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BELFAST BOY (GEORGE BEST)
- Me, Myself, and I
- The Manchester United Years
In six magical seasons with United George scored 115 goals in 290 games - six in one game!
However initial homesickness nearly pulled the plug on his flourishing career. Just 24 hours after arriving at Old Trafford George, along with another young Northern Irish player Eric McMordie, decided to flee back to their homes in Belfast. A telephone conversation between George's father and United's manager Matt Busby sent him back to Old Trafford within 2 weeks.
George turned professional in 1963 and made his Manchester United debut against West Bromwich Albion. At the tender age of 17 he ran his experienced Welsh opponent Graham Williams ragged. It is said that, after the match, the hard man shook George's hand and delivered the line "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".
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Tell me, Mr Best, where did it all go wrong? So, it is said, the man from room service inquired as he delivered vintage champagne to the former football genius in his suite at a plush hotel.
There was £20,000 in cash scattered on the bed which also contained the current Miss Universe.
In today's laddish world, the remark may seem laughable. Yet the waiter had a point. George Best had squandered one of the rarest and most precious football talents ever seen in favour of a self-indulgent merry-go-round of birds and booze.
He reached unimaginable heights with his outrageous skills in a career that lasted a mere six years at the top, before self-destructing into alcoholism, bankruptcy and jail.
To this day, Best maintains that nothing went wrong, that he just got bored with it all. The most he has ever conceded about that waiter's question is: "Perhaps he saw something I didn't."
But to see Best play in his prime was to be mesmerised by his dazzling ability. Few would argue that he is the most gifted footballer ever produced in the British Isles. There wasn't anything he couldn't do
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The Northern Ireland Years
In 1963, at the age of 16, George made his debut for Northern Ireland playing for their under 18 youth team. Just days before his 17th birthday he played his first full international against England. The manager at the time was Norman Kerrigan who, after seeing George with his scrawny frame and Beatle haircut, remarked "He's like something I'd clean my mouthpiece with."
But George got stronger and quickly established a reputation for being one of the best trainers in the club.
In 1964, George, in a match against Wales, shared a room with renowned goalkeeper Pat Jennings. In stature the pair couldn't have been more different but what they did have in common was the ability to make the game look easy.
Pat Jennings, referring to George in later years, said "He was the finest player I ever played with or against. I treasure my memories of him even though on occasions he made me look rather foolish."
In 13 years George only played 37 times for his own country, scoring 9 goals. But every time he put on the green jersey he electrified the crowd with his performances. Never more so than the day he practically defeated Scotland on his own in 1967 at Windsor Park.
As one of those mesmerised by the match, award winning sports journalist Malcolm Brodie wrote
"Without doubt it was the finest individual performance by any player to grace Windsor Park".
To this day it is remembered as 'The George Best International'
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