George Best

Northern Ireland mourns the death of the legendary footballer

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 late 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. He 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.

He 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. 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’, he 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, 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 had 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.

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