Of all the footballers I have seen since 1954 at Manchester United, George Best was the one who always got you excited. We are so lucky, however, to be supporters of this fantastic club. The Busby Babes, Denis Law, Tommy Docherty’s young flyers, Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside, The Class of 92, Roy Keane, Ronaldo the list goes on.
George Best though, was to me, the greatest.
Back in 1962 before he had broke through to the side, and was a waif like young shy Belfast Boy, I met him quite regularly at the Bowling Alley, then situated behind the Lancashire County Cricket Ground .I was there when he made his debut against West Bromwich Albion in September 1963, head to one side, seemingly stuck on his shoulder, looking a top player as he come back from any tackle offered. Back out of the side until the Christmas fixture against Burnley, once he returned he was never out again.
He then became the pin up boy of the sixties, and same age lads followed his hair and clothes style. I remember one long leather coat he was regularly photographed in, so that was the one I also wanted. The fact that I at least had the same coat on as Georgie Boy was a very slight saviour when a young lady I was dating at the time was taken to London to watch United at Tottenham and I, thinking it must be near Tottenham Court Tube Station, was alarmed to find it was not, with resulting taxi across London finding the gates locked at White Hart Lane! We were at least, on the same train back to Manchester with the team so she at least had sight of the genius.
Watching all his Manchester United career, it was a special thrill to then meet up when I was involved in the After Dinner Circuit after he had finished playing .A couple of dinners in particular stand out;
In the early 1980’s, fellow author Fred Eyre and myself put together a book on a load of Manchester United and Manchester City players and personalities called ‘What a Game’ finding their best ever match they had seen or played in, putting a career biography alongside it. George, of course, just had to be part of it. We met at a dinner he was doing in down town Rawtenstall. He told the much used since stories of;
’In 1969, I gave up women and alcohol; it was the worst twenty minutes of my life!’ and others linking him with various beautiful women, ‘I was once in a lift with a Miss World, going up to the bedroom, fivers and tenners coming out of every pocket after winning at The Casino, taking a Miss World to bed, when the guy operating the lift said to me’ ‘You are George Best aren’t you? You really wasted your life!’ George also remarked about the Miss World’s he had dated, ‘I used to go missing a lot, Miss Canada, Miss UK, Miss World!’
George then came over to see Fred and myself, explaining that the following day he was going off to Norway to have an implant in his stomach to keep him off the dreaded drink. The last time he had a similar implant George remarked that he had been off drink for over twelve months, went into a bar in Los Angeles and does not remember the following week!
A few years later, I was hosting George and his mate Rodney Marsh at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport. The event was the Liverpool Plant Contractors Association annual dinner and 180 scousers were very eager to meet the one and only George Best. People just loved being around him, listening to him, willing to buy him drinks just to listen to what he ever wanted to say, just to get a picture or autograph. He was a super star before they invented the word super.
Now a friend of mine, John Farrar, was a top agent. He had sold to the organisers that George and Rodney would come and do forty minutes, and then do forty minutes question and answer. There would be no need for a comedian; these two would dominate the night. My role was to hold the event together, introduce people, sort the raffle do any auctions. Good night Vienna.
I got there about 7.30 for a 8pm start, and was told about 7.40 that there was a call for me. ‘Hi Roy, how does George get there tonight?’ How does he get there? It was a quarter to eight and we were due to start at 8pm. ‘Where is he?’ was my obvious request. ‘Oh, we are in The Midland Hotel’ Now, I only know one Midland Hotel, and yes, sadly it was the one in Manchester forty five miles away!’Get a taxi as quick as’ was my urgent reply.
So, 8pm comes I start the night explaining George and Rodney were on route, and the meal went ahead. Sure enough, about 9.15 they showed, George heading straight to the bar for a quick stiffener. The audience quickly heard he was there and crowded around him for the pictures and autographs. I finally got them into the room and we were able to start. I did the introductions and the pair was on their feet. Rodney Marsh has a shattered left ear drum so has to have George on his right, with me doing hand signals on his left. The agents forty minutes talk was quickly shortened to twenty, and the forty minutes question and answer went the same way. Inside an hour of them arriving the pair was up and away, getting a further hundred quid for the taxi fare on top of the £2,250 fee between the two!
For my part, I was left with 180 scousers on a Friday night who had been well short changed, not a pretty sight!
George Best was the man Manchester United should have built their entire side around from 1968 and the winning of the European Cup. The problem was that Sir Matt had finally achieved his ‘Holy Grail ‘and we were in the managerial round a bout of Wilf McGuinness, Sir Matt coming back, then Frank O’Farrell. The players often mooted about to join after 1968 were; Goalkeeper, Peter Shilton. Full Backs, Mick Mills and David Nish, Centre Half Mike England and Forwards, Malcolm MacDonald and Allan Clarke. None came, we got Ian Ure instead! Mike England definitely was the one who would have made a massive difference, one or two of the others alongside would have kept us at the top of the tree.
It did not happen, and George went into a downward spiral leading to his eventual leaving of Manchester United. His memory though is still there, he was simply the Best…