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George Best (22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005) was a Northern Irishmarker professional football player, best known for his years with Manchester United. He was a winger whose game combined pace, acceleration, balance, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to beat defenders. In 1968, his annus mirabilis, he won the European Cup with Manchester United, and was named the European Footballer of the Year. When fit, he was an automatic choice for the Northern Ireland team, but he was unable to lead them to the World Cup qualification, despite being capped 37 times and scoring nine goals.

In 1999, he was voted 11th at the IFFHS European Player of the Century election, and 16th in the World Player of the Century election. Pelé named him as one of the 125 best living footballers in his 2004 FIFA 100 list and Best was named 19th, behind Gerd Müller, at the UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll. In his native Northern Ireland the admiration for him is summed up by the local saying: "Maradona good; Pelé better; George Best."

He was one of the first celebrity footballers, but his extravagant lifestyle led to problems with alcoholism which curtailed his playing career and eventually led to his death in November 2005 at the age of 59. His cause of death was a kidney infection, a side-effect of the immuno-suppressive drugs he was required to take after a liver transplant. GQ named him as one of the 50 most stylish men of the past 50 years.

Early years and family

The Cregagh Estate honoured George Best by unveiling a mural on what would have been his 60th birthday.

George Best was the first child of Dickie Best (1920-2008) and Anne Best (née Withers) (1923-1978), and grew up in Cregagh, Belfastmarker. Best had four sisters, Carol, Barbara, Julie and Grace, and a brother, Ian. Best's father Dickie died on 16 April 2008, in the Ulster Hospitalmarker in Dundonaldmarker, Northern Irelandmarker. He had been admitted to hospital four weeks earlier. Best's mother Anne died from an alcoholism-related illness in 1978, aged 55.

In 1957, at the age of 11, the academically gifted Best won a scholarship to Grosvenor High Schoolmarker, 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.

Club career

Manchester United (1963-1974)

At the age of 15, Best was discovered in Belfastmarker 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 chief scout Joe Armstrong.

Best made his Manchester United debut, aged 17, on 14 September 1963 against West Bromwich Albion at Old Traffordmarker in a 1-0 victory. He was too young to contend for a first team place for much of the first half of the season. His second appearance came on 28 December against Burnley. This First Division match saw Best's first goal for United in a 5 - 1 win. Matt Busby used Best much more after the New Year and by the end of the season, Best had made 26 appearances, scoring six goals. Manchester United finished second, four points behind Liverpool.

In his second season, Best and Manchester United claimed the league title.

Best hit the headlines at the age of twenty when he scored two goals in a European Cup quarter-final match against Benfica in 1966, and his long hair prompted the Portuguese press to dub him "El Beatle".

Best's talent and showmanship made him a crowd and media favourite. Called "the fifth Beatle", for his long hair, good looks and extravagant celebrity lifestyle, he even appeared on Top of the Pops in 1965. Other nicknames included the "Belfast Boy" and he was often referred to as Georgie, or Geordie in his native Belfast.

The 1966-67 season was again successful, as Manchester United claimed the league title by four points. The following season, Best became a European Cup winner after scoring in the final against Benfica. United won 4-1 and Best was later crowned European Footballer of the Year and Football Writers' Association Player of the Year. After this, his steady decline began.

Best opened two nightclubs in Manchestermarker, in the late 1960s, Oscar's and the other called Slack Alice's (which later became 42nd Street Nightclub). He also owned fashion boutiques, in partnership with Mike Summerbee of Manchester City. However, he developed problems with gambling, womanising and alcoholism.

Best played at United when shirt numbers were assigned to positions, in the traditional English way, 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, 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 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 Roadmarker. In total Best made 470 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions from 1963 to 1974, and scored 179 goals (including six in one game against fourth division Northampton Town). He was the club's top scorer for six consecutive seasons, and was the First Division's top scorer in the 1967-68 season. Over the next decade he went into an increasingly rapid decline, drifting between several clubs, including spells in South Africa, Ireland, America, Scotland, and Australia.

Jewish Guild (1974)

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.

Fulham (1976-1977)

Best had a brief resurgence in form with 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 an FA Cup game against second division outfit Hereford United in which he tackled his former teammate, and old drinking mate, Rodney Marsh. Best stated later in life that he enjoyed his time most while at Fulham, despite not winning any honours.

United States (1976-79)

Best played for three clubs in the United Statesmarker: 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 America afforded him after England and was a success on the field, too, scoring 15 goals in 24 games in his first season with the Aztecs and named as the NASL's best midfielder in his second. He 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.

Hibernian (1979-81)

Best caused a stir in when he returned to the UKmarker to play for Scottishmarker club Hibernian. Hibs, who were suffering a decline in fortunes and were heading for relegation from the Premier Division, signed Best 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. Even though Best failed to save Hibs from relegation, gates increased dramatically, as Hibs' attendance quadrupled for his first match at Easter Roadmarker. One infamous incident saw Best initially sacked by Hibs, only to be brought back a week later, after he went on a massive drinking session with the French rugby team, who were in Edinburghmarker to play Scotland.

Best returned to the USA to play for 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. He returned one last time to Easter Road in 1984, for Jackie McNamara's testimonial match against Newcastle. In his third season in the States, Best scored only 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 Bees and Rangers) in 1982.

Bournemouth (1982-1983)

In late 1982, Bournemouth manager Don Megson signed the 36-year-old Best for the Football League Third Division side, and he remained there until the end of the season, when he finally retired from football at the age of 37. The following season Malcolm Allison apparently persuaded him to sign for Middlesbrough but he never made a League appearance for them.

Brisbane Lions (1983-1984)

Best played in a friendly for Newry Town F.C. against Shamrock Rovers F.C. in August 1983 [50591]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 1983/84 season.

Testimonial (1988)

On 8 August 1988, a testimonial match was held for Best at Windsor Parkmarker. Among the crowd 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.

International career

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 Parkmarker in Belfastmarker 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 outpaced Banks and headed the ball into the empty goal, but the goal was disallowed by referee Alistair Mackenzie.

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 Hollandmarker in Rotterdammarker as one of their group qualifying matches for the 1978 FIFA World Cup. Holland - midway between successive World Cup final appearances - and 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.

Best was considered briefly by manager Billy Bingham for the 1982 World Cup. However, at 36 and with his football skills dulled by age and drink, he was not selected in the Northern Irelandmarker squad.

Career honours

With Manchester United:


Career statistics

Outside football

Post-football careers

In the late 1980s, Best narrated Streaker, a documentaryon the streakingphenomenon, discussing the careers of people such as Erica Roeand Sheila Nicholls.

In 1998, Best became a football pundit on the Sky Sportslive show Soccer Saturday. His last appearance on the show was in 2004.

In November 2004, 58-year-old Best agreed to join FA Premier Leagueclub Portsmouthas a youth coach, citing his desire to get involved in football again.

Personal life

Best was married twice, first to Angela MacDonald-Janes(1978-1986). They had a son, Calum, who was born in 1981. He married Alex Pursey in 1995 in Kensington and Chelseamarker, Londonmarker.They divorced in 2004; they had no children. He is reported to have had two daughters by other women.. His niece by marriage is actress Samantha Janus, who is the daughter of Angie MacDonald-Janes' brother.

In 1981, whilst playing in Americamarker Best stole money from the handbag of a lady 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."

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 and turned out as a player for Ford Open Prisonmarker.

In September 1990, Best appeared on an edition of primetime BBCchat show Woganin which he was clearly drunk and swore, at one point saying to the host, "Terry, I like screwing". He later apologized and said this was one of the worst episodes of his alcoholism.

In August 2002, he had a successful livertransplantat King's College Hospital in London. In 2003, he was the focus of much criticism when, despite his transplant, he openly drank white winespritzers.

On 2 February 2004, Best was convicted of another drunk driving offence and banned from driving for 20 months.

In 2004, his second wife Alex Bestappeared as a contestant on the reality television programme I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!and alleged that Best was violenttowards her during their marriage. This issue was, in fact, covered in Best's authorised1998biography"Bestie" in which Alex claimed that Best punched her in the face on more than one occasion, something which Best never denied. Earlier in the book it is revealed that George struck another of his girlfriends, Mary, at least once and was arrested and charged with assaulton a waitress, Stevie Sloniecka in November 1972when he fractured her nose in Reuben's nightclub, Manchester.. He was successfully defended when the case reached court in January 1973by barrister George CarmanQC, 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 with the following warning: “I don’t sort out domestic disputes and I’m not going to harm George (Best). So you can take your money and go somewhere else. But I’ll tell you this – if any harm comes to George I’ll know who did it and I’ll come after you.”

Illness and death

Best continued to drink, and was sometimes seen at his local pub in Surbitonmarker, Greater Londonmarker.On 3 October 2005 Best was admitted to intensive care at the private Cromwell Hospitalmarker 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.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 Worldpublished 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".

Best's "farewell" message was seen as a way of warning others not to risk suffering a similar fate as a result of alcoholism.

In the early hours of 25 November 2005 treatment was stopped; he eventually died, aged 59, after a battle that lasted longer than doctors had expected, at 13:06 GMT that day as a result of a lunginfection and multiple organ failure.

The FA Premier Leagueannounced 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 Bromwich Albionteam 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.


His body left the family home at Cregagh Road, East Belfast, shortly after 10 a.m. UTCon Saturday, 3 December 2005. The cortege then travelled the short distance to Stormontmarker.The route was lined with around 100,000 mourners. There was an 11 a.m. service in the Grand Hall relayed to around 25,000 mourners inside the grounds of Stormont. As the cortege left Stormont, the Gilnahirkmarker pipe band played.The Funeral was live on BBC One, UTV, RTÉmarker, ITV News, BBC News 24, Sky News, Sky Sports News, EuroNews and MUTV.Afterward, Best was buried beside his mother Annie Elizabeth Kelly in a private ceremony at the hill-top Roselawn Cemetery, overlooking east Belfast.


The new airport signage
Belfast City Airportmarkerwas renamed George Best Belfast City Airportmarkeras a tribute to Best.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 only 52% in favour and 48% against. Democratic Unionist Party(DUP) deputy leader and East BelfastMember of Parliament Peter Robinson, in whose constituency Belfast City airport is situated, stated that his preference was a sports stadium be named after Best. The move generated negative comments beyond Northern Ireland.

In March 2006, airline Flybe, named a Dash 8 plane The George Best. The aircraft was later used to carry Best's family across to the Manchestermarker memorial service for Best.

In June 2006, Sarah Fabergé, great-granddaughter of Russian Imperial Jeweller Carl Fabergéwas 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. 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 Bankissued one million commemorative five pound notes. The notes sold out in five days. The notes sold on the online auction site eBayfor up to £30.

Current plans for a new national stadium for Northern Ireland near Lisburnmarker include a proposed statue of Best as one of several celebrating sporting heroes from the country.These statues would surround the main sporting arena and Best would be joined by rugby player Willie John McBride, Gaelic Footballplayer Cormac McAnallen, Olympicgold medalist Mary Peters, Grand Nationalwinner Richard Dunwoody, Grand Prixdriver Eddie Irvine, Motor cycle World champion Joey Dunlopand snookerworld champion Alex Higgins.

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.

Best in popular culture

George Best's autobiographies include:
  • 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

In the year 1970, German avantgardefilm director Hellmuth Costard made a film entitled "Fußball wie noch nie", translated into English as "Football like never before". The film shows only Best, filmed from 8 cameras, during a regular Manchester Unitedmatch. The film was screened in the year 1971 by German public broadcast ARD.

In 1984 Best made a fitness album with Mary Stavincalled Shape Up and Dance .

A warts-and-all biopic simply entitled Bestwas released in the year 2000. The film pulled no punches in chronicling Best's struggles within his personal life and footballing career - showing the full extent to which Best's personal battle with alcoholismand his hedonistic lifestyle played in bringing an end to the footballing career of one of the game's most naturally gifted players of all time. The Mary McGuckian directed film starred John Lynchas George Best, Ian Bannenas Matt Busby, Roger Daltreyas Rodney Marsh, and Jerome Flynnas Bobby Charlton. The film also featured Patsy Kensitand Sophie Dahlas Best's love interests. Bestwas released in UK cinemas on 12 May 2000, and was subsequently released on Region 2 PALDVDon 27 January in the year 2003 by Mosaic Movies.

Indie rock band The Wedding Presentnamed their first album after him. He is featured on the cover wearing his red Manchester Unitedkit. Best has also been mentioned in the song "In the name of the Father" written by Bono, Gavin Fridayand Maurice Seezerand performed by Bonoand Gavin Friday.

Former frontman of Men At Work (now solo artist) Colin Hayand Heather Millsre-released Hay's "My Brilliant Feat" in 2005 as a digital single. The re-release in memory of Best's then recent passing gave all proceeds to charity. In Another Colin Haysong, "Are You Lookin' At Me?", Best is mentioned: "Well I loved the Lone Ranger, an' ah loved that Denis Law, im an' George Best sure knew how tae kick a ba'."

His fellow Belfast-man Van Morrisonmentioned George Best in his song Too Long In Exile: "I've been too long in exile, like George Best, baby".

In the Irvine Welshnovel "Glue", the main characters attend a fictional Hibernian match which Best competes in. The crowd sings "His Name is Georgie Best"

Elsewhere, Best has been mentioned in numerous other songs, television shows and internet articles. It has been reported that George was the inspiration for Dedicated Follower of Fashion, by The Kinksand most recently inspiring the song Where Did It All Go Wrong Mr Best?on the 2008 album Bingoby Rinaldi Sings. British rapper Mike Skinnermentioned George Best in "Such a Twat" from his 2004 album A Grand Don't Come for Free.: "As I’m smacking glasses down at George Best's best session rate."

Leading the way in popular culture through the 60's and early 70's, as well as recognised worldwide, it is no surprise that the legacy left by George Best has ensured that items connected with him are now highly collectable.

See also


  1. John Roberts, "George Best was reliable only when there was a football at his feet", The Independent, 26 November 2005
  2. IFFHS' Century Elections
  3. "A city mourns for the Belfast boy", BBC News Northern Ireland, 3 December 2005
  4. Gordon Burn, "The Long Goodbye", The Guardian, 25 November 2005
  5. "GQ: The 50 Most Stylish Men"
  6. George Best's Father, Dickie, Dies Aged 88, Sky News, 16 April 2008
  7. Stephen McGinty, "Best coming to the end of his life", The Scotsman, 25 November 2005
  8. Anne Cadwallader, "Best too small and light for local club as teen", Tiscali News, 25 November 2005
  9. The Rolling Stones - The Last Time (video clip)
  10. Jim White, "Too many knew only the tabloid Best", Daily Telegraph, 28 November 2005
  12. Sean O'Conor, "Best's American Years", Yanks Abroad, 26 November 2005
  13. Caught in Time: George Best joins Hibs, 1979, The Sunday Times, 9 March 2003.
  14. Best's time at Hibs a heady cocktail of scandal and skill, The Scotsman, 25 November 2005.
  15. "George Best in Hong Kong" (video clip)
  16., SoccerData
  17. George Best: Goals, girls... where did it all go wrong?, Daily Mirror.
  18. "Belfast boy in a life less ordinary", The Guardian, 20 November 2005
  19. Marriages England and Wales 1984-2005
  20. He was a Protestant. "Best's two secret kids", Daily Mirror
  21. Heartbroken Samantha Janus's tears for estranged father from the Daily Mail
  22. Lovejoy, Joe (1998), "Bestie", Pan, pg 306
  23. Video clip on YouTube; Stephen McGinty, "Parky was a 'nut', says Meg Ryan", The Scotsman, 5 April 2006
  24. Wingett, Fiona. Alex 'disgusted' at Best family snub, Mail on Sunday, 11 December 2005
  25. Lovejoy, Joe (1998), "Bestie", Pan, pg 356
  26. Lovejoy, Joe (1998), "Bestie", Pan, pg 236
  27. [1], Daily Express.
  28. "George Best very close to death", "Football legend George Best dies", BBC News, 25 November 2005
  29. "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
  30. Deric Henderson, "'George Best Airport' splits city", The Scotsman, 22 March 2006; "Best family hits out at Belfast Airport renaming opposition",, 22 March 2006
  31. "Ex-Mayor in Belfast City Airport Best tribute call",, 27 November 2005
  32. Simon Jenkins, "To become George Best airport is a humiliation worthy of North Korea", The Guardian, 14 July 2006
  33. "Flybe pays tribute to George Best!", 15 March 2006, Flybe website

External links

1963-64 Manchester United First Division 17 4
1964-65 41 10
1965-66 31 9
1966-67 42 10
1967-68 41 28
1968-69 41 19
1969-70 37 15
1970-71 40 18
1971-72 40 18
1972-73 19 4
1973-74 12 2
1974-75 Dunstable Town 5 0
1975-76 Stockport County Fourth Division 3 2

1975-76 Cork Celtic League of Ireland 3 0

1976 Los Angeles Aztecs NASL 23 15

1976-77 Fulham Second Division 32 6
1977-78 10 2

1977 Los Angeles Aztecs NASL 20 11
1978 12 1
1978 Fort Lauderdale Strikers NASL 9 4
1979 19 2

1979-80 Hibernian Premier Division 13 3
1980-81 Division One 4 0

1980 San Jose Earthquakes NASL 26 8
1981 30 13

1982-83 Bournemouth Third Division 5 0

1983 Brisbane Lions National Soccer League 4 0

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