The legend that was George Best died seven years ago today, a player that had the world at his feet in his day. One of the greatest players that Manchester United ever saw but he did not fulfil his potential. George Best was born on the 22nd May 1946 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was raised in Cregagh, in east Belfast where his father was in the Orange Order and George himself carried the strings of the banner in his local Cregagh lodge.
“The only thing I have in common with George Best is that we come from the same place, play for the same club and were discovered by the same man”
George was all about family, he had four sisters, Carol, Barbara, Julie and Grace, and a brother, Ian. His mother Anne died of Alcoholism-related cardiovascular disease in 1978, at the age of 55. His father died in 2008, aged 88, just three years after George. George Best was married twice. Angela MacDonald-Janes (Angie Best) is the mother of Calum Best. They married in 1978 but were divorced in 1986. George married Alex Pursey (Alex Best) in 1995 but they divorced in 2004, the year before George’s death. They had no children together.
“In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol – it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.”
At the age of 15, the Manchester United scout Bob Bishop discovered George in Belfast. He sent a telegram to Sir Matt Busby, the then Manchester United manager saying “I think I’ve found you a genius”. He was right. George was subsequently give a trial and signed up by United’s chief scout Joe Armstrong. George became homesick and returned home after only two days in Manchester, as this was the first time he had changed clubs. He previously played for his hometown club, Glentoran.
“He was able to use either foot – sometimes he seemed to have six.”
Sir Matt Busby
George eventually returned to Manchester after Sir Matt Busby declared that he was not going to miss out on this type of player and the club gave him the time he needed to adjust to the move. George spent two years as an amateur as English clubs were not allowed to take on apprentices from Northern Ireland at the time, so he was given a job on the Ship Canal as an errand boy, which allowed him to trained twice a week at the club.
“I’d give all the Champagne I’ve ever drunk to be playing alongside him in a big European match at Old Trafford.”
George Best on Eric Cantona
Best made his debut for the Manchester United first team on the 14th September 1963 against West Bromwich Albion, aged just 1. United would win 1-0. He scored his first goal in his second appearance for the club in a 5-1 mauling of Burnley. George went on to play a total of 470 matches for Manchester United, scoring 179 goals which was pretty impressive at the time. During the time Best had his United career, shirt numbers were not assigned to players, they were given to the position. When George played on the right-wing, he wore the famous number seven, on the left-wing he wore number 11. He wore the number eight on occasions when he played inside-right but played more than half of his matches at inside-left, wearing the number 10. George quit Manchester United in 1974 after alcohol played a part in ruining his career. His last appearance for Manchester United was on the 1st January 1974 when they lost 3-0 to Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. Tommy Docherty, the then manager dropped him after he didn’t turn up to training three days after the defeat, there was more to it all, but that was it as far as George was concerned and he left the club.
“His ability was an inspiration to everyone who loves football. He was known around the world for his skill and flair.”
Sir Bobby Charlton
George Best played alongside Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law and together they make up the Holy Trinity of Manchester United, you can see the statue opposite that on Sir Matt Busby outside the east stand of Old Trafford. It represents what Best, Law and Charlton mean to the club and how they will forever be outside the stadium that clearly meant so much to them.
“I used to go missing a lot… Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World.”
I never got to see George Best play football in the flesh, I wish I could have. The footage I have seen of him, it showed the guy had so much talent, which was all wasted for the love of women and booze. These seem to be two things that can play parts in the fall of any man in this day and age. I recently started to read George Best’s autobiography, Blessed which was written during the time his life was expiring, it is a heartbreaking book. He knew what was happening to him but because his body needed the alcohol, he had no choice but to drink himself into an early grave. The book actually made me cry as it was his cry for help, but there was nothing anybody could do for him. This is what ended his last marriage but Alex stayed close to him in the end, and probably loved him very much, and still does, just like we all do.
“We had our problems with the wee fella, but I prefer to remember his genius.”
Sir Matt Busby 1988
The day I found out George Best had died I remember so well. I was living in Doncaster at the time. Every Manchester United fan reads about George Best and I did a lot of research into him. When I found out he was dead I’d just literally walked in from work and heard the news. It did bring a tear to my eyes and I felt pretty gutted about it, but he was out of all the pain and misery.
“We have all heard that Einstein is a genius, but very few of us are in a position to judge. Football is one of the few areas of life where even if you’re untutored, you can go to a ground and see George Best beat three men, and you can realise, “I have seen genius.”
Georges funeral was on Saturday 3rd December 2005 in Belfast. His body left the family home at Cregagh Road, East Belfast, shortly after 10am. The cortege then travelled the short distance to Stormont. The route was lined with around 100,000 mourners. There was an 11 a.m. service in the Grand Hall relayed to around 25,000 mourners inside the grounds of Stormont. As the cortege left Stormont, the Gilnahirk pipe band played. The Funeral was live on several TV. Afterward, Best was buried beside his mother Annie Elizabeth Kelly in a private ceremony at the hill-top Roselawn Cemetery, overlooking east Belfast.
“George always got annoyed at celebrities who refused to talk to people in the street, or the pub. They bloody well put us here, he’d say; give something back. So he’d take a drink off them.”
Alex, by then his ex-wife, 2005
On Thursday 16th March 2006, there was a service at Manchester Cathedral for George Best. I was in Manchester that day and was stood outside the cathedral when the Manchester United first team, Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law walked past. It was a moment where everyone stopped to think about George. The guy was a legend and always will be.
“I quickly came to realise how much affection George attracted from all around the world. I attended meetings giving lectures on liver disease, but no one seemed to be a bit interested in what I had to say.
“All around the world, in South Africa, Australia and the Middle East it was always: ‘How’s George?’
“It is said that doctors shouldn’t get too close to their patients. It’s not that easy when that person is George Best.”
Sir Alex Ferguson
At George Best’s funeral, his son Calum read this poem out, which was written by Julie McClelland:
Farewell our friend, but not goodbye.
Your time has come, your soul must fly.
To dance with angels, find the sun,
but how we’ll miss our special one.
He walks among us just a while,
Weaved your magic, made us smile.
Your life was so full of light and tears,
We lived it through you, through the years.
The golden days, they went so fast.
The precious times, why can’t they last?
So many loved you, did you know?
We were not ready to let you go.
The stars from Heaven are only lent.
A gift from God, that’s why they’re sent.
We won’t forget our Belfast boy,
He filled our lives with so much joy.
Your star will shine now in the sky.
Farewell our friend, but not goodbye.
The late, great George Best…..
By Paul Bienkowski