George Best

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George Best
George best 1976.jpg
Best in 1976
Personal information
Full name George Best
Date of birth (1946-05-22)22 May 1946
Place of birth Belfast, Northern Ireland
Date of death 25 November 2005(2005-11-25) (aged 59)
Place of death London, England
Height 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Playing position Winger
Attacking midfielder
Youth career
1961–1963 Manchester United
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1963–1974 Manchester United 361 (137)
1974 Jewish Guild (loan) 5 (0)
1974 Dunstable Town (loan) 0 (0)
1975 Stockport County 3 (2)
1975–1976 Cork Celtic 3 (0)
1976 Los Angeles Aztecs 23 (15)
1976–1977 Fulham 42 (8)
1977–1978 Los Angeles Aztecs 32 (12)
1978–1979 Fort Lauderdale Strikers 28 (6)
1979–1980 Hibernian 17 (3)
1980–1981 San Jose Earthquakes 56 (21)
1980–1982 San Jose Earthquakes (indoor) 21 (33)
1982 Sea Bee 2 (0)
1982 Hong Kong Rangers 1 (0)
1983 Bournemouth 5 (0)
1983 Brisbane Lions 4 (0)
1983 Osborne Park Galeb 1 (1)
1983 Nuneaton Borough 0 (0)
1984 Tobermore United 0 (0)
Total 604 (238)
National team
1964–1977 Northern Ireland 37 (9)
from the BBC programme The New Elizabethans, 20 July 2012[1]

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

George Best (22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005) was a Northern Irish professional footballer who played as a winger for Manchester United and the Northern Ireland national team. In 1968 he won the European Cup with United, and was named the European Footballer of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year. He is described by the national team's governing body, the Irish Football Association, as the "greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland".[2]

Born and brought up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Best began his club career in England with Manchester United, with the scout who had spotted his talent at the age of 15 sending a telegram to manager Matt Busby which read: "I think I've found you a genius." He went on to see success with United, scoring 179 goals from 470 appearances over 11 years.

One of the greatest dribblers of all time, his playing style combined pace, skill, balance, feints, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to beat defenders.[3][4] Best unexpectedly quit United relatively early in 1974 at age 27, but returned to football for a number of clubs around the world in short spells, until finally retiring in 1983, age 37. In international football, he was an automatic choice when fit, being capped 37 times and scoring nine goals from 1964 to 1977, although a combination of the team's performance and his lack of fitness in 1982 never allowed his talent to be displayed in the finals of a European Championship or World Cup.

Such was Best's talent and charisma that he became one of the first celebrity footballers, earning the nickname 'El Beatle',[5] but his subsequent extravagant lifestyle led to various problems, most notably alcoholism, which he suffered from for the rest of his life. These problems affected him on and off the field throughout his career, at times causing controversy.[6] He often said of his career that "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars – the rest I just squandered".[7] After football he spent some time as a pundit, but his financial and health problems continued into his retirement.[6] He died in 2005, age 59, due to complications from the immunosuppressive drugs he needed to take after being controversially granted an NHS liver transplant in 2002.[8][9] Best was married twice, to two former models, Angie Best and then Alex Best. His son, Calum Best, was born in 1981 from his first marriage.

Before he died, Best was voted 16th in the IFFHS World Player of the Century election in 1999 and was one of the inaugural 22 inductees into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002; in 2004 he was also voted 19th in the public UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll and was named in the FIFA 100 list of the world's greatest living players. Former Brazilian footballer Pelé, considered by many as the world’s greatest, admired Best, stating, “George Best was the greatest player in the world", later adding that Best was “an unbelievable player.” Best was once quoted as saying, “Pelé called me the greatest footballer in the world. That is the ultimate salute to my life.”[10] After his death, on what would have been his 60th birthday, Belfast City Airport was renamed the George Best Belfast City Airport. According to the BBC, Best was remembered by mourners at his public funeral held in Belfast as "the beautiful boy" [with a] "beautiful game".[11]

Early years and family[edit]

George Best was the first child of Dickie Best (1919–2008) and Anne Best (née Withers; 1922–1978). He grew up in Cregagh, east Belfast. Best was brought up in the Free Presbyterian faith.[12] His father was a member of the Orange Order and as a boy George carried the strings of the banner in his local Cregagh lodge. In his autobiography, Best mentioned how important the order was to his family.[13] Best had four sisters, Carol, Barbara, Julie and Grace, and one brother, Ian (Ian Busby Best). Best's father died on 16 April 2008, at the age of 88, in the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Northern Ireland.[14] Best's mother Anne died from alcoholism-related cardiovascular disease[15] in 1978, at the age of 55.

In 1957, at the age of 11, the academically gifted Best passed the 11 plus and went to Grosvenor High School, but he soon played truant as the school specialised in rugby. Best then moved to Lisnasharragh Secondary School, reuniting him with friends from primary school and allowing him to focus on football. He grew up supporting Glentoran and Wolverhampton Wanderers.[16]

Club career[edit]

Manchester United[edit]

At the age of 15, Best was discovered in Belfast by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop, whose telegram to United manager Matt Busby read: "I think I've found you a genius."[17][18] His local club Glentoran had previously rejected him for being "too small and light".[19] Best was subsequently given a trial and signed up by United's chief scout Joe Armstrong. His first time moving to the club, Best quickly became homesick and stayed for only two days before going back home to Northern Ireland.[20] He returned to Manchester and spent two years as an amateur, as English clubs were not allowed to take Northern Irish players on as apprentices. He was given a job as an errand boy on the Manchester Ship Canal, allowing him to train with the club twice a week.[21]

Best made his First Division debut, aged 17, on 14 September 1963 against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford in a 1–0 victory.[22] He then dropped back into the reserves, before scoring his first goal for the first team in his second appearance in a 5–1 win over Burnley on 28 December.[22] Manager Matt Busby then kept Best in the team, and by the end of the 1963–64 season, he had made 26 appearances, scoring six goals. Manchester United finished second, four points behind Liverpool. They also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, where a defeat to West Ham United cost Best the chance to break a record; in the final Preston North End's Howard Kendall became the youngest ever player in a FA Cup Final – he shared the same birthday as Best.[23] That same season, Best was a part of the Manchester United side that won the 1964 FA Youth Cup, the sixth FA Youth Cup won under the management of Jimmy Murphy, and the first since the 1958 Munich air disaster.

Though opponents would often use rough play to try to stifle his technical ability, Busby ensured that "fierce, sometimes brutal" training sessions left Best well used to coping with tough challenges.[24] In the 1964–65 season, his first full season as a first team regular, Best helped Manchester United to claim the league title.[25] A 1–0 victory at Elland Road proved decisive as the title race eventually came down to goal average between the "Red Devils" and bitter rivals Leeds United; Leeds did manage to gain some measure of revenge though by knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage.[25] Over the course of the campaign Best contributed 14 goals in 59 competitive games.[25]

He scored the opening goal of the 1965 FA Charity Shield match at Old Trafford, which ended in a 2–2 draw with Liverpool.[26] Best really hit the headlines though at the age of 19, when he scored two goals in a European Cup quarter-final match against Benfica at the Estádio da Luz on 9 March 1966. The Portuguese media dubbed him "O Quinto Beatle", "the fifth Beatle" in English. His talent and showmanship soon made him a crowd and media favourite. Other nicknames included the "Belfast Boy", and he was often referred to as Georgie, or Geordie in his native Belfast.[27] However United failed to win any major honours in the 1965–66 season, and Best was injured from 26 March onwards with a twisted knee following a bad tackle from a Preston North End player.[28] However United staff claimed it was light ligament damage so as to keep Best on the field for the rest of the campaign.[28] He had little faith in the United medical staff, and so he secretly saw Glentoran's physiotherapist, who readjusted his ligaments in a painful procedure.[29] His last game of the season, his knee strapped-up, came on 13 April, and ended in a 2–0 defeat to Partizan Belgrade at Partizan Stadium.[30]

The 1966–67 season was again successful, as Manchester United claimed the league title by four points. Best stated that "if the championship was decided on home games we would win it every season. This time our away games made the difference. We got into the right frame of mind."[31] An ever-present all season long, he scored ten goals in 45 games. He then helped the "Red Devils" to share the Charity Shield with a 3–3 draw with FA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur; it was the first game to be broadcast in colour on British television.[32]

Best scored twice against rivals Liverpool in a 2–0 win at Anfield, and also claimed a hat-trick over Newcastle United in a 6–0 home win on the penultimate league game of the season. However a home defeat to hated local rivals Manchester City proved costly, as City claimed the league title with a two-point lead over United. Yet the 1967–68 season would be remembered by United fans for the European Cup win. After disposing of Maltese Hibernians, United advanced past Yugoslavian Sarajevo with a 2–1 home win – Best assisted John Aston for the first and scored the second himself, and was described as Geoffrey Green of The Times as "the centrepiece of the chessboard ... a player full of fantasy; a player who lent magic to what might have been whimsy".[33] In the quarter-finals United advanced past Polish club Górnik Zabrze 2–1 on aggregate, having held on to their aggregate lead in freezing temperatures in front of 105,000 at Silesian Stadium; despite losing the away tie 1–0, Best described the defeat as "one of our best-ever performances, given all the unwelcome circumstances".[34] Facing six times champions Real Madrid in the semi-finals, Best scored the only goal of the home fixture with a 15-yard strike that Alex Stepney described as one of Best's finest goals.[35] In the tie at the Bernabéu, Best was marked effectively by Manuel Sanchís Martínez, but on the one time Best got the better of him he made a telling cross to Bill Foulkes, who calmly found the net to level the game at 3–3 and to win the aggregate tie 4–3.[36] Days after returning to England, as the First Division's joint top-scorer (level on 28 goals with Southampton's Ron Davies) Best was presented with the FWA Footballer of the Year award, becoming the youngest ever recipient of the award.[37] Facing United in the European Cup Final at Wembley were Benfica; whilst his teammates, rested Best found "a novel way to relax" before the big game by sleeping with "a particular young lady called Sue".[38] The game went into extra-time, and just three minutes into extra-time Best went on a mazy run and beat goalkeeper José Henrique with a dummy, before rolling the ball into the net; two further goals from Brian Kidd and Bobby Charlton settled the tie at 4–1.[39] The victory was not only the pinnacle of Best's career, but arguably Manchester United's greatest achievement, considering the Munich air disaster had wiped out most of the Busby Babes just ten years previously.[40] Best also won the Ballon d'Or in 1968 after receiving more votes than Bobby Charlton, Dragan Džajić and Franz Beckenbauer. This meant that he had won the three major honours in club football at the age of just 22 (the league title, European Cup, and European Player of the Year award). After this, his steady decline began.

It seems impossible to hurt him. All manner of men have tried to intimidate him. Best merely glides along, riding tackles and brushing giants aside like leaves

Joe Mercer, Manchester City boss, 1969.[41]

The 'holy trinity' of Best, Law and Charlton remained effective as ever in the 1968–69 campaign. However the club's new recruits were not up to scratch, as United dropped to 11th in the league before Busby announced his retirement. Best later said that "I increasingly had the feeling that I was carrying the team at times on the pitch."[42] He scored 22 goals in 55 games, though only he and Denis Law scored more than six league goals. In the Intercontinental Cup, fans and players alike looked forward to seeing United take on Argentine opposition Estudiantes de La Plata over the course of two legs. However Best said "no one tackled harder or dirtier than this Argentinian team" as a 1–0 defeat at the Estadio Camilo Cichero was followed by a 1–1 draw at Old Trafford.[43] In the home tie, Best was kicked and spat on by José Hugo Medina, and both players were sent off after Best reacted with a punch.[44] Despite their poor league form, United managed to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup (they had a relatively easy run in getting past Ireland's Waterford United, Belgium's Anderlecht, and Austria's Rapid Wien) where they were knocked out 2–1 on aggregate by A.C. Milan following a 2–0 defeat at the San Siro; Milan goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini was the hero after keeping United to only one goal at Old Trafford.[45]

United improved slightly under new boss Wilf McGuinness, but still only managed an eighth place finish in the 1969–70 season. Best hit 23 goals, including six in an 8–2 win over Northampton Town in a mud-bath at the County Ground in the FA Cup.[46] In 2002 the British public voted this achievement as No. 26 in the list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.[47]

Busby returned as manager in December 1970, though the 1970–71 season also ended without a trophy. Best began to get into trouble with his discipline: he was fined by the Football Association for receiving three yellow cards for misconduct, and he was suspended by United for two weeks after missing his train to Stamford Bridge so as to spend a weekend with actress Sinéad Cusack.[48]

New manager Frank O'Farrell led United to an eighth place finish in 1971–72. Highlights for Best included hat-tricks against West Ham United and Southampton, as well as a goal against Sheffield United that came after he beat four defenders in a mazy run.[49] However he was also sent off against Chelsea, was the subject of death threats, and failed to turn up for training for a whole week in January as he instead spent his time with Miss Great Britain 1971, Carolyn Moore.[49] On 17 November, he was the subject of Eamonn Andrews's This Is Your Life[49] when he was surprised at a central London restaurant. He would be the subject for a second time in 2003 when Michael Aspel surprised him at Teddington Studios. With 27 goals in 54 appearances, Best finished as the club's top-scorer for the sixth – and final – consecutive season. Best then announced his retirement from football, but nevertheless turned up for pre-season training, and continued to play.[50]

United's decline continued in the 1972–73 season, as Best was part of the 'old guard clique' that barely talked to the newer, less talented players.[51] Frustrated with the club's decline, Best went missing in December to party at the London nightclubs.[52] He was suspended, and transfer-listed at a value of £300,000.[53] After O'Farrell was replaced as manager by Tommy Docherty, Best announced his retirement for a second time.[54] He resumed training on 27 April.[55]

Best's last competitive game for the club was on 1 January 1974 against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, which United lost 3–0.[56] He failed to turn up for training three days later and was dropped by Docherty, though he claimed Docherty was deceitful with him.[57] Best was arrested and charged with stealing a fur coat, passport, and cheque book from Marjorie Wallace, but was later cleared of all charges.[58] United went on to suffer relegation into the Second Division in 1973–74.

Best played at United when shirt numbers were assigned to positions, and not the player. When Best played at right wing, as he famously did during the later stages of the 1966 and 1968 European Cups, he donned the number 7. As a left winger, where he played exclusively in his debut season and nearly all of the 1971–72 campaign, he wore the number 11. Best wore the number 8 shirt at inside right on occasion throughout the 1960s, but for more than half of his matches during 1970–71. He was playing at inside left (wearing the number 10) in 1972 when he famously walked out on United the first time but was back in the number 11 for the autumn of 1973 before leaving for good. Best even wore the number 9 jersey once for United, with Bobby Charlton injured, on 22 March 1969 at Old Trafford, scoring the only goal in a 1–0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.[59] In total Best made 470 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions from 1963 to 1974, and scored 179 goals. Over the next decade he went into an increasingly rapid decline, drifting between several clubs, including spells in South Africa, Ireland, the United States, Scotland, and Australia.

Later years[edit]

Playing only five competitive matches for Jewish Guild in South Africa, Best endured criticism for missing several training sessions. During his short time there, he was the main draw attracting thousands of spectators to the matches.[60]

Best had a brief spell at Cork Celtic in December 1975 and January 1976. He made his League of Ireland debut against Drogheda United at Flower Lodge on 28 December. He played only three league games, the others against Bohemians and Shelbourne, but despite attracting big crowds he failed to score or impress. Being on a rolling contract with Cork his failure to show for a game saw him being dropped and subsequently leaving the club.[61]

He had a brief resurgence in form with Second Division club Fulham in 1976–77, showing that, although he had lost some of his pace, he retained his skills. His time with the "Cottagers" is particularly remembered for a match against Hereford United on 25 September 1976 in which he tackled his own teammate, and old drinking mate, Rodney Marsh. Best stated later in life that he enjoyed his time most while at Craven Cottage, despite not winning any honours.

Best played for three clubs in the United States: Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and later San Jose Earthquakes; he also played for the Detroit Express on a European tour. Best revelled in the anonymity the United States afforded him after England and was a success on the field, scoring 15 goals in 24 games in his first season with the Aztecs and named as the NASL's best midfielder in his second.[62] He and manager Ken Adam opened "Bestie's Beach Club" (now called "The Underground" after the London subway system) in Hermosa Beach, California in the 1970s, and continued to operate it until the 1990s.

Best caused a stir when he returned to the UK to play for the Scottish club Hibernian.[63] The club was suffering a decline in fortunes and was heading for relegation from the Premier Division,[63] before Best was signed on a "pay per play" basis after the club chairman, Tom Hart, received a tip-off from an Edinburgh Evening News reporter that he was available.[63][64] Even though Best failed to save Hibs from relegation, gates increased dramatically, and the attendance quadrupled for his first match at Easter Road.[63] One infamous incident saw Best initially sacked by Hibs after he went on a massive drinking session with the French rugby team, who were in Edinburgh to play Scotland.[64] He was brought back a week later. In August 1982, he played 20 minutes for Scone Thistle against Scone Amateurs; the appearance fee he received helped to pay off an income tax bill.[65]

Best in 1982.

He returned to the USA to play for the San Jose Earthquakes in what was officially described as a "loan", though he only managed a handful of appearances for Hibs in the First Division in the following season.[64] He returned one last time to Easter Road in 1984, for Jackie McNamara's testimonial match against Newcastle United.[63] In his third season in the States, Best scored once in 12 appearances. His moves to Fort Lauderdale and San Jose were also unhappy, as his off-field demons began to take control of his life again. After failing to agree terms with Bolton Wanderers in 1981, he was invited as a guest player and played three matches for two Hong Kong First Division teams (Sea Bee and Rangers) in 1982.[66]

In late 1982, Bournemouth manager Don Megson signed the 36-year-old Best for the Third Division side, and he remained there until the end of the 1982–83 season, when he retired from football at the age of 37.

Best played in a friendly for Newry Town against Shamrock Rovers in August 1983,[67] before ending his professional career exactly 20 years after joining Manchester United with a brief four-match stint playing for the Brisbane Lions in the Australian National Soccer League during the 1983 season.[68] He also was a guest player for an exhibition match between Dee Why Football Club and Manly Warringah held on 27 July 1983; Dee Why won the match 2–1, with Best having scored the winning goal.[69][70]

On 8 August 1988, a testimonial match was held for Best at Windsor Park. Among the crowd were Sir Matt Busby, Jimmy Murphy, and Bob Bishop, the scout who discovered Best, while those playing included Osvaldo Ardiles, Pat Jennings and Liam Brady. Best scored twice, one goal from outside the box, the other from the penalty spot.

International career[edit]

George Best was one of the most talented players of all time and probably the best footballer who never made it to a major world final

— 1974 World Cup winning West Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer.[41]

He was capped 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals. Of his nine international goals four were scored against Cyprus and one each against Albania, England, Scotland, Switzerland and Turkey.

On 15 May 1971, Best scored possibly the most famous "goal" of his career at Windsor Park in Belfast against England.[71] As Gordon Banks, the English goalkeeper, released the ball in the air in order to kick the ball downfield, Best managed to kick the ball first, which sent the ball high over their heads and heading towards the open goal.[71] Best outpaced Banks and headed the ball into the empty goal, but, although legal, the goal was disallowed by referee Alistair Mackenzie.[71]

Best continued to be selected for Northern Ireland throughout the 1970s, despite his fluctuating form and off pitch problems. There were still glimpses of his genius; in 1976, Northern Ireland were drawn against the Netherlands in Rotterdam as one of their 1978 FIFA World Cup qualification matches. The Netherlands, who were runners-up in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, and their star player, Johan Cruyff, were at their peak at the time. Five minutes into the game Best received the ball wide on the left. Instead of heading towards goal he turned directly infield, weaved his way past at least three Dutchmen and found his way to Cruyff who was wide right. Best took the ball to his opponent, dipped a shoulder twice and slipped it between Cruyff's feet – nutmegging arguably the best player in the world at that time.[72]

Best was considered briefly by manager Billy Bingham for the 1982 World Cup but, at the age of 36, with his football skills dulled by age and drink (and five years having passed since his last cap), he was not selected for the Northern Ireland squad.

Career statistics[edit]

[68][73][74][75][76][77][78][79]

Club Season League Cup League Cup Continental Other[nb 1] Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Manchester United 1963–64 17 4 7 2 2 0 0 0 26 6
1964–65 41 10 7 2 11 2 0 0 59 14
1965–66 31 9 5 3 6 4 1 1 43 17
1966–67 42 10 2 0 1 0 0 0 45 10
1967–68 41 28 2 1 9 3 1 0 53 32
1968–69 41 19 6 1 6 2 2 0 55 22
1969–70 37 15 8 6 8 2 0 0 53 23
1970–71 40 18 2 1 6 2 3 1 51 22
1971–72 40 18 7 5 6 3 1 1 54 27
1972–73 19 4 0 0 4 2 0 0 23 6
1973–74 12 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 12 2
Total 361 137 46 21 25 9 34 11 8 3 474 181
Stockport County 1975–76 3 2 0 0 0 0 3 2
Cork Celtic 1975–76 3 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Los Angeles Aztecs 1976 23 15 1 0 24 15
Fulham 1976–77 32 6 2 0 3 2 37 8
1977–78 10 2 0 0 0 0 10 2
Total 42 8 2 0 3 2 47 10
Los Angeles Aztecs 1977 20 11 5 2 25 13
1978 12 1 12 1
Total 32 12 5 2 37 14
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1978 9 4 5 1 14 5
1979 19 2 19 2
Total 28 6 5 1 33 7
Hibernian 1979–80 13 3 3 0 0 0 16 3
1980–81 4 0 0 0 2 0 6 0
Total 17 3 3 0 2 0 22 3
San Jose Earthquakes 1980 26 8 26 8
1981 30 13 30 13
Total 56 21 56 21
Bournemouth 1982–83 5 0 0 0 0 0 5 0
Brisbane Lions 1983 4 0 0 0 4 0
Tobermore United 1983–84 0 0 1 0 1 0
Career total 574 204 52 21 30 11 34 11 19 6 709 253

[80]

Northern Ireland national team
Year Apps Goals
1964 6 2
1965 6 1
1966 1 0
1967 1 0
1968 1 1
1969 4 0
1970 4 1
1971 6 4
1972 2 0
1973 1 0
1974 0 0
1975 0 0
1976 2 0
1977 3 0
Total 37 9

Honours[edit]

Following his death, the George Best Belfast City Airport was named in his honour.

Club[edit]

Manchester United

Individual[edit]

Personal life[edit]

During his early years at Old Trafford, Best was a shy teenager who passed his free time in snooker halls.[82] However he later became known for his long hair, good looks and extravagant celebrity lifestyle, and appeared on Top of the Pops in 1965.[83]

A rumour had circulated that Best donated money to the fledgling Democratic Unionist Party after its launch in 1971.The rumour proved to be false.[84] His cousin Gary Reid was a member of the Ulster Defence Association, who was killed in 1974.[85]

He opened a nightclub called Slack Alice on Bootle Street in Manchester in 1973 and owned restaurants in the city including Oscars, on the site of the old Waldorf Hotel.[86][87] He also owned fashion boutiques, in partnership with Mike Summerbee of Manchester City.

Best married Angela MacDonald-Janes on 24 January 1978 at Candlelight Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, having met in the United States when Best was playing for the Los Angeles Aztecs. Their son, Calum, was born in 1981, but they separated the following year and divorced in 1986.[88] His niece by marriage is actress Samantha Janus, who is the daughter of Angie MacDonald-Janes' brother.[89]

He married Alex Pursey in 1995 in Kensington and Chelsea, London.[90] They divorced in 2004; they had no children.

In 2004, Alex Best (née Pursey) alleged that Best was violent towards her during their marriage, an issue that was, in fact, covered in Best's authorised 1998 biography "Bestie" in which Alex claimed that Best punched her in the face on more than one occasion,[91] something which Best never denied. Earlier in the book it is revealed that he struck another of his girlfriends at least once and was arrested and charged with assault on a waitress, Stevie Sloniecka, in November 1972, when he fractured her nose in Reuben's nightclub, Manchester.[92] He was successfully defended when the case reached court in January 1973 by barrister George Carman QC, a close drinking companion of Best, as acknowledged in his book, Scoring at Half Time.

Frank Evans, a former business partner of Best, claimed in his 2009 book, The Last British Bullfighter, that Carman offered a Manchester gangster "pots of cash" in 1973 to break Best's legs when he discovered that Best had been having an affair with his second wife, Celia. Carman's offer was rejected.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, while at the peak of his career, Best advertised Cookstown Sausages on television with the phrase "the Best family sausages". In 2007 a memorial plaque was placed outside the pork factory in the County Tyrone town.[93]

Best had a cameo as himself in the 1971 British comedy film Percy. In 1984 he made a fitness album with Mary Stävin called Shape Up and Dance. A warts-and-all biographical film simply entitled Best was released in May 2000, with John Lynch as George Best. Indie rock band The Wedding Present named their first album George Best, and featured Best on the cover wearing his red Manchester United kit. After his death, Brian Kennedy and Peter Corry released a single entitled George Best – A Tribute.

In 2007, GQ magazine named him as one of the 50 most stylish men of the past 50 years.[94]

Best had at least six autobiographies and authorised biographies:

  • Bestie (co-written with Joe Lovejoy),
  • The Good, The Bad and The Bubbly (with Ross Benson)
  • Blessed: The Autobiography (with Roy Collins)
  • George Best: A Celebration (Bernie Smith and Maureen Hunt)
  • Scoring at Half Time (with Martin Knight).
  • Hard Tackles and Dirty Baths (with Harry Harris)

When Best played football, salaries were a fraction of what top players earn today but, with his pop star image and celebrity status, Best still earned a tidy fortune. He lost almost all of it. When asked what happened to the money he had earned, Best quipped: 'I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.'[95]

Alcoholism[edit]

I was born with a great gift, and sometimes with that comes a destructive streak. Just as I wanted to outdo everyone when I played, I had to outdo everyone when we were out on the town

— Best on his excesses off the field.[96]

Best suffered from alcoholism for most of his adult life, leading to numerous controversies and, eventually, his death.[9]

In 1981, while playing in the United States, Best stole money from the handbag of a woman he did not know in order to fund a drinking session. "We were sitting in a bar on the beach, and when she got up to go to the toilet I leaned over and took all the money she had in her bag."[97]

In 1984, Best received a three-month prison sentence for drunk driving, assaulting a police officer and failing to answer bail. He spent Christmas of 1984 behind bars at Ford Open Prison. Contrary to popular belief and urban legend he never played football for the prison team.

In September 1990, Best appeared on an edition of primetime BBC chat show Wogan in which he was heavily drunk and swore, at one point saying to the host, "Terry, I like screwing".[98] He later apologised and said this was one of the worst episodes of his alcoholism.

Best was diagnosed with severe liver damage in March 2000.[8] In 2001, he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia.[99] In August 2002, he had a successful liver transplant at King's College Hospital in London.[8] The transplant was performed at public expense on the NHS, a decision which was controversial due to Best's alcoholism.[100] The controversy was reignited in 2003 when he was spotted openly drinking white wine spritzers.[9]

On 2 February 2004, Best was convicted of another drink-driving offence and banned from driving for 20 months.[101]

Death[edit]

Gates of Belfast City Hall soon after Best's death, Another view.
Graffiti honouring Best like this one in the New Lodge area appeared all over Belfast after his death.

Best continued to drink, and was sometimes seen at his local pub in Surbiton, Greater London. On 3 October 2005 Best was admitted to intensive care at the private Cromwell Hospital in London, suffering from a kidney infection caused by the side effects of immuno-suppressive drugs used to prevent his body from rejecting his transplanted liver.[8] On 27 October, newspapers stated that Best was close to death and had sent a farewell message to his loved ones. Best's condition improved at first, but deteriorated again in November. On 20 November the British tabloid News of the World published a picture of Best at his own request, showing him in his hospital bed, along with what was reported to be his final message: "Don't die like me".

In the early hours of 25 November 2005, treatment was stopped; later that day he died, aged 59, as a result of a lung infection and multiple organ failure.[8][102]

The Premier League announced that a minute's silence would be observed before all Premier League games to be held over the weekend of his death; this was ignored at many grounds, in favour of a minute's applause in his honour. The first match at Old Trafford after Best's death was a League Cup tie against West Bromwich Albion, the club against which he made his début for Manchester United in 1963. The match, which United won, was preceded by tributes from former team-mate Sir Bobby Charlton. Best's son Calum and former team-mates, surviving members from the West Brom team which he played against in his début, all joined the current United squad on the pitch for a minute's silence, during which fans held aloft pictures of Best, which were given out before the match. Leeds United fans did not respect the silence whilst away at Millwall.[103]

Funeral[edit]

His body left the family home at Cregagh Road, East Belfast, shortly after 10 am UTC on Saturday, 3 December 2005. The cortege then travelled the short distance to Stormont. The route was lined with around 100,000 mourners. There was an 11 am service in the Grand Hall relayed to around 25,000 mourners inside the grounds of Stormont. As the cortege left Stormont, the Gilnahirk pipe band played. The funeral was live on several television stations including BBC One. Afterward, Best was cremated, and his ashes were interred beside his mother Annie Elizabeth Kelly in a private ceremony at the hill-top Roselawn Cemetery, overlooking east Belfast.

Memorials[edit]

With feet as sensitive as a pickpocket's hands, his control of the ball under the most violent pressure was astonishing. The bewildering repertoire of feints and swerves... and balance that would have made Isaac Newton decide he might as well have eaten the apple

— Sports writer Hugh McIlvanney.[104]

Belfast City Airport was renamed George Best Belfast City Airport as a tribute to Best.[105] The official new name and signage was unveiled to a gathering of the Best family and friends at the airport on 22 May 2006, which would have been his 60th birthday.

Public opinion in Northern Ireland about the renaming of the airport was divided, with one poll showing 52% in favour and 48% against.[106] Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader and East Belfast Member of Parliament Peter Robinson, in whose constituency Belfast City airport is situated, stated that his preference was a sports stadium be named after Best.[107]

In March 2006, the airline Flybe named a Dash 8 (Q400) plane The George Best. The aircraft was later used to carry Best's family across to the Manchester memorial service for Best.[108]

In June 2006, Sarah Fabergé, great-granddaughter of Russian Imperial Jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé, was commissioned to create the George Best Egg, in tribute. A strictly limited edition of 68 eggs were produced, with all profits from the sale of the eggs going to the George Best Foundation, which promotes health through sport and supports people with alcohol and drug problems.[109] The first egg from the collection is now on permanent public display at the George Best Airport.

For the first anniversary of his death, Ulster Bank issued one million commemorative five pound notes.[110] The notes sold out in five days.[111] The notes sold on the online auction site eBay for up to £30.[112]

In December 2006 the George Best Memorial Trust launched a fund-raising drive to raise £200,000 in subscriptions to pay for a life-size bronze sculpture of George Best. By 2008 the money had still not been raised until a local developer, Doug Elliott, announced on 29 January 2008, that he would put up the rest of the money and would manage delivery of the project.[113]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Includes appearances in Charity Shield (1965 and 1967), Intercontinental Cup (2 in 1968), Watney Cup (3 in 1970–71 and 1 in 1971–72) and NASL play-offs (1 in 1976, 5 in 1977 and 5 in 1978).

References[edit]

Specific
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  2. ^ Profile of George Best
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  4. ^ John Roberts, "George Best was reliable only when there was a football at his feet", The Independent, 26 November 2005
  5. ^ "The birth of El Beatle". The Independent. Retrieved 20 August 2014
  6. ^ a b Gordon Burn, "The Long Goodbye", The Guardian, 25 November 2005
  7. ^ "Best: Decline of the golden boy". BBC News. 14 June 2005. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Football legend George Best dies". BBC News. 25 November 2005. Retrieved 26 October 2010. 
  9. ^ a b c Do alcoholics deserve liver transplants?
  10. ^ IFFHS' Century Elections. RSSSF.
  11. ^ "A city mourns for the Belfast boy", BBC News Northern Ireland, 3 December 2005
  12. ^ Andrews, David L (2004). Newcastle United: a thematic study. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge. p. 135. ISBN 0-415-33333-4. 
  13. ^ George Best collarette in exhibition-GrandOrangeLodge.co.uk[dead link]
  14. ^ George Best's Father, Dickie, Dies Aged 88, Sky News, 16 April 2008
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  61. ^ "Best's run with Cork among many regrets". The Irish Times. 
  62. ^ Sean O'Conor, "Best's American Years", Yanks Abroad, 26 November 2005
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  64. ^ a b c Baker, Thomas (25 November 2005). "Best's time at Hibs a heady cocktail of scandal and skill". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). Retrieved 26 October 2010. 
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  67. ^ Irishtimes.com
  68. ^ a b "Complete game list 1978-84". Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  69. ^ Nathan Radford (6 October 2011). "Dee Why Football Club : History". Dee Why Football Club. Retrieved 12 September 2011. 
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  73. ^ Man. United stats. Manchester United. Retrieved 19 March.
  74. ^ Top international stars in the NASL, 1967-1984; George Best. ASHA. Retrieved 19 March.
  75. ^ Best North American Soccer League stats. NASLJerseys.com. Retrieved 19 March.
  76. ^ George Best league stats. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  77. ^ Hibernian stats. Ihibs.co.uk. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
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  79. ^ "Complete game list 1976-78". Retrieved 19 March 2013.
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  83. ^ The Rolling Stones – The Last Time (video clip)
  84. ^ Whose side are you on? Teddy Jamieson page 25 Yellow Jersey Press
  85. ^ David McKittrick et al Lost Lives page 425
  86. ^ George Best and me Manchester Evening News, 25 November 2010.
  87. ^ Ramsbottom author tells George Best inside story in book Lancashire Telegraph, 2 November 2010.
  88. ^ "Matches of the Day: How footballing marriages of yesterday compare to Coleen and Wayne's lavish nuptials". London Evening Standard. 11 June 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  89. ^ Heartbroken Samantha Janus's tears for estranged father from the Daily Mail
  90. ^ Marriages England and Wales 1984–2005
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  92. ^ Lovejoy, Joe (1998), "Bestie", Pan, pg 236
  93. ^ "Tribute to Best's sausage adverts". BBC. 8 February 2007. Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  94. ^ "GQ: The 50 Most Stylish Men"
  95. ^ How do you blow millions of pounds? This lot could give a few pointers... - The men who lost everything - MSN Him UK
  96. ^ "Football’s tragic playboy prince" FIFA.com. Retrieved 6 January 2014
  97. ^ Lovejoy, Joe (1998), "Bestie", Pan, pg 306
  98. ^ Video clip on YouTube; Stephen McGinty, "Parky was a 'nut', says Meg Ryan", The Scotsman, 5 April 2006
  99. ^ Best in hospital with pneumonia
  100. ^ The Scotsman: Criticism grows of Best liver decision, 14 July 2003
  101. ^ "George Best Gets Drink-Drive Ban". Sky News (BSkyB). 2 February 2004. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  102. ^ "George Best very close to death", BBC News
  103. ^ "No Best behaviour but Leeds sneak it". The Telegraph. 28 November 2005. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  104. ^ "We have just unearthed a gem from your neck of the woods...". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 5 January 2014
  105. ^ "Belfast City Airport to be renamed in honour of George Best", 21 March 2006, Belfast City Airport website; "Best family proud of airport name", 22 May 2006, BBC News
  106. ^ Deric Henderson, "'George Best Airport' splits city", The Scotsman, 22 March 2006; "Best family hits out at Belfast Airport renaming opposition", belfast-airport.info, 22 March 2006
  107. ^ "Ex-Mayor in Belfast City Airport Best tribute call", uk-airport-news.info, 27 November 2005
  108. ^ "Flybe pays tribute to George Best!", 15 March 2006, Flybe website
  109. ^ Aims & Objectives The George Best Foundation, 2012.
  110. ^ "Bank note honour for George Best". BBC Online. 26 October 2006. Retrieved 26 October 2006. 
  111. ^ "Last of Bestie fivers sells out". BBC Online. 1 December 2006. Retrieved 9 June 2007. 
  112. ^ "Best note prompts auction fever". BBC Online. 1 December 2006. Retrieved 9 June 2007. 
  113. ^ Victoria O'Hara (29 January 2008). "Best memorial plan rescued by fan". The Belfast Telegraph. p. 3. 
General
  • Best, George (2005). Hard Tackles and Dirty Baths: The Inside Story of Football's Golden Era. ISBN 0-09-190608-3. 

External links[edit]