Liam Mackey: You can sometimes get what you want... and need

So I take it you saw the Strolling Bones on that One World gig?
Liam Mackey: You can sometimes get what you want... and need
'I didn’t have to wait long for that spine-tingling, game-changing moment when the Belfast Boy got the ball and, as only he could, proceeded to turn route one into a magical mystery tour. When he found himself one and one with the ’keeper he jinked left and rolled the ball into the empty net.'

So I take it you saw the Strolling Bones on that One World gig?

What kind of voodoo was that, eh?

Mick looking good and sounding even better, Ronnie still throwing shapes, Charlie as cool and immaculate as ever on the old air drums and Keith… well, what can you say about the indestructible one?

Picking geetar and singing little harmonies, smiling away to himself, seemingly immune to everything except the deep, transporting pleasure of re-inhabiting a great song.

As someone noted recently, what with climate change and now this accursed pandemic, it really is past time we started giving serious consideration to what kind of world we want to leave Keef.

‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ was perfect for the times we’re living in, of course: “You can’t always get what you want but sometimes you get what you need”.

Yep, we can all identify with that sentiment right now, not least those of us of a sporting persuasion, as I found out to my delight one night this week.

Another day in the Twilight Zone was drawing to a close, the laptop was folded up and the rest of the house was abed.

In need of a little diversion, I was idly flicking through the television stations but, as The Boss almost said, it was looking like a case of 157 channels and nothing on.

Until, suddenly, some moving images in black and white stopped me in my tracks, followed immediately by a euphoric shock of recognition: this was Manchester United v Benfica, the European Cup final, Wembley, 1968.

And, just like that, I was time-travelling back all of 52 years to when I was nine years old, the curtains pulled in the living room to keep out the evening summer sun, and little young me on the edge of my seat, hypnotised by the ineffable drama and glamour of what was unfolding live on the box.

As a way into a life of loving football, I have come to regard that game and that night as my Rosetta Stone, the key which unlocked all the wonders and mysteries of the greatest sport in the world.

There could be no going back after watching Eusebio and Stepney, Aston scorching up the wing, Kidd celebrating his 19th birthday with a header on the rebound and, in an almost outrageously perfect plot twist,

Bobby Charlton, a survivor of Munich, book-ending the night that finally saw Matt Busby realise his European dream, with the opening and closing goals in a glorious 4-1 win.

And then, of course, there was the one and only Georgie.

When I stumbled on the extended highlights the other night, extra-time was just about to kick off, the match level at 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Which meant I didn’t have to wait long for that spine-tingling, game-changing moment when the Belfast Boy fastened onto a header forward from a Stepney kick-out and, as only he could, proceeded to turn route one into a magical mystery tour, first nutmegging the last defender and then, when he found himself one and one with the ’keeper, coolly dropping his right shoulder, jinking left and rolling the ball into the empty net.

That was George Best in his prime but, sadly, he was long past that when I finally got to meet him face to face for the one and only time, my memories of which bittersweet encounter will always remain vivid, treasured and, in light of his tragically early loss to the scourge of alcoholism in 2005, almost unbearably poignant.

It was early in 1994 when a few of us south of the border received an invitation from our counterparts in the Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Association to attend a lunch in Best’s honour in Belfast.

Diligent as ever in our preparations, we chose to travel up the night before and, on arriving at the hotel, found George seated in the lobby, deep in conversation with his dapper dad Dickie.

When his father headed for home, George’s agent invited us to join the great man. And, once the introductions had been made, it didn’t take very long — or require a doctorate in psychology — to discern that George had found other outlets for the competitive spirit which, along with his supreme innate talent, had made him one of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen.

It was at his enthusiastic instigation that we soon found ourselves engaged in a general knowledge and sports quiz — at which George proved himself to be a bit of master, trouncing all-comers with his command of arcane facts.

The night wearing on, and that avenue exhausted, we then moved to the hotel games room where, once again, he proceeded to extend his dominance over the rest of us mere mortals by showing himself to be quite the shark at the pool table.

That is, until the white wine, which he had been steadily putting away all evening, began to make its baleful presence felt.

When it came my turn to take him on, he decided it was time to up the ante.

How would I feel about playing for a tenner “to make it more interesting”?

I needed no second invitation: the loss of a fiver would be well worth the price of a story I’d one day be able to tell the grandkids.

But the gargle had begun to seriously affect George’s cue action by this point, with the result that this pool-playing minnow somehow managed to fluke a win. \

With the tenner in my pocket – and an even better yarn to tell the little ’uns — I retired gracefully, more than content to allow George, despite his unbeaten run having ended, to remain in control of the table.

But not for very much longer.

With his potting gone to, well, pot, and the drink darkening his mind, another loss saw him bring the night to an abrupt end, as he hurled the cue ball the length of the table before, in time-honoured parlance, storming off.

It was with some wariness then that I came face to face with him the following morning for an interview for the Sunday Press.

But I needn’t have worried.

Showing ‘in vino veritas’ to be the pernicious myth that it always has been, the sober (if hungover) George couldn’t have been more pleasant, thoughtful, patient or articulate — even as he was still visibly shedding the sweat from the previous night’s excesses.

And he grew positively rhapsodic when, with the upcoming US ’94 firmly on our agenda, the talk turned to the classic World Cup of 1970 in Mexico.

“I still watch that on video just for pure pleasure,” he told me with a beaming smile.

“That was class, it really was. That Brazilian team — I mean, I’m a football nut and I want Brazil to win it every time. Because they have the right philosophy about how the game should be played.

"They got a little bit cynical after ’70 and started thinking they were Argentina for a while. But I think they are getting back to what they once were again and it’s because of that they deserve to be favourites this year.”

George Best would be proved right about that a couple of months later, not long after the fruits of our recorded conversation appeared in a Sunday Press US ’94 preview, sharing top billing, in a nice completion of the circle, with an interview I’d been lucky to conduct with Pele around the same time.

The greatest player ever to play at a World Cup and the greatest player never to play at a World Cup on the same page? Not a bad day at the office, if I say so myself — the nine-year-old me would have been very impressed.

So, sometimes, you can get what you want and you can also get what you need.

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