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George Best

 

Born in East Belfast, Northern Ireland, Best made his Football League debut for United and won the first of 37 international caps before he was eighteen.  He is regarded by many as the most talented player in the history of the game. 

Best made 446 League appearances for United between 1963 and 1973, scoring 178 goals. Dubbed the ‘Fifth Beatle’ he was a dazzling presence in the United teams that won the championship in 1965 and 1967 and the European Cup in 1968 when he scored a superb solo goal in the Final.  A brilliant showman, he thrilled crowds with his mastery of the ball, tormenting defenders with a dazzling display of dribbling. 

Best played 37 times for Northern Ireland; he was never to grace the World Cup Finals.  It was in a Northern Ireland shirt that Best scored possibly his most famous "goal" of his career at Windsor Park, Belfast, against England in October 1971. As the English goalkeeper Gordon Banks, attempted to kick the ball downfield, Best kicked the ball out of his hands over his head. Both men scrambled towards the net but Best outpaced Banks and headed the ball into the empty goal only to have his audacity penalised for ungentlemanly conduct.

Sadly, increasingly wayward behaviour off the field and alcohol related problems impaired his health and shortened his career. After a series of on-off retirements and a dip in form, he left United for good on New Years Day 1974.  

Best played for numerous clubs for the rest of the decade, enjoying a brief resurgence with Fulham (76-77) where he dazzled fans by famously tackling team mate and long-time friend Rodney Marsh.  There followed spells at Stockport County, Hibernian and USA soccer teams L.A. Aztecs (1976-78) Fort Lauderdale Strikers (78-79) and San Jose Earthquakes (80-81). He finally ended his football career with Bournemouth in 1983, although went on to play in many charity and friendly matches.

After retirement, Best found a very public battle against alcoholism.  He died in November 2005 from a lung infection and multiple organ failure.  His funeral route in Belfast was lined with 100,000 mourners.  Among the many tributes paid to the wayward genius was the renaming of Belfast City Airport to the George Best Belfast City Airport.  The new name and signage was unveiled at the airport on 22 May 2006, on what would have been Best’s sixtieth birthday.  Jimmy Greaves once declared that Best was ‘the greatest footballer of my lifetime, and I include the likes of Pele, Di Stefano, Puskas, Eusebio, Maradona, Cruyff, Matthews and Finney in that assessment’.  

See George at his best: http://br.youtube.com/watch?v=nplemK3Y4ns

For more information read George Best.