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Iconic Reds: George Best from youth prodigy to wing wizard, a story of greatness, style, glamour and magical football

George Best was born on the 22nd May 1946 in Belfast and could have been celebrating his 73rd birthday next month. The legendary Manchester United and Northern Ireland winger passed away on the 25th November 2005. It was a sad day for football, one of United’s Holy Trinity was taken away from us, a true legend of the game.

Everyone knows the personal battle with alcoholism which Best suffered, but I want to remember him for the football he played, which I think is the same thing the player, his family, and friends would want also. Best was a gifted footballer, one who has been the role model for many footballers both past and present, a former United number seven, David Beckham is one of them.

Best was described by the Irish Football Association as the ‘greatest player to ever pull on the famous green shirt of Northern Ireland’, something I am sure many football supporters will agree.

Best was spotted in Belfast by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop as a talented 15-year-old. Bishop sent a telegram, which in this day and age would probably be an email or a text message, to United manager Sir Matt Busby, not a sir at the time, but Busby’s respect has been earned, saying; “I think I’ve found you a genius.” Glentoran, Best’s local club had rejected him, stating that he was ‘too small and light’, which will have turned out to be the biggest mistake in world football, well since Arsenal failed to sign Cristiano Ronaldo anyway, one which would be costly because of the player Best later became.

Best was given a trial at United and then signed up by then chief scout Joe Armstrong. It was the first time Best had left home, soon becoming homesick, staying for two more days before heading back to Belfast. Best did return to Manchester, obviously, spent two years as an amateur, due to regulation whereby English clubs were not able to take on Northern Irish players as apprentices.

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Best did return to Manchester, obviously, spent two years as an amateur, due to regulation whereby English clubs were not able to take on Northern Irish players as apprentices. Best was an errand boy on the Manchester Ship Canal, given him the time off to train with Manchester United twice a week. At the age of 17, Best made his United debut against West Bromwich Albion on the 17th September 1963, United won 1-0 and Best went back to the reserves.

His second match for the first team came just over three months later, a 5-1 victory over Burnley with Best scoring his first goal for the Old Trafford club. Busby kept Best in his team from that day onwards, when he could anyway. During the 1963/64 season, Best made 26 appearances scoring six goals, which was not bad for a young lad. The following season, Best made 59 appearances, scoring 14 goals, an improvement from his debut season. Best was starting to become that exciting player he is recognised for.

During the next three seasons, Best made a total of 141 appearances, scoring a total of 59 goals, ending the 1967/68 season with something that would become very special for Best, his teammates and Manchester United as a club. United won the European Cup in 1968, beating Benfica 4-1 at Wembley with Best scoring the goal which put United ahead in extra time after a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes. Brian Kidd scored two minutes after Best with Sir Bobby Charlton completing his brace in the 99th minute of the match, after taking the lead for United in the 53rd minute of the match.

A decade after the Munich Air Disaster which saw eight Manchester United players lose their lives and more never play again, Sir Matt Busby had guided his team to the promised land, becoming the first English club to lift the European Cup. In the 13 years of the European competition, Real Madrid had dominated lifting the cup six times, Benfica had lifted it twice, Milan had won it once, Inter Milan twice and Celtic was the first British and Scottish team to lift the cup. Manchester United had arrived.

The European Cup was the last trophy George Best had won with Manchester United, previously winning the FA Youth Cup in 1964, the Football League First Division title in the 1964/65 and 1966/67 season, the FA Charity Shield twice in 1965 and 1967, meaning Best had won six trophies with United, maybe not the best achievement in his career when you consider the success of Sir Alex Ferguson, but this was a time where football was a man’s game, with manly tackles and men playing the game, not the overpaid, egotistical player we have in today’s game.

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Best and his peers were men playing the game with other men, with bone crunching tackles, water-logged and muddy pitches, playing for a pittance with many footballers in those days holding down a full-time job, playing in their time off. Some were doing their national service, which shows how different today’s game is with some players rewarded way too early and falling short of the requirements expected of them.

George Best played a total of 474 matches for Manchester United, scoring 181 goals, playing as a winger or an attacking midfielder, predominantly on the wing for the club, marauding up and down the wing, weaving through the defence and scoring some sublime goals. The day Best left United would have been a sad day. I was not alive at the time, learning about Best’s time at the club by reading about him, his teammates and the manager Sir Matt Busby, one of the best Manchester United managers ever, in fact, one of the best manager to ever grace the game of football.

Best also played 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals, playing his last game for his country in 1977, three years after leaving United. Best played for a number of clubs after United, including Stockport County, Cork Celtic, Los Angeles Aztecs, Fulham, Fort Lauderdale Striker, Hibernian, San Jose Earthquakes, both outdoor and indoor, also playing for Sea Bee, Hong Kong Rangers, Bournemouth, Brisbane Lions, Osborne Park Galeb, Nuneaton Borough and Tobermore United, where Best hung up his boots.

Best played 709 times in club football, scoring 253 goals, which is a pretty good goal ratio, especially for a winger. Best played in a testimonial back on the 8th August 1988 at Windsor Park in Belfast. In the crowd were three people who all had an influence on Best during his United career, former manager Sir Matt Busby, assistant manager Jimmy Murphy and the coach who found Best, Bob Bishop.

Best scored twice in the testimonial, one from outside of the box, the other from the spot. best will be remembered in world football forever. He never saw it being erected, but he was honoured 40 years (50 years have passed now) to the day United won the European Cup on the 29th May 2008 with a statue of himself, Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, the United Holy Trinity, erected opposite that of Sir Matt Busby outside the east stand at Old Trafford. Pele good, Maradona great, George Best.

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