George Best is undoubtedly the finest soccer player ever, and probably one of the five finest footballers ever. Best was discovered by famed Belfast scout Bob Bishop who told Manchester United manager Matt Busby “I have found a genius.” He was not exaggerating. Best made his debut as a 17-year-old for United on 14 September 1963. For the next ten years, he lit up the football landscape, before alcohol took its toll.
Best was the first soccer superstar. In 1965, he demolished Portuguese giants Benfica almost single-handedly in what was then the European Cup, after which he was dubbed “El Beatle” by the Portuguese press. Best won league championship medals with United in 1965 and 1967. In 1968 he won the European Cup with United, and was named the European Footballer of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year.
Then it started to go downhill. The young man who was shy by nature started drinking heavily, missing training sessions and games. The pressure to perform in what was becoming a very poor United team added to his problems. He walked out on United in 1972, returned and then finally quit the club in 1974. The ghost of a wonderful footballer played itinerantly for 11 clubs in South Africa, Ireland (Cork Celtic), Scotland and USA for a period, but he could never beat his drink demons which saw him in 1984 serve a three-month prison sentence for drunk driving, assaulting a police officer and failing to answer bail.
On 20 November 2005, the British tabloid News of the World published a picture of Best (at his own request) showing him in his hospital bed with jaundice, along with a warning about the dangers of alcohol with his message: ‘Don’t die like me’. In the early hours of 25 November 2005, treatment was stopped; later that day he died, aged 59, as a result of a lung infection and multiple organ failure.
On 22 May 2006, Belfast City Airport was renamed ‘George Best Belfast City Airport’ to commemorate the life of International footballing legend, George Best who was born and grew up close to the airport.
Video | One of Best’s goals for the San Jose Earthquakes in 1981 shows just what Best was capable of even at 36.