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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

Published 27/11/2015

George Best with the Portadown football team and mascot before they played Glenavon in 1981
George Best with the Portadown football team and mascot before they played Glenavon in 1981
George shakes hands with the Glenavon captain Alan Frazer and referee Malcolm Moffatt
On the ball: George’s wife Angie on the pitch
Angie is greeted by fans
The Bests having fun on the pitch during the game
Excited young fans mob George at the game
George Best's wife Angie hands out balls during the game
Angie Best with the referees
George Best with Gerald Black

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.

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
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George Best larks around in his kitchen with Angie in 1976
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The birth certificate
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George Best and his dad, Dickie
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GEORGE BEST:FOOTLALL/NORTHERN IRELAND AND MANCHESTER UNITED LEGEND.
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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
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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
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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
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Football legend George Best with his wife Angie, brother Ian, father Dickie and baby son Calum
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George Best
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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.
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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.
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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
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George Best's grave
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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

"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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