2002 World Cup was my first world Cup. When the World Cup started I was just a viewer but when the tournament concluded I was a fan of this beautiful game. But I couldn’t wait for another 4 years to watch such entertaining football. I was hooked on to the English premier league football. I won’t say that I was a ManUnited fan straight away. Yes I did start to follow that team. Calling myself as a true red wouldn’t be ideal thing to say in the true sense of the word. But then my reason for following Manchester United was no longer there. It moved to Real Madrid in 2003. Yes, I’m talking about David Beckham.
But I don’t know what it was but I stayed with United. It was now something more than following. I was just 13 and I found some sort of relevance to that football club. It somehow started to mean something to me and I haven’t looked back ever since.
As I started to know more and as I developed some sense in the game I started to go deeper and deeper into United and it was now an integral part of my life.
It’s because of United that I know one player who I think is was and will be the greatest footballer ever to play this beautiful game.
The BEST and it can’t be a coincidence that the player I’m talking about was born with this name.
Yes, the moment he was born he was declared the BEST.
George Best (22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005)
I never had the privilege to see him play but I have seen enough to be convinced about one fact that he was the greatest footballer ever.
George was different from the other football greats we know and talk about. He stood out for me. There were many reasons for it. Great players made the game and the difficult things look easy, but Bestie made it look ridiculously easy. The greatest and the most difficult thing for a footballer to have is BALANCE. I can say it full surety that no player has the amount of balance that George Best had. Johan Cruyff was the closest anyone ever got when I consider the quality of balance.
There is a reason why I’m comparing Cruyff and Best, there was this one incident which caught my attention…
In 1976, Northern Ireland were drawn against Holland in Rotterdam as one of their group qualifying matches for the World Cup. Back then the reporters stayed at the same hotel as the team and travelled with them on the coach to the game. As it happened I sat beside George on the way to the stadium that evening.
Holland – midway between successive World Cup final appearances – and Johan Cruyff were at their peak at the time. George wasn’t. I asked him what he thought of the acknowledged world number one and he said he thought the Dutchman was outstanding. ‘Better than you?’ I asked. George looked at me and laughed. ‘You’re kidding aren’t you? I tell you what I’ll do tonight… I’ll nutmeg Cruyff first chance I get.’ And we both laughed at the thought.
Five minutes into the game he 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. He took the ball to his opponent, dipped a shoulder twice and slipped it between Cruyff’s feet. As he ran round to collect it and run on he raised his right fist into the air.
Only a few of us in the press box knew what this bravado act really meant. Johan Cruyff the best in the world? Are you kidding? Only an idiot would have thought that on this evening.
Many would feel that I may be exaggerating and I haven’t seen much. They may be right.
I have seen Pele, Maradona, Beckenbauer, DE Stefano, Puskas, Muller, Basten, Cruyff , Ronaldo, Eusebio, Milla, Moore, Rivelino, Platini, Maldini,(thanks to media archives) Raul, Zidane, Scholes, Ronaldinho, Messi, C.Ronaldo and many others play in different stages of their illustrious careers who are some of the greatest players of all time but there was always something about George Best that stood out for me.
There are a lot of things that comes to my mind when I think about George Best, Well I may sound bias but for me everything Georgie has done on the football pitch is a great memory.
But I want to mention two performances here. One which he gave in a United Jersey and other he gave in a Northern Ireland Jersey.
1. George Best Vs. Benfica
(9th March 1966 – European Cup – Quarter-Final – 2nd leg – Estadio da Luz – 75,000)
Benfica were the kings of Europe, they had had about 3-4 European Cup finals of which they won twice so United were up against a mighty force in Europe. So when United went to Portugal they went with some fear knowing that the one goal 1st leg lead wasn’t good enough. Everyone was thinking the same except for George. That night George Best was on fire. I think that was the best game he ever played. There was this joke which was cracked when it was said and done, that when Sir Matt Busby was giving instructions before the game Best paid absolutely no attention to it. Matt Busby’s instructions to “keep it tight” fell on deaf ears. This guy goes in there and kills the game off in 12 minutes. Benfica were never beaten on their home ground in Europe ever, it was a mighty team with players like Eusebio, Torres, Coluna and in comes this 20 year old kid who scores twice within 12 minutes once with a header, and the second a moment of pure magic as he beat 3 opponents before shooting past the goalkeeper. Benfica was destroyed almost single handedly by Best. The final score was 5-1 and George returned home, sombrero on head, with the title ‘El Beatle’. His official entry into super stardom was born.
2. George Best Vs. Scotland
(21th October 1967 – U.E.F.A. European Championship Qualifier – Windsor Park Belfast – 55,000)
People say one man cannot win a football match. Well for all those who think that they should see this game. Scotland were battered by just one man, and it was enough to win a football game. When I say battered I can’t be more serious. Tommy Gemmell was literally tortured by George Best. I seriously don’t want any fullback to go through what Gemmell went through that day. Gemmell even asked Eddie McCreadie at HT to switch positions but as any sensible man would say Eddie said “No Thanks”. Best was unstoppable he was just walking past players and beating them and beating them quite handsomely like they didn’t exist. Windsor Park saw the best performance by George Best that day. Oh yes Northern Ireland won 1-0. To this day it is remembered as ‘The George Best International’.
Best had many great games in the PL too. He helped United to win the league titles in 1965 and 1967 and then Best remained United’s Top scorer for next 5 years.
But from now the opposition knew what Georgie was upto and in came the man marking and harsh tackle especially for Best inorder to contain him. The 1968 European final was a classic evidence to prove how opposition was desperate to contain Best. The final was yet again against Benfica.
Benfica definitely learnt from 1966 and Best was relatively quiet in that game all thanks to harsh tackles, close man marking and immense shot blocking by Benfica players. If the referees in the current times had been there Benfica would have ended the match with 5 or at most 6 players. But Best again came on top when everyone was exhausted after a hard 90mins (I must mention the great save by Alex Stepney towards the end even Eusebio appreciated that save), Best was as fresh as ever no one wanted the ball Alex just kicked the ball in the air and here was George on the move beating Coluna Beating the keeper and the ball was in the back of the net. We all know what happened after that. United ran riot. Matt Busby dream was fulfilled. Best was later crowned European Footballer of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year.
Best was good and the worst thing for his opponent was that Best exactly knew how good he was.
He was on a decline now, in the PL too he was a defender’s first choice to try in a new tackle the only reason was he was so good with running with the ball tied to his leg. I still remember Ron Harris from Chelsea tried a tackle which was capable enough of ripping Best apart. But as best always does his balance and the determination to drive forward was good enough to keep him on his feet but he wasn’t done yet he even dummied the goal keeper and scored from an empty net.
His off pitch behavior started to cause a lot of stir. And the media did capitalize on that. He wasn’t perfect he enjoyed his life and people who couldn’t say anything negative about him found more than enough contents to say about his off pitch deeds.
His alcoholism and indiscipline took toll but his life on football was going well perfectly fine. There were many reasons for it, first being his fitness and second being his immense skill. He still could deal with the big boys like Ron Harris, Norman Hunter and Tommy Smith and mind for this boys tackles meant serious business and that time you needed to hit somebody with a tomahawk before you got booked. He scored a couple of hatricks and the famous 6 goals against Southampton, which lead to a 8-2 victory. That was one game which Best showed the world what he is capable of. He was banned for 4 weeks and played after suspension. Many believed that he shouldn’t be played but Sir Matt though otherwise. That game he could have scored about 20 goals but he scored just 6. WHY? Because he’s George Best and he’s just making a point. Take That !!!! The record is still not broken by anyone in the premier league till date.
But yes there was a destructive streak in Best which he accepted and tried to overcome it but he failed. There are things that players do on the pitch which make them immortal Best certainly did more than enough on the pitch to make us all forget what he did off it. Many say he went for individual glory well Georgie had a different way and he didn’t see the game as the other greats did. He liked to destroy the defensive line, beat people, switch wings go central and score and mind you not just score but score by humiliating the goal keeper. And i think that was his strength and not his weakness.
Bestie showed his flair and dark humorous side from many his quotes depicting his life, his boozing, his off pitch deeds and not to forget his thoughts about football. Here are a few of his quotes which include several of my personal favorites.
Here we go…
I once said Gazza’s IQ was less than his shirt number and he asked me: “What’s an IQ?”
– George Best on Paul Gascoigne.
Pele called me the greatest footballer in the world. That is the ultimate salute to my life.
– George Best
They say I slept with seven Miss Worlds. I didn’t. It was only four. I didn’t turn up for the other three.
– George best
“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. Well, I suppose that’s the knighthood f**ked.”
– George Best after being sent to prison in 1984 for drunk-driving
“Robert Redford used to be such a handsome man and now look at him: everything has dropped, expanded and turned a funny color.”
– George Best on Robert Redford
“Me and a mate picked up two darling birds and they took us back to their flat. I went into the bedroom with my bird and she started getting undressed. I was that drunk I was standing there wondering how to get undressed without letting go of the award. I went to sit on the bed, missed it by four feet and ended up lying on the floor. I remember the bird looking down at me, and saying, ‘Some player of the year.’ Then I fell asleep. I woke up still clutching my award and staggered out of the flat. I hadn’t a bloody clue where I was.”
– George Best on the night he won the 1968 European Footballer of the year
“I am an alcoholic.”
“I did most of my drinking on my own. Often I’d spend hours sitting in a corner. I’d drink and when I’d had enough I’d just get up and go home to bed.”
“I never went out in the morning with the intention of getting drunk. It just happened.”
“When I finished playing I tried to find something to replace that buzz. Maybe I thought drinking made me feel good.”
“I’ve stopped drinking, but only while I’m asleep.”
“I know myself I will never drink again,” “The only reason I would is because I want to kill myself or I want to go through this again – and I don’t want either, so there’s no reason to drink.”
– George Best on Boozing
“I was probably the first footballer ever to have a pop star profile and my agent was right when he said we could put my name on stair rods and sell them to people in bungalows.”
“It got so bad that I was afraid to go near the windows and I couldn’t get away without a police escort. It was like being a prisoner.”
– George Best on Fame
“Even at the height of my fame, 50 per cent of the people who saw me wanted a fight; it’s the downside of being a star player.”
– George Best on his enemies
“My one big regret is that I didn’t play on for 10 more years.”
– George Best on Retiring Young
“By the time I was 25 I felt the team was in decline and alcohol was taking over. For three years I was out every night and gambling became a drug, too.”
– George Best on his United’s decline
“The closest I got to him was when we shook hands at the end of the game.”
– George Best on Northampton player Roy Fairfax, who had been marking Best when he scored six goals in an 8-2 FA Cup win for Man Utd in 1970.
“He’s been very, very lucky, an average player who came into the game when it was short of personalities.”
– George Best on Kevin Keegan.
“That’s what children do – throw food. That’s not fighting. We were real men. We’d have chinned them.”
– George Best gives on the infamous Battle of the Buffet between Manchester United and Arsenal.
“I was in for 10 hours and had 40 pints – beating my previous record by 20 minutes.”
– George Best on the blood transfusion after his liver transplant.
“If I had to choose between dribbling past 5 players and scoring from 40 yards at Anfield or shagging Miss World, it’d be a hard choice. Thankfully, I’ve done both.”
– George Best
“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.”
“For me Owen is better than Beckham,” “Owen is great and Beckham is good. Owen is direct, fast and scores goals. Beckham has other qualities which make him good, but what makes a player different is the danger he poses to the opposing defense. That’s where Owen is better than Beckham.”
– George Best on David Beckham and Michael Owen
“There have been a few players described as the new George Best over the years, but this is the first time it’s been a compliment to me.”
– George Best on Cristiano Ronaldo
“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”
– George Best on cash
God, do you realize half the women in the world would pay good money to get that number?”
– Reporter Sue Mott after taking Best’s mobile phone number
“Half the women in the world have got it.”
– George Best’s reply to that
“I used to go missing a lot… Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World.”
– George Best
“Footballers today are millionaires by the time they’re 22 or 23. More and more of them are going out and looking for something to give them a buzz outside football, be it gambling, drugs or booze. I got my buzz from playing. Players now have a groin injury for months and months and I often think they don’t really give a toss whether they’re playing or not because they’re getting paid anyway.”
– George Best
“They’ll forget all the rubbish when I’ve gone and they’ll remember the football. If only one person thinks I’m the best player in the world, that’s good enough for me. All the bad times cannot wipe away the good memories, and despite all the ups and downs, when I look at my life as a whole, it is impossible for me not to feel blessed.”
– George Best
“In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol – it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.”
– George Best
“I spent 90% of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted”
– George Best
“I must be the only person in the world who’s looking forward to going into hospital. I can’t wait to get it over and done with.”
– George Best on going to the hospital
Considering how bigger personality Georgie was, it wasn’t a surprise that he was talked about by other football and media personalities. In fact no one was talked about when George Best was around.
“Stand still son so I can have a look at your face. I’ve been looking at your backside all day disappearing up the touchline”.
-Graham Williams to Best after his United debut against West Brom. George Best was 17
George Best was the greatest player in the world
– Pele on George Best
“He was able to use either foot – sometimes he seemed to have six.”
“Let him alone. Don’t try to coach him”
“It was a very simple team talk. All I used to say was ‘whenever possible, give the ball to George’”
– Sir Matt Busby on George Best
“Without doubt it was the finest individual performance by any player to grace Windsor Park”.
– Malcolm Brodie after the Northern Ireland Vs. Scotland Match in 1967
“He was the finest player I have ever player against or with”
-Pat Jennings on George Best
“He’s like something I’d clean my mouthpiece with.”
-Norman Kerrigan on George Best
After his first training session in heaven, George Best, from his favorite right wing, turned the head of God who was filling in at left-back.
– Eric Cantona on George Best
“Shellito was taken off suffering from twisted blood!”
– Pat Crerand after George Best had given Chelsea full-back Ken Shellito a torrid time.
“The only thing I have in common with George Best is that we come from the same place, play for the same club and were discovered by the same man”
– Norman Whiteside
During his spell at United, George Best wore the no.7, no.8, no.9, no.10 and no.11 jerseys. The reason he wore so many different kit numbers was because Best played at United when shirt numbers were assigned to positions, in the traditional English way, and not the player.
Including Manchester United, George Best played for 18 clubs during his footballing career of 21 years. He also scored 9 goals in 37 appearances for his National side – Northern Ireland.
Best scored 179 goals for Manchester United in 470 competitive appearances. He also won two League Championships Winners Medals and the European Cup of 1968. He was also voted European Footballer of the Year in 1968. In February 1970, Best netted a record breaking 6 goals in a single match against Northampton Town in the FA Cup 5th round. The game ended 8-2 in favor of United. This record still hasn’t been broken by any player yet.
In 1999, George Best 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.”
In 2007, GQ (A monthly men’s magazine focusing on fashion, style, and culture for men.) named him as one of the 50 most stylish men of the past 50 years, and in 2011 he was voted Best Manchester United Footballer On Earth.
I’d rather remember George Best for what he did on the pitch and not nag about what he did off it. Having said that there were a couple of things he did i found cool in that time. It would have been a nice time to be a kid and watch him on TV since the matches started filming in those days. We were not lucky enough to see George Best in the World Cup finals since Northern Ireland never managed to qualify during his time. Of all the great players we know World cup was a major factor which decided their true greatness. But with Best you never needed something big to see if he was effective there or not it was a fact that he was good everywhere. It’s rightly said “If Best was born in Brazil, We would have heard so less about Pele”. And yes if George featured in WC we would have talked about him so much because anyone who saw Best play for 5mins knew what he could have given to the World Cup History.
Pele sent a signed football to Best’s family a couple years back saying “From the Second best player in the world” That’s not modesty. Pele is great enough to know he isn’t the best. The coming second to George Best is isn’t a bad thing. Is It???
George gave us so much to cherish and remember and the best we can do sit back with a can of beer and just admire the greatness of this “Belfast Boy”. A talent which we see in Centuries. I along with many others are just privileged to be able to witness a true Footballing Genius.
Football can’t thank George Best enough.
R.I.P Bestie ❤ ❤
Thank You for the memories. You may be gone but you will never be forgotten !!!!!
Image Courtesy: http://www.georgebest.com
George Best….Greatest Player ever to be born……My HERO
‘You Raise Me Up’ by Brian Kennedy. This song was sung when George’s coffin was being taken out of Stormont Castle to be brought to his burial place
– A Tribute by Ravi Sadrani