Remembering George Best
All across the world, millions of children are captivated by the global superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, spilling out onto the streets to re-enact the goals they’ve watched on television screens or computers at home. However, my own earliest memories of football are inspired by one man who hailed from far closer to home. The first player I remember seeing when I was growing up on the streets of east Belfast during the 1960s was George Best of Manchester United and Northern Ireland.
George made his debut for the Red Devils before I was even one year old, walking out of the Old Trafford tunnel for the first time on 14 September 1963. However, it was on 29 May 1968, when I was almost six, that this player with long flowing black hair, who glided across the television screen, stirred my interest in the beautiful game. I sat up, my eyes wide open, and watched this magician do things with a football that I never dreamt were possible.
Best: The early years Gallery
We've collated 10 classic photos of George, a true United icon.
So what did I do? Well, after he later appeared in adverts for Stylo Football Boots and Cookstown Sausages, I tortured my mum to buy me a pair of the boots and pleaded with her to cook me Cookstown sausages for my tea every night so as I could be just like my hero, George Best. Alas, possessing the worldly goods was no match for what I really needed, George’s genius.
When Bob Bishop, United’s legendary Irish scout, first spotted a young teenage waif-like George playing football near his home in the Castlereagh area of east Belfast, he immediately telephoned the great Manchester United manager, Matt Busby, and said
“I’ve found you a genius.”George was only 15 but how right Bob was.
Pele was practically kicked off the pitch during the 1966 World Cup Finals in England and in 1982, Italy’s Claudio Gentile gave a young Diego Maradona a rough time during the World Cup Finals in Spain. However, the punishment dished out to the Brazilian and Argentinian masters was nothing compared to the treatment George received in many of his games at home in England and across Europe for United.
With United, George earned instant stardom, winning two league championships and perhaps his greatest ever night, the 1968 European Cup Final win over the mighty Eusebio and his Benfica team-mates. In 1968, George was named European Footballer of the Year. He was just 21 years old.
United Icons Gallery
Presenting 26 times George Best was the coolest man on Planet Earth!
On 25 November 2005, the soccer world was plunged into mourning when the genius who was George Best died. He was just 59 years old.
George, you will always be my hero.
John White, Secretary, Carryduff Manchester United Supporters’ Club, Belfast.