The Manchester United star, who was born 75 years ago this May, reflects on his rise and fall as a 1960s icon in an article by author Colm Keane, who interviewed him on many occasions.
In July 1961, a skinny, dark-haired, 15-year-old George Best left Belfast on the overnight boat to Liverpool. He was accompanied by a 14-year-old named Eric McMordie. On their own and anxious, they were heading for a trial at one of the homes of British soccer – Matt Busby’s Manchester United.
From Liverpool’s Lime Street station they travelled by train to Manchester. No one was there to meet them, so they pooled together the money for a taxi. Having asked to be taken to Old Trafford, they were mistakenly brought to the nearby cricket ground. The error rectified, they finally completed their journey and were brought to their digs.
“We only stayed for a day and a bit,” George told me. “We came home because we’d never been outside of Belfast before, except to Bangor. So my dad contacted Matt Busby. He thought we might have got in trouble. But Mr. Busby said, ‘There’s no problem. He’s only homesick. If he wants to come back we’d love to have him.’”
Two years later, George made his debut, aged 17, against West Bromwich Albion. He ran rings around the left-back, Graham Williams. “He gave me a couple of whacks early on. Matt Busby decided for the second half to move me to the other wing, to keep me out of the way of this mad Welshman.”
Shortly afterwards, still aged 17, George made his Northern Ireland debut against Wales. He was up against Graham Williams again. Once more, Best ran rings around him and left him for dead. “He gave me another couple of whacks in that game. I saw him later at a dinner and I said, ‘This is what I look like from the front!’”
Most defenders only got to know the back of George Best in the years ahead. Fast, agile and outrageously talented, he played one-twos off opponents’ legs and embarrassed opposition defences with his trickery and skills. He also scored breathtaking goals.