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Best, George

Category: Sportsman

 

George Best (22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005) was a professional footballer born in Northern Ireland who played as a winger for Manchester United and the Northern Ireland national team.  Best was capped 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals. The Irish Football Association described him as the "greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland".

Maradona
George inspired me when I was young. He was flamboyant and exciting and able to inspire his team-mates. I actually think we were very similar players - dribblers who were able to create moments of magic.

After making his debut for Manchester United aged 17, he scored 179 goals from 470 appearances over 11 years, and was the club's top goalscorer in the league for five consecutive seasons. 

Sports writer Hugh McIlvanney
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.

In international football, he was capped 37 times and scored nine goals between 1964 and 1977, although he never played in the finals of a World Cup. In 1968 he won the European Cup with Manchester United, and was named the European Footballer of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year.

1974 World Cup winning West Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer.
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.

 

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 three major honours in club football by the age of just 22  - the league title, European Cup, and European Player of the Year award.

José Mourinho
George Best! He was amazing. Amazing! And he was 30 years ahead of his time. This guy today would be pppphhhhwwwww...

Before he died, Best was voted 8th in the World Soccer 100 greatest football players of the 20th century election in 1999 and was voted 16th in the IFFHS World Player of the Century election in 1999. He was one of the inaugural 22 inductees into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Dutch captain Johan Cruyff
What he [Best] had was unique, you can't coach it.

In 2004 he was 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
George Best was the greatest player in the world.

Best was once quoted as saying, “Pelé called me the greatest footballer in the world. That is the ultimate salute to my life.”

 George Best and going with the Force

George was born and brought up in Belfast.  Northern Ireland is an essentially Protestant area and Best was brought up in the Free Presbyterian faith.

 

Many athletes and sportspeople learn to do the equivalent of dissociate and practise a form of mindfulness during games and matches.  In a sense they watch themselves on the pitch, court or track by separating their conscious selves from their bodies and by doing so they often also avoid the pain that comes with running great distances, or being knocked and bashed about, as they are in rugby matches or boxing.

Best also did this, but he didn’t practise this or take lessons, or learn yoga or the art of Zen; that is the way he was, he was born a gifted footballer, but the spirit was with him from the start.

Joe Mercer, Manchester City manager, 1969
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.

and

Geoffrey Green of The Times
Best was the centrepiece of the chessboard ... a player full of fantasy; a player who lent magic to what might have been whimsy.

"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’s extravagant lifestyle led to various problems, alcoholism being just one, which he suffered from for most of the latter part of his life.  One memorable 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.  He was brought back a week later.

There are some indications that Best took after his Mum Anne, as she too died from alcoholism-related disease in 1978, at the age of 55.  George died from similar problems at age 59.  Spiritually gifted people, having no outlet or means of expressing their inner longings often turn to alcohol, as the Native American Indians did, a very very poor substitute as Lame Deer related:

Lame Deer Seeker of Visions – John Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes
I figured out a few reasons for our drinking.  They may not be the right ones; I'm just speculating.
We call liquor mnji wakan – holy water.  I guess visions were so important and sacred to us that having our minds altered and befuddled by whisky impressed us in the beginning like a religious experience, a dream, a vision.  It didn't take much to make us drunk; it still doesn't.

The source of inspiration

It is somewhat clear that one of the ways Best obtained his inspiration was sex.  When Manchester United were facing Benfica in the European Cup Final at Wembley, for example, Best found "a novel way to relax" before the big game by making love with "a particular young lady called Sue". 

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

It worked too, as 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.  The final score was 4–1.  The victory was not only the pinnacle of Best's career, but arguably Manchester United's greatest achievement.

He was also very typical of a naturally gifted inspired person in being just a wee bit manic.

But as all the best manics will relate, discipline and order is counter-productive to their whole way of living and Best began to get into trouble with his discipline: he was suspended by United for two weeks, for example, after missing his train to Stamford Bridge so as to spend a weekend with actress Sinéad Cusack.  He also 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.  Impressive indeed!

"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds [women] and fast cars –
the rest I just squandered".

In September 1990, Best appeared on the primetime BBC chat show Wogan in which he was well oiled, at one point saying to the host, "Terry, I like screwing".  And he did.

A person he finds their inspiration using sex, is generally not best suited to marriage, unless the partner is exceptionally accommodating and acts in the role of housekeeper, manager, financial advisor and pal.  Best was married twice, to two former models, Angie Best and then Alex Best. 

 

He married Angela MacDonald-Janes on 24 January 1978 in Las Vegas.  They 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.  He married Alex Pursey in 1995 in Kensington and Chelsea, London. They divorced in 2004; they had no children.

I think they might both have been a dash optimistic in their expectations.  Anyone who writes a book called  Scoring at Half Time, is unlikely to be good father or husband material.

And Best was useless with money, as all the best manics are.  In August 1982, he played 20 minutes for Scone Thistle against Scone Amateurs; the objective was to use the appearance fee he received to pay off an income tax bill.

Georgie was a very good looking lad, with a rather undefinable charisma.  In 2007, GQ magazine named him as one of the 50 most stylish men of the past 50 years. 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 fortune. He lost almost all of it.

 

Career

Football was the one passion of George’s life from an early age.  In 1957, at the age of 11, 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.

 

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."

Best made his First Division debut, aged 17, on 14 September 1963. He scored 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.  In the 1964–65 season, his first full season as a first team regular, Best helped Manchester United to claim the league title.

The rising star of English football, Best was catapulted to superstar status 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".

 

Most people who saw Best on TV remember his goals.  Sometimes he seemed to go the whole length of the pitch in order to score, dribbling round opponents and evading tackles.  Like a ballerina with a ball.  During the 1966–67 season, for example, he scored ten goals in 45 games. He 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. Facing six times champions Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the European cup, Best scored the only goal with a 15-yard strike that Alex Stepney described as one of Best's finest goals.

In the 1969–70 season, George hit 23 goals, including an FA Cup record six goals in an 8–2 win over Northampton Town 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.  In 1971–72, George scored 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.

With 27 goals in 54 appearances, Best finished as the club's top-scorer for the sixth – and final – consecutive season. 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.  He was just 27.

The press in the UK can be exceptionally cruel to the gifted, they laud and then destroy, cajole and criticise.  A gifted person is especially susceptible to this form of constant pressure and in the end it might well have been the press and their harrying strident attacks that broke our Georgie.  Best later 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. And he 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.

Best returned to football for a number of other clubs around the world in short spells, until retiring in 1984, age 37.

Death

George was diagnosed with severe liver damage in March 2000. In 2001, he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. In August 2002, he had a liver transplant at King's College Hospital in 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.  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.

The George Best Foundation, which promotes health through sport and supports people with alcohol and drug problems, has been set up in his memory.

“One of the greatest dribblers of all time, his playing style combined pace, skill, balance, feints, two-footedness, goal-scoring and the ability to beat defenders.”

References

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)

 

Observations

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