Date of birth: 22nd May 1946
Place of birth: Belfast
Clubs: Manchester United (August 1961); Dunstable Town (July 1974); Stockport County (November 1975); Cork Celtic (December 1975); Los Angeles Aztecs (April 1976) Fulham (September 1976); Fort Lauderdale Strikers (June 1978); Hibernian (November 1979); San Jose Earthquakes (April 1980); AFC Bournemouth (March 1983); Brisbane Lions (July 1983); Tobermore United (January 1984):
N.Ireland debut: 15th April 1964; away v. Wales (W 3-2)
GEORGE BEST was the greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland. His death in London on Friday 25th November 2005 brought tributes from all over the world, in recognition of his stunning, natural talent.
Over the years, it was a topic of much debate as to what George could have achieved if he had not cut short his career by quiting Manchester United in 1974 at the relatively young age of 27.
However, if you look at George’s time at the club it tells a different story as during his 11 seasons at Old Trafford he not only won two League Championships and an European Cup but he was also voted British and European Footballer of the Year in the same season.
In the mid-Sixties George became the first footballing superstar, but when he first arrived in Manchester in August 1961 he stood only five feet tall and weighed just eight stone and to many observers at United it seemed he would be too frail to make it in the professional game.
Two years after signing as an amateur though, he made his League debut for the club in a home league fixture against West Bromwich Albion at the tender age of 17. Even at that early stage it was plain to see George had it all, balance, pace, bravery, vision and most of all serpentine dribbling skills. The youngster from the Cregagh Estate in Belfast had the world at his feet.
The first of his 37 Northern Ireland caps arrived seven months later when he played, along with Pat Jennings who was also making his debut, in Northern Ireland’s 3-2 victory over Wales at Swansea.
The ensuing years saw George contribute much to Manchester United’s success under his mentor Matt Busby. However as the Sixties drew to a close United’s fortunes began to wane and George’s off the field activities started to attract more attention from the media than his performances on the pitch.
In February 1974, after 466 appearances and 178 goals, he eventually called time on his Red Devils career after the then United manager Tommy Doherty omitted him from the side to face Plymouth Argyle in a fifth round FA Cup tie.
George then became something of a journeyman making guest appearances for clubs as diverse as the Jewish Guild and Cork Celtic.
In 1976, aged 30 he joined Fulham and as well as doubling the gates at the Cottage he produced a number of performances which were reminiscent of him in his hey day.
The boom of ‘soccer’ in America in the 70’s was too good an opportunity for George to miss out on and along with the likes of Pele and Franz Beckanbauer he did a lot to promote the game in the ‘States.
His career at International level never matched the highs of his time at Manchester United, though there were highlights such as his superlative display against the Scots at Windsor Park in 1967 when he single-handedly destroyed the opposition with a performance of breathtaking skill.
George’s well-publicised alcohol problem led to him receiving a liver transplant in 2002.
He was without doubt the most talented individual ever to don the green shirt of Northern Ireland and despite some negative publicity over the past couple of years, he always received a rousing reception from the crowd whenever he returned to Windsor Park.
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