‘With feet as sensitive as a pickpocket’s hands, his control of the ball under the most violent pressure was hypnotic. The bewildering repertoire of feints and swerves… and balance that would have made Isaac Newton decide he might as well have eaten the apple.’ –Hugh McIlvanney, Observer sportswriter.
The ‘Belfast Boy’ was undoubtedly the finest footballer Ireland has ever produced and probably one of the top ten players ever. In a career and life shortened by the scourge of alcoholism, he was a genuinely loved individual who entranced football fans, provided the media with acres of copy over his drinking, love affairs and sometimes irresponsible behavior. He was a lovely man whose only enemy was the alcohol that eventually killed him.
Best was discovered by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop (who also discovered Norman Whiteside). Bishop sent a telegram to United manager Matt Busby stating “I think I’ve discovered a genius.”
The slight, shy Belfast lad made his debut against West Brom in 1963 at the age of 17. Best won two League championship medals and the European Cup (1968) with a Manchester United team that variously included other Irish players including Tony Dunne, Shay Brennan and goalkeeper Pat Dunne.
Unfortunately, Best’s hedonistic lifestyle and poor lifestyle management saw a wonderful footballing genius lose motivation for football. Best had numerous falling outs with Manchester United before being finally released in January 1974. He played for 11 different clubs.
The footballing genius who didn’t know how to handle fame and was consumed by alcoholism broke many hearts during his lifetime and even spent short periods in jail for alcohol related misdemeanors.
His funeral in Belfast drew an estimated 100,000 people.