Today marks the 9th anniversary of the passing of the man who many insist was not just the greatest player that Manchester United have ever had, but the best in the history of the sport.
George Best passed away on 25th November and we caught up with fellow legend Sammy McIlroy for his memories of his compatriot.
Younger supporters will be fully aware of the troubles many players have had coming into the team following one of United’s many great players; that list is long, and there are also examples of players being labelled the ‘next such and such’ when the player he is being compared to is still in the team! So it was for Sammy McIlroy, a Northern Irish midfielder who loved to dribble with the ball.
Perhaps comparisons were natural but McIlroy insists that he paid no attention to it – thanks, in part, to the attitude and approach of the man he looked up to. “To be honest, I never, ever took anything like that serious. George Best was my idol, the greatest thing I’ve ever seen on a football field, and the comparisons were simply because we both came from Belfast, end of story. George was a fantastic bloke, he helped me when I broke into the side,” remembers McIlroy. “Obviously the press loved it but I mean it sincerely when I say it didn’t bother me… between us, we never mentioned it. Believe it or not, George was a shy lad, and George was my idol so I would never dream of mentioning the comparison.”
Still, that didn’t stop the press from highlighting the resemblances and, at times, overplaying. McIlroy went on to be a legend at the club under his own performances and his own feelings about George bring about a different regret to the one you might expect. “Rather than ‘being him’, a sad regret is that I didn’t get to play as often with him as I could,” admits Sammy. “Also, to see him as he was at the end of his time at United wasn’t great because it was so sad for a number of fans whose only memory of him is those last days, because that wasn’t what he really was.”
Best scored 181 times in 474 games for United, winning two League titles and a European Cup as well as the Ballon D’or in 1968.