Ulster's Best

20/05/2016 18:07

He was called the fifth Beatle, but he wasn’t a musician. He played the balls, but generally only did so with the feet. And they say that, according his name, he was the best soccer player world had ever seen. On the other hand he was the only idol of the sixties shared by both Catholic and Protestant Ulster.

Son of Dickie Best and Amy Withers, George Best, born in May 1946, grew up in Cregagh district, east of Belfast. In one of his first photographs, taken at his grandparents' house, appears with a ball on his feet when he was just over a year. At eleven, while studying at Lisnasharragh School, he began playing and at fifteen was discovered by Bob Bishop who made contact with Manchester United. Bishop telegraphed the manager, Matt Busby, saying: I have found a genius. Best debuted at seventeen at Old Trafford against West Bromwich Albion and remain associated with the Red Devils forever after, but in his last professional years he played for other soccer teams. Best was fast, haggled with extraordinary skill their opponents and scored goals. The first one in the official league he got was in December 28, 1964 against Burnley FC. The following year, in his second season with Manchester and at 18 years he won the English League title and repeated same success two years later. That stunning 1967, along with the League, Manchester won the European Cup in the final after beating Benfica 4-1, and Best, with twenty years was crowned with the Golden Ball as best player of the season and Player Year by the Association of British sports journalists. Throughout the decade Best participated with the Manchester in 466 matches scoring 178 goals and was ranked thirty-seven times for Northern Ireland selection.

George Best gave sports media headlines, but so did in the tabloids and heart press. Apart from his career, the Belfast footballer played another league more earthly. At late sixties he opened two pubs in Manchester: Oscar's and Slacks's Alice, and participated in some fashion related business. Also was well known his penchant for expensive cars and appreciation for women, in addition to his passion for the drink. All this will come back to haunt and, in 1974, at age 27 left the club of his life, Manchester United.

From then on until 1983 his soccer-related activity went over other clubs, even British and abroad: South African Jewish Guild, Irish Cork Celtic, Fulham, Hibernian, Bournemouth and the Brisbane Lions. In the United States he played in Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, San Jose Earthquakes and the Detroit Express. The brilliant years with United remained away.

His verbiage was upgrading and he became also famous by his witty phrases outbursts, many of them linked to its renowned fondness for alcohol, worthy of inclusion in any quotes anthology and, in fact, they do:

I might go to Alcoholics Anonymous, but I think it would be difficult for me to remain anonymous.

- In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol - it was the worst 20 minutes of my life

- I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.

-I had a house on the coast, but to get there he had to go through a bar. I never got to see the sea.

-Every time I go somewhere there are seventy people who want to invite me to drink, and I do not say no.

-I saw an advert on the side of a London bus inviting me to  Drink Canada Dry / What happened then? Well, there's no point in asking me. I can't remember what happened last night.

-I was in for 10 hours and had 40 pints - beating my previous record by 20 minutes.

-They say I slept with seven Miss Worlds. I didn't. It was only four. I didn't turn up for the other three

- I used to go missing a lot... Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World.

- If I lost the ball I took it as a personal insult and wanted to recover. Yes sir, It annoyed a lot to me because it was my ball.

About David Beckham thought: He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn't score many goals. Apart from that he's all right.

In 2002 he underwent a liver transplant operation. Made some brief appearances in TV shows and in soccer world. But three years later, in 2005, his health deteriorated dramatically. He died on December 2 at the Cromwell Hospital in London at 59 years of age. One hundred thousand people attended that has probably been the most massive funeral ever held in Belfast, despite the heavy rain felt that day. The funeral was live broadcasted to the whole United Kingdom for several chains, including BBC One.

A year after his death Belfast airfield was renamed in his honour. Now is the George Best Airport. A mural tribute to his figure was painted in Cregagh neighbourhood in Belfast, the day had turned sixty. Another mural depicts him in Woodstock Road, also in Belfast. The Ulster Bank issued in circulation one million five-pound notes with his effigy. Five days after there was not one in circulation.

© J.L.Nicolas