Irish composer resurrects long-lost Best art film

Musician writes new score for film that tracks player through single match in 1971

An avant garde film in which the camera lingers on George Best for the duration of a single match at Old Trafford in 1970 has been resurrected by an Irish composer, who has created a new score for its re-release.

The long-forgotten film, Football As Never Before, released in 1971, is by German director Hellmuth Costard, who used eight 16mm cameras to track the Manchester United footballer's every move during a Saturday league game against Coventry City.

For 45 minutes each way and at half-time, the cameras stay focused only on Best, who sports shoulder-length hair and a beard. There is an hypnotic sequence of him inside the bowels of Old Trafford.

It far predates the celebrated 2006 film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, in which cameras follow French player Zinedine Zidane in a game for Real Madrid.


Costard, who died in 2000, was a contemporary of German new wave film-makers such as Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.

Matthew Nolan, a Dublin- based musician, has not only rescued the Best movie from obscurity but written a score for a premiere of the revived film timed for November 25th – the 10th anniversary of the player's death.

For Nolan, who first saw Football As Never Before a decade ago at a German film festival, bringing Costard's work to a popular audience has become something of an obsession. "As a musician with an interest in film scoring, it struck me then that the film could accommodate an alternative and more creative musical response – or even soundtrack," he said.

“As an idea it’s been percolating for many years now, but it was only with the 10th anniversary of his passing coming up this year that I thought it felt right to try and make it a reality. This is an opportunity to use music to try and draw an audience more deeply into the film.”

Nolan compared the Best movie to the more famous Zidane film, which was shot with 17 cameras to the soundtrack of Scottish indie band Mogwai.

The composer said: "Even though Football As Never Before was a pioneering piece of cinematic art by an experimental German film-maker, back in 1971 it had limited distribution options. I think if it had been made today it would have received similar exposure to the Zidane movie. It is a source of some annoyance that in all the press attention the Zidane film got that nobody to my mind acknowledged that there was a precursor in Best."

Nolan, a music curator and lecturer in film at Trinity College and Dublin Business School, said he hoped bringing Costard's movie to a wider audience would help recapture Best as a gifted sportsman rather than a playboy.

“My specific aim here is to offer a celebration of a sporting icon which looks to return Best to that arena where he was peerless. There is something quite pure about Costard’s film and given how the media distorted Best’s image in later years, it feels only proper that an attempt is made to get back to the sublimely gifted footballer.”

The new film score, which Nolan said was "requiem-like", includes an arrangement from cellist Ernst Reijseger, who has produced music for five of Werner Herzog's movies. Guardian Service