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George Best fans still flock to final resting place decade after Manchester United legend's death

By Ivan Little

Published 23/11/2015

Visiting George Best’s grave yesterday was Ivan Little
Visiting George Best’s grave yesterday was Ivan Little
Visiting George Best’s grave yesterday was Bobby Cosgrove
Visiting George Best’s grave yesterday were Michelle McBride with Lyn Smyth
Fans of the late football superstar regularly visit the grave to leave mementoes
Fans of the late football superstar regularly visit the grave to leave mementoes
George best

Under a Manchester City sky of powder blue with a wisp or two of white clouds, George Best's old schoolmate Bobby Cosgrove stood by the Manchester United legend's grave yesterday and wondered what might have been.

At an icy Roselawn Cemetery just a few days before the 10th anniversary of George's untimely passing, Bobby pondered what the quiet youngster who starred in their chaotic 20-a-side school kickabouts with a tennis ball could have done if he hadn't pressed the self-destruct button to prematurely end his football career and, even more tragically, his life.

The Northern Ireland international died on November 25, 2005 from multiple organ failure at the age of 59 with his family by his side in the Cromwell Hospital in London after a long struggle against alcoholism.

And sadly the last 10 years have seen repeated disputes between his son Calum and George's sister Barbara, who has accused her nephew of betraying his father in interviews about him.

Bobby Cosgrove said he was convinced everything could have been very different if George had been handled more firmly in the heyday of his electrifying footballing career.

"If Bill Shankly had been his manager, the discipline would have been stricter and George wouldn't have been allowed to fall by the wayside," he said.

Read more:

George Best remembered: 10 years on from icon's death, Northern Ireland football is riding high  

George Best remembered: Northern Ireland and Manchester United legend's greatest moments  

Bobby used to organise guided tours around George's old haunts and landmarks, from Windsor Park to the Cregagh estate where he lived, and their old school at Nettlefield where they played together.

George Best in action
George Best in action
George Best
Football legend George Best pictured in January 1964
George Best with the Portadown football team and mascot before they played Glenavon in 1981
Football legend George Best pictured in January 1964
George Best: Manchester United and Northern Ireland Legend
Memories: George Best trudges off the pitch after being sent off against Scotland
George Best larks around in his kitchen with Angie in 1976
George Best footballer in Manchester United kit
Alex with George Best in 1995
The birth certificate
Books:GEORGE BEST: The Legend - In Pictures, Ivan Martin, Appletree Press
George Best and his dad, Dickie
George Best advertising Cookstown Sausages
George Best has a drink in a Belfast bar
GEORGE BEST:FOOTLALL/NORTHERN IRELAND AND MANCHESTER UNITED LEGEND.
Belfast boy: George Best is the most heralded Northern Ireland sports star... but Rory McIlroy can close in
George Best is regarded by everyone as one of the greatest footballers of all time, and by many, including Brazilian icon Pele, as THE best of the lot. The Belfast boy, who lived a rock and roll life, had staggering skill and balance, which he used to score for Man United in their 1968 European Cup final victory, one of 179 goals for the club. A breathtaking talent.
George Best in a Glentoran shirt with another ex Northern Ireland international Norman Whiteside - and a young Stephen Chick
George Best, during the Northern Ireland v England match in October 1966
Manchester United legend George Best
George Best. Football. Manchester United and Northern Ireland. Ireland v England Oct. 1966. Best and Parke outwitted by a headless Charlton as Englend mount an attack.
HEALTH Best 11...Library filer dated 08/03/1969 of legendary footballer George Best who is "coming to the end of the long road of his ill-health", his doctor Professor Roger Williams said Thursday November 24, 2005. See PA story HEALTH Best. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo Credit should read: PA...A
Benfica's Goalkeeper Jose Henrique (left) races back to his goal in a vain attempt to stop George Best (right) of Manchester United from scoring his team's second goal in the the European Cup final at Wembley, 29th May 1968. United eventually won 4-3 after extra time.
George Best pictured with Pat Jennings
Football legend George Best pictured at Windsor Park
Manchester United footballer George Best with manager Tommy Docherty.
Best man: George Best (c) shows off the 1968 European Footballer of the Year award, which journalist Max Urbini (l) presented to him before the match, as team-mates Bobby Charlton (second l, 1966 winner) and Denis Law (r, 1964 winner), and manager Matt Busby (second r) look on
Simply the Best: George Best shows off some of his wide range of skills during his time at Manchester United, where he became a worldwide star
George Best playing at the stadium
George Best in training for Manchester United
Football legend George Best
George shakes hands with the Glenavon captain Alan Frazer and referee Malcolm Moffatt
George Best's wife Angie hands out balls during the game
George Best with Gerald Black
Angie Best with the referees
George Best leading the teams out with mascot
Excited young fans mob George at the game
Angie is greeted by fans
The Bests having fun on the pitch during the game
On the ball: George’s wife Angie on the pitch
Fond memories: mascot Stuart McKinley aged six
George Best relaxes with a cup of coffee as he waits for the action in Bulgaria to begin
Style icon George Best outside his Manchester Boutique in the 1970s
George Best in action for Manchester United
George Best puts pressure on Gordon Banks as he prepares to clear the ball from the England penalty area in the 1971 international at Windsor Park.
George Best with Lawrie Sanchez
George Best
John Chaffetz, an official of the Los Angeles Aztecs, points the way for soccer star George Best. Best was attending a press conference after joing the Aztecs in 1976
George Best and his mother Annie
Molly meets soccer star George Best
Football legend George Best, pictured with Pat Jennings (left) and Billy Bingham (right).
Lining up: George Best joins the rest of the Tobermore United squad for a team photo before the Irish Cup tie against Ballymena United in 1984
The late George Best with then wife Alex Best is pictured with family and friends outside his boyhood Burren Way home after he received Castlereagh's Freedom of the Borough
Close friends George Best and Mike Summerbee at 1966 World Cup Final
George Best in April 2002 at the house in Burren Way, where he unveiled a plaque after being awarded the freedom of Castlereagh
George Best with son Calum
George Best with his former wife Angie and son Calum
George Best with his former wife Angie and son Calum
George Best and Calum Best
Football legend George Best pictured in 1990
Football legend George Best with his wife Angie, brother Ian, father Dickie and baby son Calum
George Best with his sister Barbara McNarry
George Best at home in Belfast with his father Dicki
George Best, ex-Manchester United footballer, smiling with bruised eye
H&H auctioneer James Wheeler polishes up the Jaguar once owned by George Best
George Best
Manchester United and Northern Ireland football legend George Best
A bus stop on the Cregagh Road on the morning of George Best's funeral.
Flags at George Best funeral at Stormont. Saturday 3rd December 2005
The garden of the Best family home in Burren Way, Cregagh, on the day of George's funeral.
The George Best funeral cortege on the Ballygowan Road.
New stamp depicting George Best
Calum Best in the funeral cortege.
Calum Best shakes hands with well-wishers as George Best's funeral cortege leaves the Best family home
The George Best funeral cortege on the Ballygowan Road.
Calum and Dickie Best at George Best's funeral
The crowd on the Cregagh Road waiting for George Best's funeral cortege.
Crowds gather at Stormont for the funeral of George Best
A view from the balcony of Parliament Buildings in Stormont
Crowds gather at Stormont for the funeral of George Best
George Best's coffin is carried up the steps to the Stormont buildings
George Best's coffin is draped with the Northern Ireland flag
George Best's agent Phil Hughes (centre) with Eamonn Holmes next to George Best's coffin in the Parliament buildings in Stormont, Belfast, Saturday December 3, 2005. The world of football was today paying its last respects as George Best, one of the greatest ever players, was laid to rest. Best, 59, died last Friday in London's Cromwell Hospital.
The Best family at the George Best funeral at Stormont
Billy Bingham at George Best's funeral
Robert Dunlop at George Best's funeral
Dickie and Calum Best at the funeral of George Best funeral at Stormont.
Terry Neill at George Best's funeral
Paddy Kielty and Gerry Armstrong at George Best's funeral
Frank McLintock at George Best's funeral
Mike England at George Best's funeral
Derek Dougan at George Best's funeral
Milan Manderic at George Best's funeral
Pat Jennings at George Best's funeral
Phil Taylor, George Best's agent and Jackie Fullerton at George Best's funeral
Alex Higgans at George Best's funeral
Bobby Jameson at George Best's funeral
Barry McGuigan and his wife at George Best's funeral
Rodney Marsh at George Best's funeral
Dennis Law (centre) at George Best's funeral
Martin O'Neill at George Best's funeral
Callum Best and mum Angie at George Best's funeral
George Best's grave
George Best Belfast City Airport handled more than 2.5 million passengers last year
A mural of George Best and David Healy on the wall of the Times Bar, York Road. Brian Little/ Presseye
The Best family plot at Roselawn on the day before George's funeral.
Some of the Best memorabilia up for grabs at Wilsons Auction house today. Pictured a silver Benfica letter opener, dated 1966, given to George which marks Man Utd's 5-1 European Cup defeat of Benfica in Lisbon. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years
Best Fan - 7 year old Luke McMullan from Dungannon holding a replica European Champions Manchester United Trophy presented to Dickie Best when George Best died. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Some of the Best memorabilia up for grabs at Wilsons Auction house today. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Some of the Best memorabilia up for grabs at Wilsons Auction house today. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Best Fans - Mark McIlwaine (13, left) and David McCracken (13), both from Lurgan Junior High admiring some of the Best memorabilia up for grabs at Wilsons Auction house today. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Best Fan - 7 year old Luke McMullan from Dungannon (dressed in his school rugby kit) holding a cast from George Best's original match worn boots, pictured amongst Best memorabilia at Wilsons Auction house today. There are 110 lots of George Best memorabilia available, collected by Dickie Best over a period of 40 years.
Items on sale of the Dickie Best collection which will go on public auction on the 19th march at the Wilsons premises in Mallusk with 110 lots of George Best memorabillia available which was collected by Dickie over a 40 year period.
Family Portrait (left to right): Carol Best - Lisa Hogg; Julie Best (Twin) - Catherine Quinn; Ann Best - Michelle Fairley; George Best - Tom Payne; Dickie Best - Lorcan Cranitch; Grace Best (Twin) - Amy Quinn; Barbara Best - Laura Donnelly
George Best played by Tom Payne
Ann Best played by Michelle Fairley
George Best played by Tom Payne
Ann Best played by Michelle Fairley
Ann Best played by Michelle Fairley
George Best played by Tom Payne
George Best played by Tom Payne
Richard (Dickie) Best with a picture of his son, footballer George Best pictured at his home in Belfast. October 2005
Visiting George Best’s grave yesterday were Michelle McBride with Lyn Smyth
Visiting George Best’s grave yesterday was Ivan Little
Fans of the late football superstar regularly visit the grave to leave mementoes
Fans of the late football superstar regularly visit the grave to leave mementoes

He added: "I did the tours for two years and we had people coming from Australia, New Zealand, South America, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and South Africa and I'll never forget the woman who insisted on leaving an expensive necklace with a 'G' on it on his grave. Someone pinched it, unfortunately."

Bobby said that interest in the Best trails gradually started to wane and tourism officials withdrew their support.

But even now, from time to time he still sets up independent tours - the last one was for a Man United supporters' club who were visiting Belfast from England.

As he surveyed George's simple grave, Bobby said he was sad that there's still no permanent memorial to Northern Ireland's most gifted footballing icon.

"It's a crying shame that all the great proposals came to nothing," he added.

There were plans for a statue but amid rumours of rifts and reports of wrangling, the appeal for the public to help fund the sculpture was eventually abandoned.

The George Best Foundation set up in his memory was also wound up.

At Roselawn, the security men who were on duty around the clock after George's funeral are long gone now and the ropes that marshalled the thousands of mourners queuing to pay their respects to George are but a distant memory.

At the grave yesterday there were a couple of tiny footballs with 'miss you' and 'thank you' messages and anonymous supporters had draped a 'C'Mon Norn Iron' scarf on the grass in front of the Best family headstone, along with two poppy crosses.

At the entrance to the cemetery, a map still points the way for the occasional visitor to find their way to George's final resting place in plot number S295.

He rests beside his mother Annie and his father Dickie, and just nine graves away from where the footballer's grandparents Mary and James 'Jock' Best are buried.

Yesterday, two Best fans braved the elements to pay homage to their hero.

Michelle McBride and Lyn Smyth, who are from the Cregagh Road, said they wanted to visit the grave in the week of his 10th anniversary to honour the late, great superstar.

"We never saw him playing, but everyone in Belfast knows he was a little bit special," said Michelle, a Manchester United supporter.

Lyn, whose family are Newcastle United supporters, added: "It really would be tremendous if there was something more permanent to remember George."

On Wednesday, as Manchester United play a Champions League game at Old Trafford against Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, a commemorative Best banner will be unfurled.

The inscription on the banner will read: "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," which is the title of a song by the Smiths.

Supporters will also turn on their mobile phone torches in the seventh minute - marking George's shirt number.

Back home, East Belfast PUP councillor Dr John Kyle reflected on how Best's memory lives on.

"He was an east Belfast man through and through and he was still one of us. The fact that people still talk about him all the time is testament to his astonishing skill and his standing in the game.

"He was more than a footballer - a likeable man who did so many great things, though unfortunately he made some unwise choices." Cllr Kyle said it seemed almost unbelievable that 10 years had passed since George's death and his memorable funeral, which forged a rare show of togetherness in a divided city that just for the day became Belfast United.

Never before had there been a funeral quite like it, as tens of thousands of people lined the streets and the Stormont estate in a formidable outpouring of grief.

Catholics from west Belfast - some of whom had rarely ventured across the River Lagan before - stood shoulder to shoulder in the rain with their Protestant counterparts to say farewell. In Stormont itself, Manchester United fan Eamonn Holmes led an emotional service for the footballer they said Belfast would never forget.

It wasn't described as a state funeral. But that's what it was, in everything but name.

In the days after his burial in Roselawn, Belfast City Council had to take unprecedented security measures, not only to control the crowds but also to protect the grave from the unwanted attention of fans wanting to take away more than memories.

It's thought that in the coming days before and after George's anniversary, there may well be an upsurge in the number of people returning to Roselawn for their own pilgrimages of remembrance.

But standing alone at Roselawn yesterday, Bobby Cosgrove permitted himself a rueful smile as he reflected on the pandemonium 10 years back and recalled just how many people claimed they were at Nettlefield with George all those years ago.

"If everyone who said they were there actually had been in the class, there must have been close to 3,000 people in our wee room. Easily," he added.

Bobby sat beside George's uncle Geordie Withers, who was two months younger than his nephew. He said it was obvious even then that Best was destined for greatness.

"In those 20-a-side matches in the playground at Nettlefield no one could get that tennis ball off him," he added.

"And later on when I played against him in his days with Cregagh Boys Club you couldn't even get near enough to him to empty him.

"On the rare occasions that we did get in a crunching tackle, George just got up and looked at us as if to say 'dead on', and off he went on his merry way."

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