On the anniversary of George’s death, Ian Best talks about what it is like to be the younger brother of a footballing legend.
Ian, who is over 20 years younger than George, was born in 1966 and is the youngest member of the Best family. His middle name is ‘Busby’ after the legendary Manchester United manager. Born when his brother’s football skills and fame had just reached their peak, Ian remembers visiting the United superstar over in England as he was growing up.
“I was taken over to Manchester to visit George,” he says. “In the early days when I was a baby I probably didn’t see that much of him but as I was growing up as a small child we used to go across quite often to see George and watch him play.
“I remember seeing him play for Manchester United against Leeds, another game for Northern Ireland against Holland stands out and when he was slightly older playing for Hibernian as well.”
On what it was like growing up to be known as George Best’s younger brother, Ian describes how the burden sometimes became too much and forced him to quit playing football himself at a young age, despite being a talented player, due to constant comparisons to his famous sibling.
“It was a pain in the backside really,” he laughs. “It wasn’t too bad from people who knew me and at school because at secondary school my sisters were there as well so we didn’t really get much hassle unless George was in the headlines.
“But the problem was when I was playing football, the first thing people would ask was; ‘where’s George Best’s brother?’ Then I became the target man, everybody wanted to try and take me out and everything else.
“A lot of it was peer pressure, I played football in a totally different position to George and I got fed up of people telling me that I didn’t play like my brother. I never intended to play like my brother, I played my own game and he played his.
“People used to tell me that George didn’t do that or do this, I used to say well no he doesn’t because I’m not my brother. I don’t know what people were expecting, at a young age it wasn’t too bad but as it got older it became a pain in the backside.”
George Best’s career at Manchester United needs no introduction, the Irishman made a total of 466 appearances for the club between 1963 and 1974, scoring 178 goals. He was at his peak in the mid to late sixties as a key member of a United side that won two league and titles in 1965 and 1967 as well as the European Cup in 1968 under Sir Matt Busby.
His fearless style of play led him to be adored by the fans even to this day and he is considered by some, most notably those who are old enough to have seen him play, to be the greatest footballer of all time.
On whether George ever talked about his experiences at United with him, Ian says his brother considered his time at the club as the best days of his life: “He enjoyed it, I think he said before he died that his times there were the best of his days. George was in his heyday really before the time that I came along, by the time I’d grown up a bit I only really got the tail end of it.”
George famously quit the game in the summer of 1972 at the age of just 26 as personal problems which have been well documented took their hold. Although various comebacks did ensue at first with United and later with a long list of clubs in several different countries across the world, most notably with Fulham, Hibernian and in America. He finished his career in 1983 playing for Bournemouth in the old third division.
“George was doing what George wanted to do,” Ian says. “I think it was the alcohol more than anything else at the time but I can’t really be 100% certain about why he decided to retire when he did.
“I think being an icon in football and the celebrity side of things took over too quickly, it wouldn’t happen these days, none of the high fliers in professional football would get into that situation because their agents and their clubs wouldn’t allow it.
“George was just left to his own devices as far I was concerned. I think if George had of been managed properly then things probably would have been different.
“Here was a footballer who was going out and enjoying himself and there was no one looking after him. People were just jumping on the bandwagon, they would want to be with him but when things went bad they just all disappeared. People like to say they knew George and that they bought him a drink once, but when he needed help no one was there, they all just spread apart and didn’t want to know.”
Unlike those hangers on, Ian was there till the every end which came nine years ago on 25th November 2005 when George passed away after a long battle with illness: “I saw a lot of George in later years because obviously he wasn’t playing football anymore so he had more time.
“I was actually there in 2005 when he passed away and when George was in hospital leading up to that I was up and down from my house in Dorset. I was up there twice a week to see him then we got the phone call to say that George didn’t have long.
“I jumped in the car and tried to get up there as quick as possible and I was there for his last moments. It wasn’t nice to see your eldest brother pass away but unfortunately these things happen in life.”
Ian now lives in Devon and started up his own first aid training company after suffering a cardiac arrest in 2011 having been a qualified instructor for over 20 years after serving in the armed forces, he is now semi-retired due to ill health.
When asked whether he has an opinion on the current United side Ian thinks that things will pick up in the long run: “They haven’t been doing too well since Sir Alex left but I think once things settle down they’ll start to pick up.”
One thing is for certain, if United could unearth another player of George Best’s quality, their rise back to the top of English and European football would probably be much quicker, then again, that sort of player only comes along once in a lifetime.