When Sport Meets Music – George Best by The Wedding Present
It might seem unlikely for an upcoming indie band to name their debut album after one of the greatest footballers to ever play the game, a direct meeting of music and sport, but in 1987 that is exactly what The Wedding Present did.
By the time the album arrived, it had been ten years since George Best’s last season of note in English football at Fulham. A final flourish of substance before stints in Edinburgh, Los Angeles and even Hong Kong. Indeed the playing days of the Northern Irishman on the pitch were over, but the legend surrounding his Manchester United career and mythical lifestyle off the field would remain for years to come. With that in mind, there was an element of serious cool required for the Leeds-based band to plump for Best on the cover of their first LP.
The reputation of the sport itself by the late eighties wasn’t the strait-laced world that Best lit up, untucked shirt and all, from his debut in early sixties at Old Trafford. Fans were held in contempt by the media and authorities, with violence commonplace on the terraces. Throw into that the political landscape, root cause of civil unrest throughout swathes of northern England, and it isn’t hard to marry the atmosphere of this record with football in 1987.
The symmetry between the two appears to go deeper than that as well. “He was like the first football popstar”, David Gedge, Present frontman, told the Yorkshire Evening Post back in 2017. “For a kid he was a great role model – here’s this rebellious, reckless character who happens to be brilliant at what he does as well, I think that was very appealing.” And how right could he be – the basis of indie music itself being the God like blend of incomparable talent and not giving a fuck. A truly original album, released on their own record label, named after the first footballer to permeate the celebrity world.
As the story goes, the band reached out to then retired Best seeking his permission for the release and with a tentative invitation to be involved in the promo shoot for the album. He agreed, naturally. You’d imagine there was less work needed for selecting what would be the cover image. It is hard to trawl the vast archives of Belfast’s most famous son in his playing days and find something that isn’t on the cusp of iconic. Over thirty years and countless t-shirt sales later, it has proven to be a masterstroke from the band.
It is hard to see a band today pinning a sports icon to their full-length introduction to the world. Given the raw quality and infamy of the album in indie culture, it may be the case no one wants to touch The Wedding Present’s unique watermark. Further, there has rarely been a maverick since George Best to inspire and excite while shoving two fingers up to all the people you want to be upset – something synonymous with the music and matchday experience of post-industrial England.
No conversation on football’s greatest is complete without the mention of Best’s name, nor is a discussion on indie music at an end without the opening chords of ‘My Favourite Dress’ coming to mind. The album and footballer still sit equal in their respective fields, unique, culturally significant and absolutely timeless.