Appropriately named, George Best was arguably the finest footballer the world has ever seen. Possessing outrageous skill, Best was a key member of the great 1960s Manchester United side that raised the profile of football across Britain and Europe.
Born in Belfast on May 22, 1946, Best grew up in the Cregagh district in the east of the city. A slight youth gifted with remarkable balance and poise on the pitch, he caught the eye of Manchester United scout Bob Bishop in 1961, who famously reported back to the then United manager Matt Busby: 'Boss, I think I've found you a genius.'
Best joined Manchester United as a schoolboy and despite severe homesickness made his debut in
1963, aged 17. He went on to make 466 appearances for United over the next decade, scoring 178 goals and creating countless others.
Best won League Championship medals in 1965 and 1967, and in the ‘annus mirabilis’ of 1968, United became the first English team to win the European Cup (now the Champion's League). Best scored in the final and was voted European footballer of the year. He also played 37 times for Northern Ireland.
Nicknamed ‘the fifth Beatle’, Best attracted popular acclaim and media attention in a way that no footballer had done previously. Arguably, this took its toll on his career and he left Manchester United in 1974, aged only 27.
Best played sporadically for a number of other clubs in Britain and the USA thereafter, but never recaptured his early form. He spent his latter years in England, suffering well documented health and personal problems, due to alcoholism.
Best underwent a liver transplant in 2002, and for a time his health showed a marked improvement. He returned to the football scene, making regular appearances on television as a football pundit.
However, by October 2005, his health began to deterioriate once more. The footballing legend died in a London hospital on November 25, 2005 at the age of 59, having suffered multiple organ failure.
Best's funeral, at Stormont Estate on Saturday, December 2, 2005, turned out to be the biggest such event that Northern Ireland has ever seen. Over 100,000 people braved torrential rain to line the route of the funeral cortege. A service to celebrate George Best's life was held in Stormont's Great Hall, and was televised live across the UK and further afield.
With Maradona crediting Best as a key inspiration during his footballing youth, and Pele himself once describing the Belfast Boy as the 'greatest footballer in the world', there is no doubting Best's legendary status as one of the all time great footballing talents. In the east side of his native city, they have a saying: 'Maradona good, Pele better. George Best.'