George Best’s passing away in hospital earlier today after illness brought to an end the life of one of the few football players that could truly be described as a legend.
My own knowledge of Best’s playing career is limited to clips of his goals on television. The fact that there are so many of these clips, all showing brilliant goals tells you just how good a player he must have been. So many people who are old enough to remember him have praised him over the years there’s no doubting just how much people must have been enthralled by his skills.
Best was a scoring member of the first English team to win the European Cup – when Manchester United beat Benfica at Wembley in 1968. Ironically the next Manchester United fixture in the European Cup this season is also against Benfica – and it’s a must-win game for them.
It was after an earlier victory over Benfica in that competition that he earned a nickname – “The Fifth Beatle”. It was the Portuguese press that dubbed him that after their own side had been practically demolished single-handedly dismantled by a young Best. The fact that he was a serious follower of fashion and enjoyed the attention of the girls meant the title fitted him really well. He was at the peak of his footballing powers during the sixties.
His love of fun, at any cost, was famously summed up in one of his most well-known quotes: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”
Best was six months short of his sixtieth birthday when he passed away, but he certainly didn’t leave the football world empty-handed. His legacy to Manchester United was probably to ensure they continued to have such a large fan-base. So many of those going to watch Manchester United nowadays do so with the words of their fathers and uncles ringing in their ears of how good a talent Best was. Even Pele said that Best was the best player in the world ever – a tribute that Best said was his most treasured.
Even Liverpool’s manager, Rafael Benitez, could not fail to be impressed by the Northern Ireland star. Benitez was starting his playing career at around the time Best was ending his, but even in Spain the player was well-known. Rafa recalled his memories of the player today: “I remember him as a fantastic player. He was a different kind of player with talent. When I was in Spain you thought about the English style as long ball and fighting in the air but he was a player who could dribble and pass the ball, the player you like to see. I remember watching him on the television and he was a fantastic player.”
His mentor at Old Trafford was the former Liverpool player and United’s manager in the sixties, Matt Busby. It was after Busby left his job in 1969 that Best seemed to fall into his troubles. He walked out on United more than once after that, but in 1974 he left for one last time. Tommy Docherty was manager then, and he just ran out of patience with the Belfast lad. Best played for some other clubs after that, including a stint in the USA, but never really felt as happy as he had when playing for the Red Devils.
As Liverpool fans we have our own heroes, our own legends. Which is why I hope that those Reds attending tomorrow’s away match at United’s rivals City will respect the memory of the Manchester United legend during the minute’s silence.
George Best, Rest in Peace.