Gordon Burn - Best and Edwards (5 stars)

Gordon Burn

Best and Edwards (Faber)


On the day of the recent Champions League clash between Manchester United and Celtic, the shirt George Best wore while scoring six goals for the Red Devils against Northampton in 1970 was sold in auction for £24,000. It feels longer than just one year since the ‘Fifth Beatle’ died, so dragged out seemed his dying, but the memory can plays funny tricks. What is it that we choose to remember? When the mother of the 1958 Munich air disaster victim Duncan Edwards recalls her son’s final moments, she was convinced that the Man Utd boss Matt Busby was by her side. At the time, Busby was fighting for his own life in the same hospital.

Gordon Burn has written before about Peter Sutcliffe, Fred and Rose West, and Damien Hirst, making him appear obsessed with death (from abused humans to pickled sharks) but is more intrigued by the things that we all leave behind, whether it is shirts, monuments or memories. The contrast between these two football legends could not be more stark: Edwards was dedicated fully to his trade and pushed himself hard to achieve greatness; Best played fast and loose with his natural talent, his pre-match build-up often involving sex and vodka. As ever with Burn’s work, the detail is exact, the writing is rich without ever becoming sickly, the tragedies loom large and pray on your mind as you read every paragraph. Gordon Burn has previously reignited the true crime genre and here he takes sports writing to new peaks.

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