George Best.

Remembering George Best

Fourteen years ago today, the legendary George Best left us. Here, the secretary of Carryduff Manchester United Supporters' Club, John White, pays tribute to a man who was a hero to all, from Belfast and beyond.

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.
His mercurial touch, his ability to shift his weight effortlessly from one side to the other as he ghosted past defenders, his timing in the air when he leapt like a salmon to out-jump bigger defenders, his silky touch, his arrow-like passing, his mesmerising dribbling, his two-footedness, his fierce shot and, above all else, his love for the game, made me want to be just like him.

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.
Bestie played at a time when big, rough and tough defenders were more interested in taking the man than the ball, but he was no angel either. George gave as good as he took and he took punishment like no other player has ever endured during his career.

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.
George was the first football superstar, with Maradona naming him as his all-time favourite player and even the legendary Pele said that George Best was the best player in the world. Who would dispute the opinion of those two greats?

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.

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