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Rare pictures of George Best unearthed with Manchester United legend playing for Portadown

Magical memories of 1981 match when a United legend wore Portadown red

By Adrian Rutherford

He is fondly remembered as one of the greatest footballers to ever pull on the famous colours of Manchester United.

But these rarely-seen photographs show George Best in a very different red jersey.

They were taken in October 1981 when Best guested for Portadown in an exhibition match against Glenavon.

The game was played at a packed Shamrock Park, with Best captaining the Ports to a 1-0 victory.

After being hidden away for years, the images emerged in the week that the sporting world marked the 10th anniversary of Best's passing.

Gerald Black, who arranged the match after persuading Best to play, said it was an unforgettable day.

"It was the largest crowd at a Portadown game for years - it was a dream come true to see him playing," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Best left Manchester United in 1974 and, by the early 1980s, was playing in the United States for San Jose Earthquakes.

He had travelled to Portadown for a chat show, organised by Gerald, a local businessman who ran Bannview Squash Club.

Gerald used the opportunity to ask if Best would pull on his boots for the local club.

"I flew to Manchester 12 times to see George Best playing football," he said.

"I decided I'd try to bring him to Portadown.

"Every year I brought over a personality to get publicity for the club I ran, and this year I managed to get George over.

"You couldn't do it now. They're all so unapproachable. But I went to his agent, Bill McMurdo, and it was a 'yes' right away.

"The chat show was done by Niall Crozier, and it was very successful. We had a full house.

"When I was taking him back to the airport, I said: 'George, would you play a game of football for me', and he said he would.

"So I came back and I contacted the Portadown directors, and the directors of Glenavon Football Club, and they both agreed to put out a team."

Portadown won the game 1-0 after a late goal scored by Gordon Green.

A match report from the following day's Belfast Telegraph described how the 5,000 crowd were captivated by Best's skill.

It read: "In a generally relaxed first half Best was obviously accommodating himself to the slower pace of the game in Northern Ireland, but after the interval he showed more verve again with delightful precision passing."

It recalls how, in one move, he beat "four players in as many seconds" before forcing the Glenavon goalkeeper, Trevor McCullough, to make a fine save.

Further Reading

The day Belfast Telegraph's Stuart led Bestie out onto the field... and 'left' him red-faced  

Manchester United fans unveil George Best tribute at Old Trafford on 10th anniversary of legend’s death  

George Best remembered: The Best interview I never did with boyhood idol George  

Belfast boy (16) scores part of teenage George Best  

Cancer sufferer campaigning for George Best statue in star's Belfast home  

At the time Best was 35, and in the twilight of an illustrious career.

However, Gerald was still mesmerised by his ability on the ball.

"I could only half-see the game, I was so busy watching other people's reaction - they were blown away," he added.

"I remember him going past three fellas at one stage - all three of them went the wrong way.

"Ten minutes from the end I asked George to come off and he said 'no'. He played the full 90 minutes and he was unbelievable.

"I don't even remember who won the game. The achievement was George Best pulling on a Portadown jersey."

The photographs had been stored away for the past 30-plus years.

But, with Best back in the spotlight as the 10th anniversary of his passing approached, Gerald sought them out. They include Best pictured among the Portadown line-up, and being escorted through the crowd which ran on to the pitch at the final whistle.

Gerald added: "I've had the pictures for 30 years. One of them hangs on my wall at home.

"It would be lovely to share the memories of a very special day with others."

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