Music

Cover Star

As far as we’re aware, George Best by the Wedding Present is the only album to be named after a European Cup winner. Here David Gedge – the band’s frontman and a big Best fan – explains how it came about

INTERVIEW Michael Harrold

When the Wedding Present released their George Best LP in 1987 it caused a bit of confusion among those who weren’t aware of this up-and-coming band from Leeds. “People thought it was a George Best album called the Wedding present,” recalls frontman David Gedge. “I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles.” Over the years it has also caused some animosity among Wedding Present fans of different football parishes. “City fans say all the time, ‘Why didn’t you
call it Colin Bell?’ And Leeds fans say, ‘What about Billy Bremner?’ But it wasn’t just about football for me. I loved his whole rebelliousness.”

Gedge, 61, was born in Leeds but grew up in Manchester just as Best was hitting his stride at Old Trafford. The singer, who is embarking on a UK tour with the band starting in October, has vivid memories of sitting in front of a black-and-white television as an eight-year-old kid, watching his football idol run Benfica ragged in the 1968 European Cup final. So when it came to choosing a title for his band’s first album there was really only one option.

There is no song on the record devoted to George. Not even a line. There is no mention of football in any of Gedge’s subsequent work either. But as album covers go, they don’t come much better. Oh – and it’s a cracking album, worthy of the man it’s named after.

So why did you call your first album George Best? Obviously he was more than just a footballer to you.

I’m a Man United fan and he was the star player when I was growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, so it was great. But at the same time I loved his whole rebelliousness, the fact that he used to get in trouble for missing practices because he had been out with Miss World in some seedy nightclub in Manchester the night before. As a teenager I thought that was brilliant: the fact that he could get in trouble for doing all those things and then still turn up the next day and play an amazing game of football. He also just looked great – the long hair, the shirt outside of the shorts. I wanted to call the album George Best as an idea and we went to a sports photography agency, to get some photographs for the sleeve. I went with Keith [Gregory] who was our bass player at the time, and we pulled that one out and straight away we just thought, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the photo. We’re gonna call it George Best. No more questions.” And he’s not even a Man United fan. It just seemed so obvious. The words even seem to make sense – George Best – it just sounded like an album title to me.

Best and the band, with David Gedge furthest right


There’s absolutely no reference to George Best on the album. And there’s no reference to football in any of your other music. So is it just that he’s an iconic footballer and it’s a statement in and of itself?

Yeah, I’ve found over the years that it’s better to avoid talking about football, because obviously people have very strong feelings. When I first went on Twitter, if United beat City or something like that I’d go on there and tweet, “There’s good triumphing over evil yet again.” Obviously I’d get a tirade of abuse. So I’ve kind of avoided it really. With the lyrics and stuff and a lot of the artwork, I do delve into popular culture in general but I usually steer clear of sport. It’s always been more comics and films and stuff, so George Best was a bit of an exception. But people tell me now that it put them off the album because they were Leeds fans or whatever. We had these George Best LP cover shirts, and still now we get people coming to a gig in Leeds and they’ll say, “I love that record but I’m not going to buy that shirt because there’s no way I can walk around with a Manchester United player on the front.” I remember at the time there were a number of people who actually thought it was an album by George Best. I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles. All sorts of people thought it was a George Best album called The Wedding Present. They were probably pretty annoyed when they found out the truth!

What are your earliest memories of Best as a player?

He played the first game that I went to at Old Trafford against Everton on 2 September 1970. I went with my granddad and my uncle. United won 2-0, with George Best and Bobby Charlton scoring, so that wasn’t too bad an introduction to Old Trafford. But most of it was watching him on television, obviously, as I was of that age. I just remember his wizardry really, the cheekiness. I remember the scandal about throwing mud at the referee and stuff like that. I think one of the earliest strong memories was the European Cup final in 1968. That was obviously a big moment, especially for a kid. It was on a black-and-white TV. I remember where I was: 21 Malvern Close in Higher Crompton near Oldham, in the front room. I also got a surprise because my dad was born in Leeds and he was a really big Leeds fan – he had that Leeds against United rivalry – but even he was cheering Best on. And I found that quite weird. I’m not sure that would happen these days.

When the Wedding Present released their George Best LP in 1987 it caused a bit of confusion among those who weren’t aware of this up-and-coming band from Leeds. “People thought it was a George Best album called the Wedding present,” recalls frontman David Gedge. “I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles.” Over the years it has also caused some animosity among Wedding Present fans of different football parishes. “City fans say all the time, ‘Why didn’t you
call it Colin Bell?’ And Leeds fans say, ‘What about Billy Bremner?’ But it wasn’t just about football for me. I loved his whole rebelliousness.”

Gedge, 61, was born in Leeds but grew up in Manchester just as Best was hitting his stride at Old Trafford. The singer, who is embarking on a UK tour with the band starting in October, has vivid memories of sitting in front of a black-and-white television as an eight-year-old kid, watching his football idol run Benfica ragged in the 1968 European Cup final. So when it came to choosing a title for his band’s first album there was really only one option.

There is no song on the record devoted to George. Not even a line. There is no mention of football in any of Gedge’s subsequent work either. But as album covers go, they don’t come much better. Oh – and it’s a cracking album, worthy of the man it’s named after.

So why did you call your first album George Best? Obviously he was more than just a footballer to you.

I’m a Man United fan and he was the star player when I was growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, so it was great. But at the same time I loved his whole rebelliousness, the fact that he used to get in trouble for missing practices because he had been out with Miss World in some seedy nightclub in Manchester the night before. As a teenager I thought that was brilliant: the fact that he could get in trouble for doing all those things and then still turn up the next day and play an amazing game of football. He also just looked great – the long hair, the shirt outside of the shorts. I wanted to call the album George Best as an idea and we went to a sports photography agency, to get some photographs for the sleeve. I went with Keith [Gregory] who was our bass player at the time, and we pulled that one out and straight away we just thought, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the photo. We’re gonna call it George Best. No more questions.” And he’s not even a Man United fan. It just seemed so obvious. The words even seem to make sense – George Best – it just sounded like an album title to me.

Best and the band, with David Gedge furthest right


There’s absolutely no reference to George Best on the album. And there’s no reference to football in any of your other music. So is it just that he’s an iconic footballer and it’s a statement in and of itself?

Yeah, I’ve found over the years that it’s better to avoid talking about football, because obviously people have very strong feelings. When I first went on Twitter, if United beat City or something like that I’d go on there and tweet, “There’s good triumphing over evil yet again.” Obviously I’d get a tirade of abuse. So I’ve kind of avoided it really. With the lyrics and stuff and a lot of the artwork, I do delve into popular culture in general but I usually steer clear of sport. It’s always been more comics and films and stuff, so George Best was a bit of an exception. But people tell me now that it put them off the album because they were Leeds fans or whatever. We had these George Best LP cover shirts, and still now we get people coming to a gig in Leeds and they’ll say, “I love that record but I’m not going to buy that shirt because there’s no way I can walk around with a Manchester United player on the front.” I remember at the time there were a number of people who actually thought it was an album by George Best. I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles. All sorts of people thought it was a George Best album called The Wedding Present. They were probably pretty annoyed when they found out the truth!

What are your earliest memories of Best as a player?

He played the first game that I went to at Old Trafford against Everton on 2 September 1970. I went with my granddad and my uncle. United won 2-0, with George Best and Bobby Charlton scoring, so that wasn’t too bad an introduction to Old Trafford. But most of it was watching him on television, obviously, as I was of that age. I just remember his wizardry really, the cheekiness. I remember the scandal about throwing mud at the referee and stuff like that. I think one of the earliest strong memories was the European Cup final in 1968. That was obviously a big moment, especially for a kid. It was on a black-and-white TV. I remember where I was: 21 Malvern Close in Higher Crompton near Oldham, in the front room. I also got a surprise because my dad was born in Leeds and he was a really big Leeds fan – he had that Leeds against United rivalry – but even he was cheering Best on. And I found that quite weird. I’m not sure that would happen these days.

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Do you see similarities between the emotional connection people have to George Best and how fans feel about your music?

It’s comparable. The George Best story in itself isn’t one just of success – he had his problems. He was honest about that. And I think in interviews he was fairly honest and I suppose people do relate to that. When I started writing songs I did have a similar kind of feel, that I didn’t want poetic imagery or metaphors; I wanted to write about real-life situations that happened to me or that I could imagine happening to me. And I just wanted to use normal language that people would understand, rather than wondering, “What is he talking about?” Not a lot of writers in pop music do that. And people do really like it because it tells a story and tells it quite simply – and emotionally, in a way that people can relate to because it’s happened to them or to someone they know. It’s almost like I’ve copied a bit of their diary or something.

“PEOPLE TELL ME NOW THAT THE COVER PUT THEM OFF THE ALBUM BECAUSE THEY WERE LEEDS FANS.”


Is it right that George worked with you to help promote the album?

I suppose you could call it that. Our press officer at the time said we should get George Best to come and do some promotional photos. I had two feelings. First, I’d never really considered George Best as a person; in terms of the album, it was more about the photograph and the title and the story. So the idea of meeting him felt odd to me. The other feeling was, “What? You want me to meet George Best?” The icon of my life for so many years. I had photographs of him on the wall at home and stuff. So we said yes, obviously. Why not if he’s up for it? I think he was paid £500 and we met him at a photography studio in London. After we’d had our normal photographs we had a few with him. It was very nice actually, but I was so nervous I didn’t really speak to him. I was just kind of cowering in the corner because it was George Best. I think our guitarist spoke to him the most, Peter [Solowka], but that was really only because they were both interested in fishing. We didn’t talk about football, we didn’t talk about music. I’d say most of it was just Peter and him talking about different types of bait and what kind of lines they used. I knew nothing about fishing. It was a bit surreal. Our manager at the time decided it would be a good idea to bring in a 12-pack of lager because we were all a bit nervous, to kind of grease the wheels. And the first thing I did when he came in the room was say nervously, “Oh, hello. Pleased to meet you. Would you like a can of beer?” And of course, I had completely forgotten that he was a recovering alcoholic. That’s probably the worst thing. He just said, “You know, I’m on the wagon now,” or whatever the phrase is. I did feel like I wanted the ground to just open and swallow me up.

What did George think of the album? Did you ever get any feedback from him on it?

No, we didn’t. That was the only time we ever met him, or communicated with him. Let’s be honest, a footballer’s taste in music, especially in those days, wasn’t quite, shall we say, alternative rock. I don’t know if he listened to it at all. He probably hated it. It’s probably better that I don’t know really!

The album is 33 years old now. How does it make you feel? You must think it’s special that people are still loving it to this day?

It’s a weird one for me because it’s my least favourite Wedding Present album. It’s like anything: the more you do it, the more you write songs and the more you record stuff, you learn every time. We’d done a few singles before then, but it was all very haphazard. We’d say, “Oh we’ve got some money, let’s go and record a seven-inch,” or whatever. That was the first album, we had a producer and stuff, but we were all just a bit naive. I think as a writer, I’ve definitely improved since then. But George Best is great to play live because it’s just full of enthusiasm and, you know, speed and franticness. It’s almost like a workout.

When the Wedding Present released their George Best LP in 1987 it caused a bit of confusion among those who weren’t aware of this up-and-coming band from Leeds. “People thought it was a George Best album called the Wedding present,” recalls frontman David Gedge. “I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles.” Over the years it has also caused some animosity among Wedding Present fans of different football parishes. “City fans say all the time, ‘Why didn’t you
call it Colin Bell?’ And Leeds fans say, ‘What about Billy Bremner?’ But it wasn’t just about football for me. I loved his whole rebelliousness.”

Gedge, 61, was born in Leeds but grew up in Manchester just as Best was hitting his stride at Old Trafford. The singer, who is embarking on a UK tour with the band starting in October, has vivid memories of sitting in front of a black-and-white television as an eight-year-old kid, watching his football idol run Benfica ragged in the 1968 European Cup final. So when it came to choosing a title for his band’s first album there was really only one option.

There is no song on the record devoted to George. Not even a line. There is no mention of football in any of Gedge’s subsequent work either. But as album covers go, they don’t come much better. Oh – and it’s a cracking album, worthy of the man it’s named after.

So why did you call your first album George Best? Obviously he was more than just a footballer to you.

I’m a Man United fan and he was the star player when I was growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, so it was great. But at the same time I loved his whole rebelliousness, the fact that he used to get in trouble for missing practices because he had been out with Miss World in some seedy nightclub in Manchester the night before. As a teenager I thought that was brilliant: the fact that he could get in trouble for doing all those things and then still turn up the next day and play an amazing game of football. He also just looked great – the long hair, the shirt outside of the shorts. I wanted to call the album George Best as an idea and we went to a sports photography agency, to get some photographs for the sleeve. I went with Keith [Gregory] who was our bass player at the time, and we pulled that one out and straight away we just thought, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the photo. We’re gonna call it George Best. No more questions.” And he’s not even a Man United fan. It just seemed so obvious. The words even seem to make sense – George Best – it just sounded like an album title to me.

Best and the band, with David Gedge furthest right


There’s absolutely no reference to George Best on the album. And there’s no reference to football in any of your other music. So is it just that he’s an iconic footballer and it’s a statement in and of itself?

Yeah, I’ve found over the years that it’s better to avoid talking about football, because obviously people have very strong feelings. When I first went on Twitter, if United beat City or something like that I’d go on there and tweet, “There’s good triumphing over evil yet again.” Obviously I’d get a tirade of abuse. So I’ve kind of avoided it really. With the lyrics and stuff and a lot of the artwork, I do delve into popular culture in general but I usually steer clear of sport. It’s always been more comics and films and stuff, so George Best was a bit of an exception. But people tell me now that it put them off the album because they were Leeds fans or whatever. We had these George Best LP cover shirts, and still now we get people coming to a gig in Leeds and they’ll say, “I love that record but I’m not going to buy that shirt because there’s no way I can walk around with a Manchester United player on the front.” I remember at the time there were a number of people who actually thought it was an album by George Best. I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles. All sorts of people thought it was a George Best album called The Wedding Present. They were probably pretty annoyed when they found out the truth!

What are your earliest memories of Best as a player?

He played the first game that I went to at Old Trafford against Everton on 2 September 1970. I went with my granddad and my uncle. United won 2-0, with George Best and Bobby Charlton scoring, so that wasn’t too bad an introduction to Old Trafford. But most of it was watching him on television, obviously, as I was of that age. I just remember his wizardry really, the cheekiness. I remember the scandal about throwing mud at the referee and stuff like that. I think one of the earliest strong memories was the European Cup final in 1968. That was obviously a big moment, especially for a kid. It was on a black-and-white TV. I remember where I was: 21 Malvern Close in Higher Crompton near Oldham, in the front room. I also got a surprise because my dad was born in Leeds and he was a really big Leeds fan – he had that Leeds against United rivalry – but even he was cheering Best on. And I found that quite weird. I’m not sure that would happen these days.

Cover Star
Music

Cover Star

As far as we’re aware, George Best by the Wedding Present is the only album to be named after a European Cup winner. Here David Gedge – the band’s frontman and a big Best fan – explains how it came about

INTERVIEW Michael Harrold

When the Wedding Present released their George Best LP in 1987 it caused a bit of confusion among those who weren’t aware of this up-and-coming band from Leeds. “People thought it was a George Best album called the Wedding present,” recalls frontman David Gedge. “I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles.” Over the years it has also caused some animosity among Wedding Present fans of different football parishes. “City fans say all the time, ‘Why didn’t you
call it Colin Bell?’ And Leeds fans say, ‘What about Billy Bremner?’ But it wasn’t just about football for me. I loved his whole rebelliousness.”

Gedge, 61, was born in Leeds but grew up in Manchester just as Best was hitting his stride at Old Trafford. The singer, who is embarking on a UK tour with the band starting in October, has vivid memories of sitting in front of a black-and-white television as an eight-year-old kid, watching his football idol run Benfica ragged in the 1968 European Cup final. So when it came to choosing a title for his band’s first album there was really only one option.

There is no song on the record devoted to George. Not even a line. There is no mention of football in any of Gedge’s subsequent work either. But as album covers go, they don’t come much better. Oh – and it’s a cracking album, worthy of the man it’s named after.

So why did you call your first album George Best? Obviously he was more than just a footballer to you.

I’m a Man United fan and he was the star player when I was growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, so it was great. But at the same time I loved his whole rebelliousness, the fact that he used to get in trouble for missing practices because he had been out with Miss World in some seedy nightclub in Manchester the night before. As a teenager I thought that was brilliant: the fact that he could get in trouble for doing all those things and then still turn up the next day and play an amazing game of football. He also just looked great – the long hair, the shirt outside of the shorts. I wanted to call the album George Best as an idea and we went to a sports photography agency, to get some photographs for the sleeve. I went with Keith [Gregory] who was our bass player at the time, and we pulled that one out and straight away we just thought, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the photo. We’re gonna call it George Best. No more questions.” And he’s not even a Man United fan. It just seemed so obvious. The words even seem to make sense – George Best – it just sounded like an album title to me.

Best and the band, with David Gedge furthest right


There’s absolutely no reference to George Best on the album. And there’s no reference to football in any of your other music. So is it just that he’s an iconic footballer and it’s a statement in and of itself?

Yeah, I’ve found over the years that it’s better to avoid talking about football, because obviously people have very strong feelings. When I first went on Twitter, if United beat City or something like that I’d go on there and tweet, “There’s good triumphing over evil yet again.” Obviously I’d get a tirade of abuse. So I’ve kind of avoided it really. With the lyrics and stuff and a lot of the artwork, I do delve into popular culture in general but I usually steer clear of sport. It’s always been more comics and films and stuff, so George Best was a bit of an exception. But people tell me now that it put them off the album because they were Leeds fans or whatever. We had these George Best LP cover shirts, and still now we get people coming to a gig in Leeds and they’ll say, “I love that record but I’m not going to buy that shirt because there’s no way I can walk around with a Manchester United player on the front.” I remember at the time there were a number of people who actually thought it was an album by George Best. I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles. All sorts of people thought it was a George Best album called The Wedding Present. They were probably pretty annoyed when they found out the truth!

What are your earliest memories of Best as a player?

He played the first game that I went to at Old Trafford against Everton on 2 September 1970. I went with my granddad and my uncle. United won 2-0, with George Best and Bobby Charlton scoring, so that wasn’t too bad an introduction to Old Trafford. But most of it was watching him on television, obviously, as I was of that age. I just remember his wizardry really, the cheekiness. I remember the scandal about throwing mud at the referee and stuff like that. I think one of the earliest strong memories was the European Cup final in 1968. That was obviously a big moment, especially for a kid. It was on a black-and-white TV. I remember where I was: 21 Malvern Close in Higher Crompton near Oldham, in the front room. I also got a surprise because my dad was born in Leeds and he was a really big Leeds fan – he had that Leeds against United rivalry – but even he was cheering Best on. And I found that quite weird. I’m not sure that would happen these days.

Penalty Pedigree

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When the Wedding Present released their George Best LP in 1987 it caused a bit of confusion among those who weren’t aware of this up-and-coming band from Leeds. “People thought it was a George Best album called the Wedding present,” recalls frontman David Gedge. “I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles.” Over the years it has also caused some animosity among Wedding Present fans of different football parishes. “City fans say all the time, ‘Why didn’t you
call it Colin Bell?’ And Leeds fans say, ‘What about Billy Bremner?’ But it wasn’t just about football for me. I loved his whole rebelliousness.”

Gedge, 61, was born in Leeds but grew up in Manchester just as Best was hitting his stride at Old Trafford. The singer, who is embarking on a UK tour with the band starting in October, has vivid memories of sitting in front of a black-and-white television as an eight-year-old kid, watching his football idol run Benfica ragged in the 1968 European Cup final. So when it came to choosing a title for his band’s first album there was really only one option.

There is no song on the record devoted to George. Not even a line. There is no mention of football in any of Gedge’s subsequent work either. But as album covers go, they don’t come much better. Oh – and it’s a cracking album, worthy of the man it’s named after.

So why did you call your first album George Best? Obviously he was more than just a footballer to you.

I’m a Man United fan and he was the star player when I was growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, so it was great. But at the same time I loved his whole rebelliousness, the fact that he used to get in trouble for missing practices because he had been out with Miss World in some seedy nightclub in Manchester the night before. As a teenager I thought that was brilliant: the fact that he could get in trouble for doing all those things and then still turn up the next day and play an amazing game of football. He also just looked great – the long hair, the shirt outside of the shorts. I wanted to call the album George Best as an idea and we went to a sports photography agency, to get some photographs for the sleeve. I went with Keith [Gregory] who was our bass player at the time, and we pulled that one out and straight away we just thought, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the photo. We’re gonna call it George Best. No more questions.” And he’s not even a Man United fan. It just seemed so obvious. The words even seem to make sense – George Best – it just sounded like an album title to me.

Best and the band, with David Gedge furthest right


There’s absolutely no reference to George Best on the album. And there’s no reference to football in any of your other music. So is it just that he’s an iconic footballer and it’s a statement in and of itself?

Yeah, I’ve found over the years that it’s better to avoid talking about football, because obviously people have very strong feelings. When I first went on Twitter, if United beat City or something like that I’d go on there and tweet, “There’s good triumphing over evil yet again.” Obviously I’d get a tirade of abuse. So I’ve kind of avoided it really. With the lyrics and stuff and a lot of the artwork, I do delve into popular culture in general but I usually steer clear of sport. It’s always been more comics and films and stuff, so George Best was a bit of an exception. But people tell me now that it put them off the album because they were Leeds fans or whatever. We had these George Best LP cover shirts, and still now we get people coming to a gig in Leeds and they’ll say, “I love that record but I’m not going to buy that shirt because there’s no way I can walk around with a Manchester United player on the front.” I remember at the time there were a number of people who actually thought it was an album by George Best. I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles. All sorts of people thought it was a George Best album called The Wedding Present. They were probably pretty annoyed when they found out the truth!

What are your earliest memories of Best as a player?

He played the first game that I went to at Old Trafford against Everton on 2 September 1970. I went with my granddad and my uncle. United won 2-0, with George Best and Bobby Charlton scoring, so that wasn’t too bad an introduction to Old Trafford. But most of it was watching him on television, obviously, as I was of that age. I just remember his wizardry really, the cheekiness. I remember the scandal about throwing mud at the referee and stuff like that. I think one of the earliest strong memories was the European Cup final in 1968. That was obviously a big moment, especially for a kid. It was on a black-and-white TV. I remember where I was: 21 Malvern Close in Higher Crompton near Oldham, in the front room. I also got a surprise because my dad was born in Leeds and he was a really big Leeds fan – he had that Leeds against United rivalry – but even he was cheering Best on. And I found that quite weird. I’m not sure that would happen these days.

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Do you see similarities between the emotional connection people have to George Best and how fans feel about your music?

It’s comparable. The George Best story in itself isn’t one just of success – he had his problems. He was honest about that. And I think in interviews he was fairly honest and I suppose people do relate to that. When I started writing songs I did have a similar kind of feel, that I didn’t want poetic imagery or metaphors; I wanted to write about real-life situations that happened to me or that I could imagine happening to me. And I just wanted to use normal language that people would understand, rather than wondering, “What is he talking about?” Not a lot of writers in pop music do that. And people do really like it because it tells a story and tells it quite simply – and emotionally, in a way that people can relate to because it’s happened to them or to someone they know. It’s almost like I’ve copied a bit of their diary or something.

“PEOPLE TELL ME NOW THAT THE COVER PUT THEM OFF THE ALBUM BECAUSE THEY WERE LEEDS FANS.”


Is it right that George worked with you to help promote the album?

I suppose you could call it that. Our press officer at the time said we should get George Best to come and do some promotional photos. I had two feelings. First, I’d never really considered George Best as a person; in terms of the album, it was more about the photograph and the title and the story. So the idea of meeting him felt odd to me. The other feeling was, “What? You want me to meet George Best?” The icon of my life for so many years. I had photographs of him on the wall at home and stuff. So we said yes, obviously. Why not if he’s up for it? I think he was paid £500 and we met him at a photography studio in London. After we’d had our normal photographs we had a few with him. It was very nice actually, but I was so nervous I didn’t really speak to him. I was just kind of cowering in the corner because it was George Best. I think our guitarist spoke to him the most, Peter [Solowka], but that was really only because they were both interested in fishing. We didn’t talk about football, we didn’t talk about music. I’d say most of it was just Peter and him talking about different types of bait and what kind of lines they used. I knew nothing about fishing. It was a bit surreal. Our manager at the time decided it would be a good idea to bring in a 12-pack of lager because we were all a bit nervous, to kind of grease the wheels. And the first thing I did when he came in the room was say nervously, “Oh, hello. Pleased to meet you. Would you like a can of beer?” And of course, I had completely forgotten that he was a recovering alcoholic. That’s probably the worst thing. He just said, “You know, I’m on the wagon now,” or whatever the phrase is. I did feel like I wanted the ground to just open and swallow me up.

What did George think of the album? Did you ever get any feedback from him on it?

No, we didn’t. That was the only time we ever met him, or communicated with him. Let’s be honest, a footballer’s taste in music, especially in those days, wasn’t quite, shall we say, alternative rock. I don’t know if he listened to it at all. He probably hated it. It’s probably better that I don’t know really!

The album is 33 years old now. How does it make you feel? You must think it’s special that people are still loving it to this day?

It’s a weird one for me because it’s my least favourite Wedding Present album. It’s like anything: the more you do it, the more you write songs and the more you record stuff, you learn every time. We’d done a few singles before then, but it was all very haphazard. We’d say, “Oh we’ve got some money, let’s go and record a seven-inch,” or whatever. That was the first album, we had a producer and stuff, but we were all just a bit naive. I think as a writer, I’ve definitely improved since then. But George Best is great to play live because it’s just full of enthusiasm and, you know, speed and franticness. It’s almost like a workout.

When the Wedding Present released their George Best LP in 1987 it caused a bit of confusion among those who weren’t aware of this up-and-coming band from Leeds. “People thought it was a George Best album called the Wedding present,” recalls frontman David Gedge. “I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles.” Over the years it has also caused some animosity among Wedding Present fans of different football parishes. “City fans say all the time, ‘Why didn’t you
call it Colin Bell?’ And Leeds fans say, ‘What about Billy Bremner?’ But it wasn’t just about football for me. I loved his whole rebelliousness.”

Gedge, 61, was born in Leeds but grew up in Manchester just as Best was hitting his stride at Old Trafford. The singer, who is embarking on a UK tour with the band starting in October, has vivid memories of sitting in front of a black-and-white television as an eight-year-old kid, watching his football idol run Benfica ragged in the 1968 European Cup final. So when it came to choosing a title for his band’s first album there was really only one option.

There is no song on the record devoted to George. Not even a line. There is no mention of football in any of Gedge’s subsequent work either. But as album covers go, they don’t come much better. Oh – and it’s a cracking album, worthy of the man it’s named after.

So why did you call your first album George Best? Obviously he was more than just a footballer to you.

I’m a Man United fan and he was the star player when I was growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, so it was great. But at the same time I loved his whole rebelliousness, the fact that he used to get in trouble for missing practices because he had been out with Miss World in some seedy nightclub in Manchester the night before. As a teenager I thought that was brilliant: the fact that he could get in trouble for doing all those things and then still turn up the next day and play an amazing game of football. He also just looked great – the long hair, the shirt outside of the shorts. I wanted to call the album George Best as an idea and we went to a sports photography agency, to get some photographs for the sleeve. I went with Keith [Gregory] who was our bass player at the time, and we pulled that one out and straight away we just thought, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the photo. We’re gonna call it George Best. No more questions.” And he’s not even a Man United fan. It just seemed so obvious. The words even seem to make sense – George Best – it just sounded like an album title to me.

Best and the band, with David Gedge furthest right


There’s absolutely no reference to George Best on the album. And there’s no reference to football in any of your other music. So is it just that he’s an iconic footballer and it’s a statement in and of itself?

Yeah, I’ve found over the years that it’s better to avoid talking about football, because obviously people have very strong feelings. When I first went on Twitter, if United beat City or something like that I’d go on there and tweet, “There’s good triumphing over evil yet again.” Obviously I’d get a tirade of abuse. So I’ve kind of avoided it really. With the lyrics and stuff and a lot of the artwork, I do delve into popular culture in general but I usually steer clear of sport. It’s always been more comics and films and stuff, so George Best was a bit of an exception. But people tell me now that it put them off the album because they were Leeds fans or whatever. We had these George Best LP cover shirts, and still now we get people coming to a gig in Leeds and they’ll say, “I love that record but I’m not going to buy that shirt because there’s no way I can walk around with a Manchester United player on the front.” I remember at the time there were a number of people who actually thought it was an album by George Best. I suppose he did used to hang around with The Beatles. All sorts of people thought it was a George Best album called The Wedding Present. They were probably pretty annoyed when they found out the truth!

What are your earliest memories of Best as a player?

He played the first game that I went to at Old Trafford against Everton on 2 September 1970. I went with my granddad and my uncle. United won 2-0, with George Best and Bobby Charlton scoring, so that wasn’t too bad an introduction to Old Trafford. But most of it was watching him on television, obviously, as I was of that age. I just remember his wizardry really, the cheekiness. I remember the scandal about throwing mud at the referee and stuff like that. I think one of the earliest strong memories was the European Cup final in 1968. That was obviously a big moment, especially for a kid. It was on a black-and-white TV. I remember where I was: 21 Malvern Close in Higher Crompton near Oldham, in the front room. I also got a surprise because my dad was born in Leeds and he was a really big Leeds fan – he had that Leeds against United rivalry – but even he was cheering Best on. And I found that quite weird. I’m not sure that would happen these days.

Penalty Pedigree

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