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

Published 23/11/2015

Genius: George Best
Genius: George Best
Manchester United fans have come up with a new chant for George Best
George Best
Style icon George Best outside his Manchester Boutique in the 1970s
Calum with his parents Angie and George
Calum with his famous father George on the pitch at Windsor Park
Former soccer stars Manchester United and Northern Ireland star George Best, right, and Brazil's Pele, smile during an awards luncheon for Pele in Los Angeles in this April 1978 file photo. )

It seems fitting that on a day when Northern Ireland will mourn the 10th anniversary of their greatest player's death, football is once again riding high in the country.

George Best, who died at just 59 on November 25 2005, was an undisputed great - not only of his chosen sport, but of any sport.

Yet while his story, one of limitless skill, the best and worst excesses of celebrity and an ultimately fatal addiction to alcohol, still entrances, Best somehow failed to shine on the international stage.

At Manchester United the honours flowed - two league titles, the club's first ever European Cup, a Ballon d'Or and a highlights reel to match the best in history - but it was a curiosity that Best managed only 37 appearances and nine goals for Northern Ireland.

Fewer caps that Niall McGinn, fewer strikes than Iain Dowie.

He is, without question, one of the finest players never to grace a major tournament.

Read more:

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

George Best factfile  

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

But his successors in the green shirt, after a 30 year absence, will do just that next summer after qualifying for Euro 2016.

Complications relating to a liver transplant denied Best the chance to share in the celebrations.

But Gerry Armstrong, a former team-mate, long-time friend and finally Best's pall-bearer, has no doubt what that would have meant to his colleague.

"I can't believe it's 10 years since that awful day but it's amazing that it comes as Northern Ireland have just qualified for the European Championship," Armstrong said.

"I know how proud George would have been about that, he would have loved it. I just know he is somewhere up there looking down on us and smiling.

"He was so proud to come from Northern Ireland and to wear that green shirt. He loved to see the country do well.

"And it worked both ways; nobody here will ever forget George Best or what he achieved. He was our greatest ever player, no doubt about that, and although we miss him we have some fantastic memories that we'll never forget."

Stories of Best - or 'El Beatle' to give him one of many nicknames - are passed down the football family like folklore.

He made just as much use of his Hollywood good looks as he did his footballing talent, and boasted of sleeping with four Miss Worlds, almost certainly the only man from east Belfast's modest Cregagh Estate to make such a claim.

"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered," he once quipped.

But there were two failed marriages and his desperate, futile battle against the bottle to weigh against his glory days.

Nevertheless, current Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill looks back on Best with fondness.

"I remember playing in his testimonial at Windsor Park as an 18-year-old...it was the thing of dreams to just be in a changing room with him," O'Neill said.

"We still recognise his contribution, not only to football but to life as well. I don't think Northern Ireland will ever produce another George Best and possibly the world of football might not.

"Certain players are timeless and it says a lot that George's legend lives on at Manchester United despite the fantastic players that have come and gone since then."

Best is the marquee name on a proud list of Northern Irishmen to have represented the Red Devils, including the likes of Harry Gregg, Jackie Blanchflower, Sammy McIlroy, Norman Whiteside, Jimmy Nicholl and, more recently Jonny Evans and Paddy McNair.

Keith Gillespie did not make the same kind of impact at Old Trafford, playing only a handful of times between 1993 and 1995.

But early on the Larne-born prospect was dubbed 'the new Best', a tag that weighed heavy but one he still regards as an honour.

Gillespie said: "It was an incredible accolade...anyone from Northern Ireland who goes to Manchester United hears about George Best but me more than most because we were both wingers.

"I had that tag and it was nice, even though I was nowhere near the player he was. My nickname at all my clubs was 'Bestie' but he was someone I looked up to for years and I still do.

"Like many of us he had his flaws off the pitch but that never stopped people loving him.

"What he did for football in the sixties was incredible, he was a genius."

They are sentiments which will be shared in Manchester, Belfast and far beyond as football remembers the life and career of George Best.

Online Editors

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