George Best is undeniably one of the most recognised and celebrated footballers in sporting history.
Born and bred in Belfast, Best shot into the spotlight as a young, eager and gifted footballer with a passion for the game and a talent no one could comprehend. From an early age, George was recognised as a unique player and was spotted by the most recognised club in the world.
But George wasn’t always convinced football was the path for him, with homesickness sending him back to his parents’ house in Belfast on more than one occasion.
The life of George, both on and off the pitch captivated millions and ensured he became a household name, often gracing both the front and back pages of newspapers who were eagerly reporting on both aspects of his life.
Soon after George’s footballing career started to slow down, his personal problems started to dominate his life and the football star began appearing less on the back cover and more on the front cover.
His life was filled with exceptional highs and major lows but his talent and passion for the game and country were always celebrated. Take a look back at the life of the legendary George Best.
Born in May 1946, George was born and bought up in Cregagh, east Belfast.
As a young boy, George loved the game and spent his spare time with a football at his feet. George’s first team was the local boys club in Cregagh where he used to play with his friends but education soon got in the way and when he was awarded a scholarship to the local grammar school where football wasn’t on the curriculum. In protest at the school’s lack of footballing opportunity, Best began to skip classes in favour of a kick around the park, his attendance and grades started to drop and his parents quickly discovered what George was up to.
After much consideration, it was decided that that particular school wasn’t suitable and so George was moved to Lisnasharragh Secondary, where he was back with his old friends and football was on the curriculum.
George’s big break came when he was just 15 years of age, he was initially spotted by local team Glentoran, who then passed him by after deciding he was “too small and light.” Their loss was Manchester United’s gain as he was spotted by their scout, Bob Bishop. It is reported that Bob immediately sent a telegram to then-manager Matt Busby which simply read, “I think I have found you a genius”.
Best was given a trial and subsequently signed by chief scout, Joe Armstrong in 1961.
George spent six seasons a Manchester United, arguably the worlds most recognised club, he won numerous awards and was recognised as one of the greatest of his time.
He officially turned professional in 1963, age 17 and made his first-division debut against West Bromwich Albion in September of 1963. George was then dropped into the reserve team before scoring his first goal against Burnley.
Manager, Matt Busby decided to keep Best on the team, and by the end of the 1963–64 season, George has made an impressive 26 appearances and scored six goals. This was only the beginning of his success and in his first full-season of 1964–65, Best helped Manchester United claim the league title.
In 1963, when George was just 16 and already playing for Man U he made his debut for his home team, Northern Ireland playing for their under 18 youth team and just days before his 17th birthday he played his first full international game against England.
Best showed no signs of slowing down and at the age of just 19, George was playing in the European Cup for United and in the quarter-final match against Benfica, he scored two goals.
He was often renowned for his showmanship and the media loved his outgoing personality both on and off the pitch. He was nicknamed the ‘Fifth Beatle’ ‘El Beatle’ and ‘Belfast Boy’ or referred to as Georgie or Geordie in Belfast.
He was loved by fans all over the world and is remembered as the first show-business footballer, receiving over 1,000 fan mail letters a week. Soon came the modelling gigs, personal appearances and late-night partying aspect of George’s life ensuring he was never too far from a front of back page cover.
He had a reputation for not only being an incredibly talented footballer but also a bit of a lady’s man, often gracing the front pages stumbling out of the clubs in the early hours and having a host of various famous female friends. But despite the ever-growing interest in his personal life, George’s passion and talent continued to thrive and he never lost sight of his career.
In 1999, Best was voted the 8th in the World Soccer 100 Greatest Football Players of the 21st-century election, that same year, he was further voted 16th in the UFFHS World Player of the Century Election. His accolades didn’t stop there as he was on the six-man short list for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Century, again in 1999.
In the year of 2004, George was voted 19th in the public UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll and was named in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players.
His contribution to the sport was never doubted and the above awards and acknowledgements are only the start of his achievements over the years.
George enjoyed many years with the famed and highly successful club but during the 68-69 season, things began to turn and the club’s performance wasn’t up to scratch. Many reasons were cited including new recruits and management with Best saying, “I increasingly had the feeling that I was carrying the team at times on the pitch.” The club continued on a downward spiral from there and the club slipped down the league.
After becoming increasingly frustrated with the club’s management, other team members and position, Best would often go missing, skip training and spend his time partying in London. Management became increasingly concerned and angered by this behaviour with many heated discussions resulting in Best resigning only to resume training a few days later.
Best’s last competitive game for the club was on 1 January 1974 against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, which United lost 3–0. After failing to turn up to training three days later, he was dropped by then-manager, Tommy Docherty and his time at Manchester United, came to an end.
George played for Northern Ireland for 13 years yet only made 37 appearances, scoring 9 goals. But despite the small number of appearances, George was a celebrated player on the team by both managers, teammates and fans.
George moved to a variety of different clubs around the world including South Africa, the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Scotland, and Australia. But during his time at these teams, he never saw the success he did when he played for Manchester United and his private life started to take over.
In 1982, after a spite of appearances at other clubs, George retired from football, at the age of just 37.
After his football career ended, George was a successful sports commentator with Sky Sports and was often a guest speaker at industry dinners and galas. Even when he stopped playing, his passion never ended and this was apparent in the work he continued to do.
A Downward Spiral
George was never afraid to admit to his ‘destructive streak’ and one said of himself, “I was born with a great gift, and sometimes that comes with a destructive streak”.
Whilst enjoying great success as a footballer, George also enjoyed the spotlight, parties and woman falling at his feet. As a ‘normal’ lad from Belfast, this life was new to George and he quickly found the temptation too hard to resist, missing training due to a bad hangover or partying in a different city. His self-proclaimed pop-style life quickly overtook his footballing life but it was ultimately the wild nights and partying which would impact his career and health down the line.
Whilst playing for Hibernian, a Scottish club who were facing relegation, Best was brought in on a pay per play basis. The name Best alone attracted great crowds and in his first match, the gate figures quadrupled. But the love of the fans wasn’t enough to keep Best out of trouble and was initially sacked after going on a big night out with the French rugby team who were in Edinburgh to play Scotland.
Staying out late and missing training became a familiar habit for George and his troubles with alcohol continued to have a severe impact on his life. The football legend suffered from alcoholism all his adult life which was eventually the cause of severe liver damage which resulted in pneumonia.
He was arrested a number of times for drink driving, banned from driving for months at a time and spent Christmas day of 1984 behind bars.
Best continued to relapse, even after undergoing a liver transplant at King’s College Hospital in London, an operation where he haemorrhaged so severely he almost died on the operating table. He again continued to drink and in 2005 was admitted to intensive care for a liver failure, caused by the side effects of immunosuppressive drugs prescribed to prevent his body from rejecting the transplant.
During this time in hospital, George was visited by old teammates, friends and relatives who visited his bedside to make their final farewells. He asked national newspaper, News of the World to publish a picture of him in hospital with the headline, ‘Don’t Die Like Me’ to highlight the dangers of alcohol.
George passed away in the early hours of 25 November 2005, after a decision was made to stop treatment. George Best died, aged 59, as a result of a lung infection and multiple organ failures with his family by his side.
George Best is still remembered today as a footballing legend, celebrated around the world.
There have been numerous books, documentaries and a movie on the star as well as an Airport in Belfast named after him.
The George Best Hotel in Belfast will celebrate the life of the Manchester United player, respecting both his personal and professional life. taking the same footprint at The Shankly Hotel in Liverpool, the hotel will be themed with unique and untold stories throughout as well as a bar & restaurant and the George Best museum will be home to a number of unseen artefacts and memorabilia.
For full details on development progressions, investment opportunities and opening dates, please keep an eye on our latest news.