Gary Bailey

Bailey: When George Best almost rejoined United

In the latest episode of UTD Podcast, former Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Bailey reveals how close George Best came to sensationally rejoining the club in 1981.

Bailey, who made 375 appearances for United between 1978 and 1987, joins Helen Evans, Sam Homewood and former defender David May for a great chat about his years at the club, with stories including one about a pre-season camp in Iceland in 1981.

It was there that Reds icon Best raised hopes within the club that he could play for Ron Atkinson’s team, eight years after his departure from Old Trafford.

As is often the case with the famous no. 7, there was a great story to tell and Bailey told it brilliantly while recording his episode of our official podcast.

UTD Podcast: We nearly signed Best again!Video

Before going into detail on exactly what happened at the training camp in Nordic parts of Europe, Bailey was asked about his favourite Best moments as a kid.

Bestie was sensational. I just loved him as a person," he said.

“My favourite memory of Bestie was when they played a match in 1973 against Sheffield United, who had gone top of the league. Tony Currie was playing really well for them.

“I was 12 at the time and we didn't have a TV then. I remember my dad listening to it on the radio, and you just had to try to picture in your head what’s going on. I remember Bestie got the ball and ran through the entire team and we won 2-0 and I thought: 'Wow. That’s the ultimate.'”

Then Bailey goes on to tell the story of how one of the club’s greatest ever players joined up with his former club for pre-season training.

“Years later, in 1981, we were playing in Iceland on tour and Bestie was one of the star players for the Icelandic team and he joined us at Manchester Airport,” he recalls.

“We were there with our blazers and he got there with his jeans and t-shirt and looked a million dollars, looking all bronze from living in LA. He had Miss World, Mary Stavin, on his arm and all of us so-called United stars just stood there with our jaws open, going: 'Holy hell, now you’re talking about a superstar.'”

Best scored 179 times in 470 United appearances and lifted the European Cup in 1968. Thirteen years on from that famous triumph, at the age of 35, he still had the quality to perform at the highest level.

“In training the following morning, he asked if he could train with us on this pitch in Iceland,”
Bailey revealed.

“I was there talking to Frank Stapleton, Kevin Moran and Bryan Robson and we were all saying: 'Right, first chance we get, give him a real solid tackle, he’s been in LA, probably taking it easy.'

“We tried to kick George, not to injure him but just to let him know that we were around. We just couldn’t get him. I’m talking about Robbo, Stapleton, top, top, top players, you know. But we couldn’t get him.”

After Best left United in 1973, the Belfast Boy had spells with Fulham, Hibernian and sides in the United States, among other teams, but he never truly settled down at another club.

However, the legend played so well in pre-season in 1981 that Bailey and his team-mates were hoping that Best would rejoin the Reds. A remarkable return to the Theatre of Dreams was briefly on the cards but unfortunately it never materialised.

“At the end of the match, we gave him a little ripple [of applause] as he walked off,” the former goalkeeper recalls in our podcast.

“Even having not played for four or five years, George was still head and shoulders above anything we’d ever seen in England. He promised Ron Atkinson that he would come and play for us and we were so excited. The next thing I heard was that he was in London somewhere and he never came back. That was such a pity.”

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