Icons / June 2019

George Best: Dribbling Genius Who Lost His Footing

Nothing can diminish the memories of George Best’s peerless, often breathtaking quality of football and his dazzling presence off the field, despite being dogged by an array of highly publicised problems.

“Boss,” said talent scout Bob Bishop to Matt Busby in 1961, “I think I’ve found you a genius”. Bishop was not wrong. The 15-year-old Northern Irish lad he’d just seen play would go on to be called the greatest football player in the world - by Pele. Off the pitch he’d be referred to as ‘the fifth Beatle’, because he was, it seemed, just as big as the band. Indeed, Glentoran, his local club, had done an EMI, rejecting him as “too small and too light”. Manchester United wouldn’t make that mistake.

George Best was aptly named. His skills as a winger, dribbler of the ball and finisher were without parallel - next year marks the 50th anniversary of his legendary FA Cup record of six goals in a single match, which saw him invited to Downing Street to meet PM Harold Wilson, a man who’d written fan letters to the player. Best’s athletic talents, in fact, were trumped only by his reputation as a man about town, womaniser and - fatally - as a drinker. “If you’d have given me the choice of going out and beating four men and smashing a goal in from 30 yards against Liverpool or going to bed with Miss World, it would have been difficult choice,” he once noted. “Luckily, I had both.”

Indeed, Best set the bar for what was a new phenomenon: the celebrity player, one who re-purposed what had become a humdrum, grey, working-class sport for the era of swinging teens and pop culture, in Best’s case one who had to hire three full-time staffers to cope with the 10,000 letters he received every week. Best was also the first footballer to parlay his status and his looks - the allure of which he was all too aware - into other ventures.

 

 

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