By Worried Turkey.
What can you say about George that hasn’t already been written… absolutely nothing. Except maybe repeat the telegram Bob Bishop (scout) sent to Sir Matt Busby, which read “I think I’ve found you a genius.” George was 15 at the time.
He was the greatest player with a ball at his feet I’ve had the pleasure to witness. I know… I know… Pele, Maradona, Cruyff. Keep them, give me Bestie every time. The most likeable rogue (I say that with no disrespect) you could ever wish to meet. I was lucky enough to meet George on a few occasions and believe me – the pleasure was all mine. I watched him play for United, Dunstable, Stockport County, Fulham and Hibernian. He also played for countless other clubs including LA Aztecs, San Jose Earthquakes and Brisbane Lions. I was lucky enough (with 20, 000 others) to have seen him play for the youth side. We wondered whether he was a flash in a pan or wait till he faces the big boys – he won’t know what has hit him… Well it was the other way around – a lot of defenders wished he’d only been a flash in the pan.
George made his Manchester United debut against West Bromwich Albion, in September 1963. I for one could not believe what was witnessed that day. Stuck out on the left wing kicking his heels like a kid in a Hovis advert, he did nothing for a good 25-30 minutes. Suddenly with ball at feet and in one motion he turned beaten the full back and was gone. The full back was left to gaze in the wrong direction – with this little will o’ the wisp and he delivered a peach of a cross for Chissy (Chisnall) who managed with the greatest difficulty to put his effort wide. His second appearance came on 28 December against Burnley where Best scored his first goal for United in a 5-1 victory. Best was frequently selected for the remainder of the season – he made 26 appearances, scoring 6 goals.
George was slight of frame, big of heart and with so much ability it was untrue. He had a smile and a grin that allowed him to get away with anything, and he used it to the max! On 9th March 1966, I saw Best give the greatest individual performance when United faced the great Benfica team in Estádio da Luz (Stadium of Light). Man United won the home leg of the tie 3-2, but we were underdogs facing Benfica on their own patch – after all, the Portuguese club had won the European Cup on four occasions in the previous five years. Sir Matt in his team talk had mentioned “containment, not too adventurous, keeping it tight… “. Was George listening? I don’t think so; he went out and ripped them to pieces. The full back marking him was turned that many times his blood must have had curdled – George went down the wings, down the centre, he was simply everywhere. United ran out 5-1 winners, George scored two and was involved in the other three. Towards the end even the Portuguese fans were screaming for the rest of the team to give the ball to “O Quint Beatle”. They loved him. Eusebio, who was the Benfica hero was left in awe, he could only stand and applaud. This was without doubt, mine, George’s and United’s greatest night in European Football.
I’ve been very fortunate to have the pleasure of watching the two best players ever to don a United shirt, in Duncan Edwards and George Best. Both had been taken away from my beloved United at an early age. They were geniuses, George was a flawed genius, but one I would never knock. As he once said “I want to be the best at everything I do” he was, even at drinking and womanising. He was loved by girls, wanted to be mothered by older women, idolised by young lads and envied by men. He trained for hours after everyone went home. For a small man (only in stature) he could head a ball with the best and his tackling was second to none, though he wouldn’t get away with his favourite tackle today. He used to tackle from behind, wrapping his foot around the ball and he’d be away with the ball in an instant before you could shout “foul”. He was equally good with left or right foot and his balance was unbelievable. I tried to find a weakness, but couldn’t. Whilst playing for Northern Ireland against England, George scored the best disallowed goal I’ve seen. He stole the ball from Banks, flipped it over his head and slotted home into an empty net. I’m damn sure the goal would have stood if not against England and Banks. George was a footballer first and first amongst footballers!!!
In the late 1960’s, Best opened two nightclubs in Manchester, Oscar’s and the other called Slack Alice’s (which later became 42nd Street Nightclub). He was the first footballer with a pop star image, and the person present day footballers need to thank for the lifestyle they enjoy today. Without Best pioneering the way, players would still be doffing their caps to directors. With George, club directors realised a players worth, after all it was the likes of him that had turnstiles clicking.
In 1974, aged 27, Best quit United for good. His last competitive game for the club was on 1 January 1974, against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. In total Best made 470 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions (1963 to 1974), and scored 179 goals. He was the club’s top scorer for six consecutive seasons, and was the First Division’s top scorer in the 1967–68 season.
On 8 August 1988, a testimonial match was held for Best at Windsor Park. Those in attendance were Sir Matt Busby and Bob Bishop, the scout who discovered Best, while those playing included Ossie Ardiles, Pat Jennings and Liam Brady. Best scored twice, one goal from outside the box, the other from the penalty spot. He was capped 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals.
No footballer before him received the attention he did, even in death. We all have our hero’s, saviour them while you can – like all good things their careers do come to an end, even if it is the fault of your hero. Never call them or turn your back on them, just feel privileged to have witnessed them and thank them for sharing their precious talent with you. George did and he will always be held in the warmest admiration… THANK YOU GEORGE, BEST BY NAME, BEST BY NATURE!!!
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