The scene: London in May 1963 and Manchester United are celebrating victory over Leicester City in the FA Cup final with a post-match banquet.
George Best’s father, Dickie, takes Matt Busby into a quiet corner of the hotel ballroom for a word. Although the ink dried on his son’s first professional contract only a few days earlier, Best senior is still concerned he might never become a footballer. He tells the United manager: “If George isn’t going to make it, I’d be grateful if you’d let me know within six months because I have a position held open for him back home in the printing trade.”
Busby reassures Dickie that George has a big future in the game and four months later, on 14 September 1963, he’s as good as his word: Best makes his United debut against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. It was the moment the manager had been preparing a shy, skinny kid for since the summer of 1961.
“Don’t tinker with the boy’s style,” was Busby’s strict instruction to his youth coaches. “Let him develop his own way, naturally. He’s something special.”
On that September morning, Best had no inkling he was about to make his debut in place of the injured Ian Moir. Still only 17, his goal at the start of the season had been to earn a regular reserve spot. But after a pre-match meal with the rest of the squad, he was approached by Busby on the coach to Old Trafford and told, ‘You’re playing today, son’.
“The boss let me eat lunch without knowing I was going to play, which was clever,” recalled Best. “If he’d told me beforehand I wouldn’t have been able to eat anything.”