper column.
But in the interviews I’ve undertaken so far to promote the book, one question has been consistently asked – what did you uncover that is new?
When I discovered the story which I am proclaiming to be the biggest story in United history, it took a few minutes to sink in, simply because of the gravity of it.
If you have not yet listened to the interview I did on the Shoot the Defence, please do, as the host Mike Pieri described it as a genuine ‘wow’ moment.
I thought of the exits of the other members of the Holy Trinity – the relatively seamless way Bobby Charlton made Tommy Docherty’s job easier by telling him he would retire, compared to the controversial exit of Denis Law, who was told he was getting a new contract on the day he left to go to Scotland for the post-season, only to discover on the news in his local pub the next day that he had been free transferred.
Put that into perspective – it’s like Fergie kicking Cantona out instead of the latter retiring in 1997, or even like Juventus or Barcelona telling Ronaldo or Messi they’re not welcome anymore.
The story of George’s departure from United is inexorably linked to his illness. Tommy Docherty claimed that he turned up drunk before an FA Cup game against Plymouth after being named in the team. George insisted that wasn’t the case – that he would never have done that. Both sides have been presented in the years that have passed with people choosing what they wanted to believe.
When he left United, George immediately took responsibility for his actions, saying that he had let the club down with his behaviour. He acknowledged that his lifestyle made it difficult to be compatible with a life as a professional footballer.
Two years earlier he had talked to the journalist John Roberts about how depressed he was over United’s decline. That was nothing in comparison to the depression he felt after leaving Old Trafford. He had to rediscover himself and apart from a few games in South Africa it took almost two years for him to do that, he was so effected by what happened at United.
That to me is the greatest tragedy of this because George took that responsibility when the reality was that he perhaps didn’t have to. Maybe his illness would have always been present but I feel for sure that the manner of the way he left escalated his issues in the short term.
So I discovered this story – that was told to me almost by chance – which gave a major clue as to the truth. I set about doing as much research as possible to unravel the chain of events. I was able to completely exonerate George. He knew his truth, he didn’t need me to validate him, but for the millions of people who adore George, I was delighted to put the record straight.
That is only one half of the story, and I won’t spoil either half, suffice it to say that it completely reframes George’s exit and almost completely removes his culpability. I was careful to only let those who needed to know know the story before publication. I do honestly feel that if George himself knew the full truth, things might have been very different.
I recently told Calum – who’s been so supportive of the book – and his reaction too was ‘wow’. But I think even he will be surprised when he is able to put it all into context properly. It is rewriting a major part of Manchester United history.
That story is revealed tomorrow when True Genius is finally published.
You can order it now through Amazon in the first link in the comments below this article, or through all good book retailers.