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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Best in San Jose

By Gary Singh

GEORGE BEST, one of the greatest soccer players in the history of the sport, is no longer with us. The Northern Ireland native passed away last Friday after almost two months of hospitalization. Even a controversial 2002 liver transplant could not stop him from drinking and he always said that alcohol was the only adversary he could never beat. He was right.

During his heyday for Manchester United in the latter days of the swinging '60s, Best was universally known as the Fifth Beatle and fans followed him wherever he went. Thousands of 14-year-old girls screamed whenever he touched the ball. The entire concept of the rock-star-millionaire-womanizing-boozing-sports-figure—Best practically invented it. There had never previously been such a flamboyant persona that combined a show business lifestyle with sheer genius on the pitch. He was the first and greatest rock star footballer. The chicks loved him and he did things on the field that no else could do. He was worshipped by millions. You think Dennis Rodman is an "outrageous" celebrity basketball player? Well, Rodman couldn't hold a punk candle to George Best's antics in his day. Upon hearing of Best's passing, Prime Minister Tony Blair even chimed in with a tribute from the road.

But if there was ever such a thing as a flawed genius, that would be George Best, and he was often lambasted for squandering his talent and his money over the years. He was quoted countless times as saying that he spent his millions on women, booze and cars—and that he wasted the rest.

By the time Best came to play for the San Jose Earthquakes of the old North American Soccer League in 1980, he was more than past his prime, but he still showed occasional flashes of incomparable genius. In 1981 he scored a near-impossible, bordering-on-frightening goal that people are still talking about to this day. He was called for a questionable foul and booked for verbally assaulting the ref afterward. Clearly angered at the referee's incompetence, and after calling the goal in advance, he took a pass and then went through six Fort Lauderdale players in 25 yards all by himself and blasted home the goal. He even beat one guy twice. Most who attended that match say it was the greatest goal they've ever seen and it was the 1981 NASL goal of the year. For those of us who were at that game, we will never forget that goal, and he himself said it was the best one he ever scored.

Best was on hand when the first Britannia Arms opened up in Cupertino in 1981. In fact, he was usually in the bar 30 minutes before the games most of the time. The famous "George Best Pub Crawl" took place whenever game time drew near and nobody knew where the hell he was. They had to go from bar to bar in search of the guy. Best will be remembered by many locals who are still left from those days, and he had many friends here. But that goal was the fondest memory for so many people. The goal was shown, among several others, in many newsreels after he died.

San Jose was also the place where his first marriage fell apart, due to alcoholism and adultery. In his second autobiography, Blessed, Best had this say: "Even if [Angie and I] had a hope of sorting out our life together, it was not going to be in San Jose, which turned out to be the worst place ever for me, in just about every aspect of my life." He also says that San Jose is where he really hit rock bottom. "I hated San Jose and although we had a nice house, which we filled with beautiful furniture, it was situated in the middle of nowhere. And while I tried to help around the house and get things ready for the new arrival [their son], I soon got bored and would head off on another bender. ... And nothing was going to stop me drinking, not even when Angie started hiding the car keys and all our money."

Angie went on to write a book about it all ( and their son Calum, who was born here when Best played for San Jose, is now a famous model. After Best left the Quakes, he went back to the U.K. for the 1983 season, but that was it. The last professional goal he ever scored was for the San Jose Earthquakes.

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