Featuring: George Best

Today my tribute is to one of the Best footballers of all time. George Best was also a very flamboyant character outside the pitch. I’ve never seen a football player that was so talented in both sports and drinking.

George Best (22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005) was a Northern Irish professional footballer who played as a winger, spending most of his club career at Manchester United. A highly skillful dribbler, Best is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. He was named European Footballer of the Year in 1968 and came sixth in the FIFA Player of the Century vote. Best received plaudits for his playing style, which combined pace, skill, balance, feints, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to get past defenders.
In international football, Best was capped 37 times for Northern Ireland between 1964 and 1977. A combination of the team’s performance and his lack of fitness in 1982 meant that he never played in the finals of a major tournament. He considered his international career as being “recreational football”, with the expectations placed on a smaller nation in Northern Ireland being much less than with his club. He is regarded as one of the greatest players never to have played at a World Cup. The Irish Football Association described him as the “greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland”.

With his good looks and playboy lifestyle, Best became one of the first media celebrity footballers, earning the nickname “El Beatle” in 1966, but his extravagant lifestyle led to various personal problems, most notably alcoholism, which he suffered from for the rest of his life. These issues affected him on and off the field, often causing controversy. Although conscious of his problems, he was publicly not contrite about them; he said of his career: “I spent a lot of money on booze, women and fast cars – the rest I just squandered”. After football, he spent some time as a football analyst, but his financial and health problems continued into his retirement. He died in 2005, age 59, due to complications from the immunosuppressive drugs he needed to take after a liver transplant in 2002.

A highly skilful winger, considered by several pundits to be one of the greatest dribblers in the history of the sport, Best received plaudits for his playing style, which combined pace, skill, balance, feints, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to get past defenders. Recalling Best’s career and style of play, Patrick Barclay said: “In terms of ability he was the world’s best footballer of all time. He could do almost anything – technically, speed, complete mastery of not only the ball but his own body. You could saw his legs away and he still wouldn’t fall because his balance was uncanny, almost supernatural. Heading ability, passing ability, I mean it goes without saying the dribbling – he could beat anybody in any way he chose. For fun he’d play a one-two off the opponent’s shins.”
“People were transfixed, bewitched and delighted by the impish, cheeky skills of Best that invariably brought a smile to all except the defenders who had to face him.”
— BBC journalist John May in an article titled, “Was Georgie the Best?”.

Although Best was mostly renowned for his dribbling skills, he has also drew praise for his ability as a creator; in regard to this ability, Tony Dove commented: “I only had the opportunity to see George play once in person – Man U played a tour game in Auckland, New Zealand, late in the 60s. His brilliance was simply dazzling – player after player from the New Zealand national team queued up to try to tackle him and he gave them all dancing lessons. I clearly remember one run, starting almost from the goal-line, from a roll-out by Stepney, when he evaded every player in the NZ team, one after the other, until he reached the opposite end of the pitch and produced a perfectly floated centre for Charlton’s head. His grace, agility and ball skills were only eclipsed by his unselfish passing – many love to remark on his goal scoring but he was prodigious as the set-up man. On the field you couldn’t ask for a better football role-model. Let the man pass with what dignity remains to him. Remember him at his best.”
In an interview Alex Stepney said, “Best would knock the ball on to the goalkeeper’s shin, who would be rushing towards his feet to close down the angle, and the ball would bounce back to him and he would score. No one has been able to emulate that in football. Not only did he do it in training but he did it against Manchester United’s arch rivals Liverpool at Anfield.”

Best was discovered at 15 years old by Manchester United and played there from 1963 to 1974. Best scored a total of 178 goals in his 466 career games with Manchester United. After that he played for other clubs in England, the US and in Australia. Best was capped 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals. Largely surrounded by teammates of lesser ability with Northern Ireland than with his club and lower expectations as a result, Best considered his international career as being “recreational football”.

During his early years at Old Trafford, Best was a shy teenager who passed his free time in snooker halls. However, he later became known for his long hair, good looks and extravagant celebrity lifestyle, and appeared on Top of the Pops in 1965. He opened a nightclub called in Manchester in 1973 and owned restaurants and fashion boutiques.

In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol—it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.
— Best quips on his lifestyle.

Best married Angela MacDonald-Janes in 1978. Their son, Calum, was born in 1981, but they separated the following year and divorced in 1986. He married Alex Pursey in 1995. They divorced in 2005 with no children.

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. When asked what happened to the money he had earned,
Best quipped: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds (women) and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

Best suffered from alcoholism for most of his adult life, leading to numerous controversies and, eventually, his death. In 1981, while playing in the United States, Best stole money from the handbag of a woman 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 at Ford Open Prison. Contrary to popular belief and urban legend he never played football for the prison team. In September 1990, Best appeared on the primetime BBC chat show Wogan in which he was heavily drunk and swore, at one point saying to the host, “Terry, I like screwing”. He later apologised and said this was one of the worst episodes of his alcoholism.

Best was diagnosed with severe liver damage in March 2000. His liver was said to be functioning at only 20%. In August 2002, he had a successful liver transplant. He haemorrhaged so badly during the operation that he nearly died. The transplant was performed at public expense on the NHS, a decision which was controversial due to Best’s alcoholism. The controversy was reignited in 2003 when he was spotted openly drinking white wine spritzers.On 2 February 2004, Best was convicted of another drink-driving offence and banned from driving for 20 months.

Best continued to drink, and was sometimes seen at his local pub in Surbiton, London. On 3 October 2005, he was admitted 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. On 27 October, newspapers stated that Best was close to death and had sent a farewell message to his loved ones. Close friends in the game visited his bedside to make their farewells, including Rodney Marsh, and the two other members of the “United Trinity”, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law. On 20 November, the British tabloid News of the World published a picture of Best (at his own request) showing him in his hospital bed with jaundice, along with a warning about the dangers of alcohol with his message: “Don’t die like me”. 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.

Tributes were paid to Best from around the world, including from arguably three of the greatest football players ever, Pelé, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff. Maradona commented: “George inspired me when I was young. He was flamboyant and exciting and able to inspire his teammates. I actually think we were very similar players – dribblers who were able to create moments of magic.” Fellow Manchester United legend Eric Cantona gave a eulogy to Best: “I would love him to save me a place in his team, George Best that is, not God.”

He was simply the Best!

Check him out (or not):

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, interweb, poetpas