It was the day George Best hit Northampton Town — and his critics — for six.
Memories of one of the late George Best’s greatest-ever performances have come flooding back as Manchester United prepare to take on The Cobblers in an EFL cup tie tonight.
The history-making day 46 years ago saw the Belfast football genius score a record six goals for the Red Devils against the same opposition in an FA Cup match.
It was the troubled superstar’s comeback game after a month’s ban for kicking the ball from a referee’s hands.
The record-breaking double hat-trick came at a time when question marks hung over Best’s future — and amid claims from some observers that United might be better off without him.
Speaking days after that remarkable haul on February 7, 1970, the then 24-year-old said: “I don’t really class myself as a footballer.
“I call myself an entertainer. I know a lot of people have paid to see me do something spectacular and that’s what I was trying to do. It’s my job to do something that will send people away feeling that they’d like to see me play again.”
Turning to his four-week ban, the Northern Ireland icon said at the time: “While I’ve been suspended I’ve had people saying that the team played better without me. I felt that if we were beaten by Northampton, people would say it was my fault.
“People think that just because I’m a bit of a showman and lose my temper occasionally that I’m not trying, but I do as much running as anyone.”
Best’s marker that day was the former Northampton Town full-back, Ray Fairfax, who now freely admits that the closest he got to the star was when the pair shook hands after the final whistle.
Looking back on that pivotal day, he said: “When you ship eight goals and the man you were marking scores six you do think you could have done better.
“Your professional pride is dented. But the fact is, if I’d marked him out the game and we’d drawn 0-0, you wouldn’t be wanting to talk to me about it 46 years later. Actually, I played a part in history. Even if it was a very small part.
“He’d been banned for so long we assumed he wouldn’t be fit. We certainly hadn’t worked on a tactical plan to stop him. When the manager came in the dressing room to say he was playing, he just looked at me and said: ‘Right, you mark him’.”
Graham Felton, who played in the Northampton midfield that day, described Best, who died, aged 59, in November 2005, as a “small but tough guy”.
He said: “We thought we could pile in on him, but he rode all the tackles. He was quicker in thought, movement, everything. You just have to hold your hands up and say he was streets ahead of us.
“He was the most complete footballer I’d ever seen. I was only 21 at the time and I guess I was in awe. But he was very quiet on the pitch; there was nothing showy about him. And when he scored the sixth, when he rounded our keeper Kim Book and toe-poked it in, he looked embarrassed. He wasn’t trying to rub our noses in it.”
Best’s determination meant he eclipsed team-mate Denis Law, who had scored six times in a cup game when he was with rivals Manchester City in 1961. However, it was struck off when the game was called off because of fog.
“The thing was Best’s speed of thought,” continued Fairfax.
“I remember one of his goals, Paddy Crerand got the ball on the halfway line and Best was way out wide on the left wing.
“I thought he could do no harm there. Next thing, before Crerand had even played it into the space behind our defence, Bestie went past me anticipating it. He was just a couple of yards ahead of me, but when the ball arrived, he was gone.”