There is a famous story about George Best, after he had won one night at a casino and a bellboy found him in his hotel room drinking champagne with Miss World with £25,000 scattered across his bed. The bell boy said, “Tell me George, where did it all go wrong?”
There are a few variations to that story but it really does sum up what life was like for George Best for a while.
There was a period when the papers started writing a lot of bad stuff but he was having a fantastic time and the public was mainly sympathetic towards him. He’d be stood there, surrounded by mini-skirted girls drinking free champagne and he was paid to play football.
It did turn eventually turn sour for George, but he had a hell of a lot of fun, especially in Manchester.
Rise To Fame
George Best was born in Belfast, the son of a shipyard worker. He was spotted by a Manchester United scout while still at school.
At 15, he was taken to Manchester by Matt Busby, with a job as an office boy near United’s ground, and signed as a professional at 17. He burst on to the international scene with a stunning display against Benfica in 1966 in which he scored two goals in the first 10 minutes of a 5-1 demolition in Portugal.
At 18, he won the first of 37 international caps for Northern Ireland and was being hailed as the new Stanley Matthews.
A slight figure, 5ft 8in tall and weighing 10 stone, he dazzled the crowds with his skill. But soon the shy, unworldly boy from Belfast was caught up in the trappings of fame. He acquired an agent and a secretary and went into business, opening two boutiques.
Although he rarely missed a game in his early career, he started causing problems at Old Trafford, and in 1971 was suspended for a fortnight for failing to catch a train for a game at Chelsea.
A year later, he was dropped from the team again for failing to attend training, and was ordered to leave the house he had built in Cheshire and move into lodgings near Old Trafford.
By now his lifestyle was a constant source of newspaper gossip, with countless stories of girls and heavy drinking. Tommy Docherty’s arrival at the club inevitably led to a showdown and Best finally parted company with Manchester United in January 1974.
‘Where’s me shirt?’ asks George Best
“I’ve said it a few times, but I blame the Seventies for the demise of the football strip into the artless mess it is today. The problems began in the Seventies and I suppose we played our part.”
“When the Seventies began, I had my hair over my shoulder, my flares were ludicrous and the knots in my ties were simply massive. That was the style, and I cut a dash in the bars of Manchester with Mike Summerbee and our friends, but I thin, because of the position I was in I dressed a little more outrageously than the norm. Fashion was big and had no subtlety at all. “
“Call it Glam if you will, it was just loud, everything loud. Big collars and bright colours, When the 70s started, fashion and football were on different planets. Yeah, we had our boutique and some of the flasher players had picked up a bit of money from modelling. We all did those home delivery magazines, that kind of thing.”
“But it hadn’t affected football, not on the pitch. Football was very naive at the start of the Seventies. It was only waking up to things like sponsorship and the kits we wore were still pretty plain. We didn’t need colourful strips with flashes and designs all over them. The characters on the pitch were colourful enough. “
“At first I thought the strip changes were a really good thing. There was Don Revie’s England in ’74, who started looking flash. And Derby County, I think, were the first team to press for shirt sponsorship. That was the thin end of the wedge. I look at football strips today with a certain amount of sadness . . . and maybe we were a little bit to blame. Just think back, though, to the time when a kid in the street could wear a white t-shirt and pair of blue shorts and think he was wearing an England kit. That’s not too long ago.”
“We had extreme times. But it was always totally one thing or another. The great thing about those days was that although we tasted this huge glamour thing, we were still living in the real world. So we’d live a life of absolute extremes. No in-betweens. I would go drinking with the lads down the pub one night and be a guest of the Prime Minister the next day.”
George Best on Leeds United
“That Leeds team are now remembered as the most cynical football team of all time. Although they did deserve that reputation, I hated playing against them, I really did. It must be remembered that they also had a hell of a lot of skill, too, but they were still a bloody nightmare. “
“But my little anecdote tends to sum them up. It concerns Matt Busby who, in a team talk before meeting Leeds, went through each member of their side”.
“It must be remembered that Busby loved Man United but he was also a fiercely patriotic Scot.”
“Anyway, Matt went like this: “Gary Sprake, the goalkeeper . . . on his day a nasty piece of work. Right back, Paul Reaney . . . dirty bastard. Left back, Terry Cooper. . . . even dirtier bastard. Johnny Giles. . . dirty little bastard. Centre half, Jack Charlton . . . dirty big bastard. Left half, wee Billy Bremner. . . . good Scottish boy!”
Best died in Cromwell Hospital in London on Friday 25 November 2005 at 12:55 GMT, at the age of 59 after suffering multiple organ failure. Best was admitted eight weeks previously with flu-like symptoms, and hospital officials said it ended “a long and very valiant fight”.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair led tributes to the man he called “one of the greatest footballers the UK has ever produced”. “Anyone who has seen him as a football fan will never forget it,” Mr Blair said.
Republic of Ireland Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said: “George should be remembered as the very best at what he did. He was quite simply a football genius.” Sir Bobby Charlton said his former Manchester United team-mate “made an immense contribution to the game, and enriched the lives of everyone that saw him play. Football has lost one of its greats, and I have lost a dear friend. He was a marvellous person.”
A minute silence was observed at every Premiership football match that weekend in Best’s memory.