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A blog on all things related to the world of hockey and the NHL

**Book Reviews

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"Once all the trees have been cut, the oceans have swept the human detritus away and the nuclear holocaust has ravaged the earth...a ragged survivor will pick up a charred, radioactive piece of waste, toss it to his mate and the games will begin again."



July 15, 2007

After clicking on a link and arriving at a website you've never seen, it doesn't take long to get a feel for what kind of online joint you're experiencing. In many ways it's like stepping into a pub for the first time. While the place may not have the fanciest décor, you almost immediately have a sense of the kind of person in charge. Do they have a real passion for what they are doing? Or are they in it for the short-term? When you sample the service and one of their pints (the site content) you have a definitive answer regarding whether it's worth sticking around and eventually making a return visit. is definitely somewhere I will return to in the future. No high-street wine-bar, hockeydb's bare bones set up is somehow fitting for the resource-rich ice-hockey content that any fan will get a kick out of. It sets itself well away from most other hockey websites in terms of its unique content. Clicking first on the forums link, I had no inkling that the bulk of the posters were avid hockey memorabilia collectors. Far from turning me off, their esoteric take on the world of hockey provides for plenty of entertaining reading. The whereabouts of former NHL players is always something I have enjoyed reading about and so the "Where have they gone?" section was where I headed first. Not exactly the nostalgic reminiscing about former players and their fade into obscurity that I was expecting. Instead, it is mostly the exchange of NHLers' addresses and detailed discussions of how individual players react when braced for multiple autographs. While fully aware of how they come across, by necessity of their obsession, most are brazen and shameless in their approaches to players. The resulting situations and their retellings are interesting:

"I also had a run in while getting an in person autograph with Ron Hextall at the Flyers practice arena about 10 years ago. He gave me a bag of crap about signing a few cards and I was the only person there, he asked me or more like accused me of selling his cards. My response to him was, "If I had to depend on your $2.00 autographed card feeding my family we would have starved by now so don't sign if you don't want to!" I also offered to show him my collection at my home that was about 5 min. from the arena in person, which he declined and he actually seemed shocked that I had stood up to him and seemed to change his attitude all of the sudden.."

The draft section covers the NHL draft going back to 1963. For anyone who has ever followed a team for a number of years, scrolling through past drafts brings back plenty of memories of long forgotten players and rage over the superstars passed over for stiffs who played a dozen games or so.

Johnny Canuck
Vancouver Canucks
WHL logo

For me, the best part of the site is the hockey logo collection. There must be hundreds here, from dozens of leagues and going back decades in some cases. The basic designs and patterns of teams from eras of the past are evocative and reminiscent of simpler times. With some of the logos, I couldn't help but imagining a pair of grizzled oafs quickly sketching out a passable few shapes in some dingy arena office.

There are plenty of other features for hockey fans here, including current rosters for various leagues and individual stats and records for numerous years as well.

Blessed: The Autobiography by George Best

July 1, 2007

George Best had 2 passions in life, football and alcohol. If the accolades, admiration and love of his fans were the most important measure then football was the more influential of the two. If time spent and full-on, never-say-die, all encompassing commitment are the yardsticks, then football is a barely discernible speck in the ocean of booze that swallowed Best up, washed away a dazzling career and swept him to a pitiful and early death.

Best was a football player from Northern Ireland who displayed some of the most natural and awe-inspiring talent ever seen on a pitch. A regular player with Manchester United from the age of 17, he went on to play with numerous clubs in England and North America, though his best years were essentially behind him by the age of 26. While previous biographies on Best (and other autobiographies co-authored by him) have detailed his football career, Blessed: The Autobiography focuses mores squarely on the life-long battle he fought with the bottle.

A lifetime, hardcore alcoholic, classic denial existed throughout most of Best's early life. With the passage of time and hindsight he seems fully aware of this in the writing of the book. However, one instance in which he seems to cling to a stubborn denial is when he casually claims that the rivers of alcohol he imbibed had essentially no effect on his playing ability during his earliest years in the game. A sad comment on the rationalizing of someone who probably squandered more talent and potential than any other professional sportsman in history. It is also a testament to how good he was that despite the boozing he played so incredibly well for those years.

While racking up huge goal totals and coming through in many important games, Best admits that he was often not a true competitor in any sense of the word. The merest of challenges presented by a season in which Man United were not blessed with the greatest players results in shameless admissions that he truly couldn't give a damn and had no desire to push himself and his teammates to overcome the bitterness of losing. The slightest hint of anything less than the perfect squad and ease in piling up wins and Best openly admits to lack of interest, skipped games and a gutless embrace of self-pitying drunken debauchery instead of ratcheting up his effort.

Coming to the legend of George Best with relatively fresh eyes and no preconceived notions, these types of revelations together with his shifting of blame and booze-soaked self-destruction leave an image of one of the most talented buffoons the sports world has ever known. His honesty in painting this portrait of himself is at least refreshing. However, like so many who have lived in the surreal fantasy world where they have been praised and idolized for most of their lives, perhaps he was fully unaware of what kind of collective image is painted by the litany of his misdeeds.

Best regularly brings up some classic self-help prescriptions as related to alcoholism and then indicates he never attempted to follow them, as if they are just part of the whole sad narrative. He often touches on his naturally shy personality yet doesn't go as far as he could in addressing how this contributed to his alcoholism. He confesses he simply enjoyed the pleasure of drinking and being in the atmosphere in which it usually takes place: pubs, parties or anywhere people gather and the booze and good times flow. The passages describing the drinking sessions are the ones that crackle with authenticity and detail. A sense of relief and calm refuge permeates those parts of the book while tension and frustration begin to surround every situation in which he played football.

It's clear that Best had a recurring fantasy throughout his life that someone, anyone, would step in and take some kind of confrontational action to rescue him from his own self-destructive behaviour. But no one, at least no one he deemed important enough, ever did. He clearly accepts that his own actions were the major factor in most of his screw-ups yet always laments what could have been if only someone had stepped in or done something different. The reality seems to be that when you are the man, there is an unspoken sentiment in those around you that you have some kind of inner strength that will eventually win out. The inevitable number of sycophants, hangers-on and other assorted human detritus around him created some kind of impenetrable barrier to good advice or common sense. The only ones who apparently did repeatedly try, his wives and numerous girlfriends, were casually and repeatedly dismissed.

All people are a great mix of contradictions and Best is no different. He seems to grab hold of the realization that he was a deeply troubled individual but somehow veers away from total acceptance. At times it is surreal that apparently even with the text of his life spread out before him he didn't see the constant avoidance of blame for numerous situations. He embraces with glee the notion that alcoholism is a disease (which it most certainly is) but instead of seeing this as a way into understanding and beating the problem it just becomes a convenient crutch.

Best lays things on the line in terms of his feckless, over-the-top behaviour but as mentioned, he has a knack for never quite taking full blame for his actions. "It's such a hard row to hoe what with all the attention, pressure etc." is a theme that dominates throughout his book. There are odd inclusions that give it the feel of a final reckoning, things that have dogged Best and ones he apparently felt he should touch on. However, some of them were best left alone such as the incident in which he ran over a young woman and crushed her pelvis. His description of the event leaves him sounding callous. The short 2 paragraphs detailing the incident seem only an opportunity for him to include numerous assurances that he had not yet had a sip of alcohol on that day. There are other incidents that have the ring of trying to set things right but just leave him sounding like a nasty piece of work. Breaking a woman's nose in a pub and agreeing to go in on a business deal and then never coughing up his share because, well, his "mate" who organized the deal never sent him the bill are just a sampling. This kind of nastiness, that when glossed over and delivered by a sports legend probably had many guffawing at the whole maverick, devil-may-care attitude, would see most others classified as thugs.

Together with his tales of drunken debauchery, run-ins with the law and his football accomplishments, Best's various relationships with women are another large part of this autobiography. The absurdity with which he seems to blame the women in his life for many of their relationship problems is another one of Best's apparent blind spots. After almost the entire book in which he describes the lies, broken promises, destroyed professional opportunities, chronic philandering and hundreds of thousands of pounds (perhaps even millions) thrown away on drinking and gambling he is somehow surprised that "Most of the women I've had long-term relationships with have ended up slagging me off in the press."

Regarding 2 of his long-term girlfriends he says "That sort of attitude always pisses me off because if it had been the other way around, and Angela or Mary had needed help, I would like to think that I would have looked after them." It doesn't dawn on him that never seeing himself as being in a position to help them in all those years is more of a comment on his character than their inability to weather his never-ending insanity. Like many lifelong boozers, he seems to have an idealized notion of unconditional love and when people finally throw in the towel they are the ones to be blamed.

Best claims that he is a naturally shy person yet seemed to crave the spotlight off the field as much as on. Perhaps the booze was what both facilitated the attention off the field and allowed him to deal with it at the same time. The spectacle of the doomed alcoholic is a narrative that plays hugely in the UK and engenders more interest, sympathy and coverage than an uneventful fade into old age ever would. Perhaps the twisted appeal of that kind of drama and being at the centre of an ongoing tempest contributed to his woes. As Best's life plays out through the pages of his autobiography, that classic revelation slowly dawns on him; that he is in fact an alcoholic. Only someone who has lived a decent portion of life can appreciate the truth in that ostensible absurdity; that you can't quite connect the dots that the patterns of behaviour in your own life represent regardless of how obvious it is to others.

The writing style here is straightforward and conversational and results in an entertaining and easy to read book. Many bland generalizations and laughable exaggerations abound but they are the kind that only add to the storytelling vibe. Sometimes done for self-aggrandizement, they are more often of the laugh out loud variety that Best likely perfected during his years as an intoxicated, sports celebrity raconteur. With Best's claim a number of times throughout the book that he has trouble opening up emotionally, it's tempting to think that he conspired with co-author Roy Collins to rely on repeated patterns hammered home through the retelling of his life to paint a more authentic picture than any telegraphed self-analysis could achieve (though there is inevitably some of that as well.)

However, as honest as this autobiography seems to be, I find it hard to believe that Best has been able to articulate the true depths of the pain caused by his lifelong addiction. At times the narrative has that vague hint of someone who has moved to another part of the country and regales his family and friends from his hometown regarding how great things are in his new location. That kind of reckless glee that this is simply the way it was no doubt had some appeal for Best as he realized this was one of the last chances he would have to contribute to his lasting public image.

Best finally details his thoughts of suicide, his hospitalization for kidney problems and his subsequent return to drinking. As the book draws to a close he is writing in the present tense as he waits for a liver transplant. He holds out hope that he has finally overcome his demons and won his battle against alcoholism while admitting he could never guarantee he wouldn't return to his old ways.

Soon after the publication of this autobiography in 2002 he finally received the liver transplant he had been waiting for and shortly thereafter celebrated by once again resuming the consumption of the liquid poison that had contolled his life so completely. By 2005 he was dead, a result of the side effects of the drugs used to prevent the rejection of his new liver and no doubt quickened by his continued intake of alcohol. 100, 000 people lined the streets of Belfast to bid farewell to Best on the day he was laid to rest.