here are two inevitabilities about
bleak winter evenings. One: that there will be
one review of the year after another, and two:
that every review will have, at some point or another,
a montage of ‘in memoriam’ homages. The BBC Sports
Review of the Year normally manages to exempt itself
from the latter as there are few sporting personalities
who become enough of our nation’s psyche
that they warrant such treatment.
2005 though was different as it saw the passing
on of a man who symbolised a generation. I am,
of course, talking about one George Best. ‘Untimely’ is
the word that normally accompanies the death of
a 59 year-old, but not in this case, as the long
slow toll of Best’s alcoholism became a regular
fixture on the front pages.
So when he was at death’s door, every newspaper
used the opportunity to bemoan the wasted talent,
the effect an addiction to alcohol has on the body,
and the contradiction of a man who lit up football
but whose personal life imploded away from the
Not everybody appreciated the amount of coverage.
Peter Cole, professor of journalism at the University
of Sheffield, wrote in the Independent on Sunday: “Editors
judge the space to record the death of famous people
by their significance and the amount of reader
interest. These are not the same thing, and the
order should be reversed. Sometimes judgements
can be awry.”
But when you think about it, it was inevitable
that it should be George Best who would be the
man to garner such attention, as it was he who
had captured the imagination of a generation of
football writers, no doubt inspiring them to take
up the pen and follow their sport for a living.
Maybe Best’s death marked something more;
the mortality of the very same baby boom generation
in the position to write those many column inches:
the very embodiment of “hope I die before
I get old.”
The world has changed beyond all recognition since
Best took his first footballing steps to iconic
status, something we all acknowledge. But as he
epitomised the ‘swinging sixties’,
the question I find myself asking is: what is the
lasting legacy going to be for my generation?
What are we, today’s twenty-somethings,
going to be writing about as the defining aspect
of our growing old?
My friend Angela came up with the answer a couple
of weeks ago, saying over a beer or two. “Great
news,” she said. “I’ve just cleared
And it was great news, as careful financial management – she
is an accountant after all – had seen thousands
of pounds paid off, and all by her mid-twenties!
A damn sight less time than the 15 years that the
government admitted in August might become the
norm in paying off an average of £15,000
Let’s face it, those who will be leaving
university in the coming years may be better prepared
to take their place in the knowledge-based economy
we will – apparently – have in the
global marketplace, but the same hand that will
have delivered that knowledge will have also taken
away what the ‘Best’ generation took
Home ownership, for example. According to a survey
by Scottish Widows Bank, two-thirds of graduates
under 30 don’t own a house, and 44% of graduates
between 21 and 35 cite their paying off of student
debt as the biggest barrier to their buying a home.
And according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders,
the average deposit now being placed by those (now
diminishing) first-time buyers is a mere 17%, and
several lenders now offer 100% mortgages to those
entering the housing market.
The result is that ever more graduates, instead
of setting out on their own way, are coming home
after university to live with their parents, get
a job and set about ridding themselves of some
of this debt. But with these payments, and saving
for house deposits, something else has had to give – pensions.
The National Centre for Social Research’s ‘British
Social Attitudes’ survey, published in mid-December,
illustrates this perfectly, having found that half
the nation believes that it cannot afford to save
for retirement, and four in ten have made no provision
Furthermore, this long-term crisis will not be
eased by the push coming from financial companies
for equity release. Even though it might provide
immediate relief, such a move also has the potential
for inflicting thousands of pounds worth of more
debt as part of the inheritance.
My generation is rapidly becoming one in hoc to
the financial industry, and there is every likelihood
that a high proportion of my peers will be in debt
from the time they leave school until they die.
In this era of cultural regurgitation, maybe someone
will have the wit to re-write that Who classic: “Hope
I’m not bankrupt before I get old…”