George Best (22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005) was a Northern Irish professional footballer who played as a winger. Spending most of his club career at Manchester United. Named European Footballer of the Year in 1968. He is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. A highly skilful winger, considered by several pundits to be one of the greatest dribblers in the history of the sport. George Best received plaudits for his playing style. Which combined pace, skill, balance, feints, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to get past defenders.
In international football, George Best was capped 37 times for Northern Ireland between 1964 and 1977. A combination of the team’s performance and his lack of fitness in 1982 meant that he never played in the finals of a major tournament. He considered his international career as being “recreational football”, with the expectations placed on a smaller nation in Northern Ireland being much less than with his club. He is regarded as one of the greatest players never to have played at a World Cup. The Irish Football Association described him as the “greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland”.
With his good looks and playboy lifestyle, George Best became one of the first media celebrity footballers, earning the nickname “El Beatle” in 1966, but his extravagant life style led to various personal problems, most notably alcoholism, which he suffered from for the rest of his life. These issues affected him on and off the field, often causing controversy. Although conscious of his problems, he was publicly not contrite about them; he said of his career: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds [women] and fast cars. After football, he spent some time as a football analyst, but his financial and health problems continued into his retirement. He died in 2005, age 59, due to complications from the immunosuppressive drugs he needed to take after a liver transplant in 2002.
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.” His local club Glentoran had previously rejected him for being “too small and light”. 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. 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.
Best made his First Division debut, aged 17, on 14 September 1963 against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford in a 1–0 victory. 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. 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. 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. In the 1964–65 season, his first full season as a first team regular, Best helped Manchester United to claim the league title. A 1–0 victory at Elland Road proved decisive as the title race 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. Over the course of the campaign Best contributed 14 goals in 59 competitive games. He scored the opening goal of the 1965 FA Charity Shield at Old Trafford, which ended in a 2–2 draw with Liverpool.
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 an FA Cup record six goals in an 8–2 win over Northampton Town in a mud-bath at the County Ground on 7 February 1970. Best’s sixth goal saw him go one on one with Northampton goalkeeper Kim Book. Best made a feint to go right which put Book on his backside, before he went left and walked the ball into the net. Book states:
“I remember thinking George was going to go one way, but he dropped his shoulder and went the other, and by then I was already on the deck. He was just too good for me.”
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. 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, the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Scotland, and Australia.
“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.
Best 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. Largely surrounded by teammates of lesser ability with Northern Ireland than with his club and lower expectations as a result, Best considered his international career as being “recreational football”. He is regarded as one of the greatest players never to have played at a World Cup, and like his namesake, Liberia star George Weah, he was “hamstrung in World Cup terms by hailing from a global minnow”.
On 15 May 1971, Best scored possibly the most famous “goal” of his career at Windsor Park in Belfast against England. 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. Best outpace Banks and headed the ball into the empty goal, but the goal was disallow by referee Alistair Mackenzie.
Best was considered briefly by manager Billy Bingham for the 1982 World Cup. The age of 35, with his football skills dulled by age and drink. He was not select for the Northern Ireland squad. A proponent of a United Ireland football team, in 2005 Best stated: “I’ve always thought that at any given time both the Republic and Northern Ireland have had some great world-class players. I still hope that in my lifetime it happens.”
George Best’s Honours
Football League First Division: 1964–65, 1966–67
Charity Shield: 1965, 1967
European Cup: 1968
Football League First Division Top Scorer: 1967–68
FWA Footballer of the Year: 1967–68
Ballon d’Or: 1968; Third place 1971
PFA Team of the Year Second Division: 1977
Football League 100 Legends: 1983
Honorary doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast: 2001
Freeman of Castlereagh: 2002
Inaugural inductee into the English Football Hall of Fame: 2002
BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award: 2002
UEFA Jubilee Awards – Northern Ireland’s Golden Player: 2003
UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll: #19th
Golden Foot: 2005, as football legend
PFA Merit Award: 2006
PFA England League Team of the Century (1907 to 2007):
Team of the Century 1907–1976
Overall Team of the Century
FWA Tribute Award: 2000
European Hall of Fame (Player): 2008
FIFA Player of the Century:
World Soccer The Greatest Players of the 20th century: #8
Tags: FIFA-Player-of-the-Century, Golden-Foot, Manchester-United, Northern-Ireland, Team-of-the-Century, European-Cup, Charity-Shield, World-Cup-1982, FA-Cup, European-Footballer-of-the-Year