Belfast Telegraph

Rooftop statue of Manchester United legend George Best to look down on Belfast from new hotel

By Ivan Little

It's the ultimate game of two halves involving George Best.

For on the same day that it was revealed that supporters' plans to erect a statue to the football legend near Windsor Park have received a setback, it was announced that another life-size of the late Cregagh genius is going up in the centre of Belfast.

But fans will have to crane their necks to see their hero's likeness there.

That's because it is being put up on the roof of a new £15million hotel which is being named after the Manchester United and Northern Ireland star.

Artists' impressions of the new George Best Hotel, which is due to open in November in the old listed Scottish Mutual building at the back of the City Hall, show the flamboyant footballer looking across Donegall Square.

But it appears that devotees of the Belfast boy will have to wait a little longer to see George's bronze near Windsor Park.

For a fundraising drive to finance the erection of the statue honouring him has been forced into extra time, after a public appeal raised only £2,000.

And that's £38,000 short of the target set by the Lecale Bronze group when they launched their appeal in May on what would have been George's 72nd birthday.

The time limit for crowdfunding appeals is eight weeks and in that time only £2,155 was pledged by 59 fans.

But sculptor Tony Currie needs 20 times that sum to turn his creation from clay to bronze.

However, he says he's not giving up on his dream to immortalise his idol Best (right) at the home of football in Northern Ireland.

He said: "The crowdfunding phase of the appeal was the first phase of our funding effort and I would like to thank all the people who donated and left such warm comments about George.

"The funds will be drawn down and will be used to help finance the cost of materials."

Now, Tony and his helpers plan to contact fans, clubs and supporters' organisations to encourage them to back their scheme. And they are understood to be investigating running fundraising events in the coming months.

Once the statue has been completed, Belfast City Council have agreed to allow the sculpture to be sited close to the entrance of Olympia Leisure Centre, which is beside Windsor Park, and which is accessed from Boucher Road.

Meanwhile, the George Best Hotel in the city centre is fast taking shape.

The development is a joint venture between the Liverpool Signature Living Hotel Group and the family of George Best, including his sister, Barbara McNarry. Relatives have already presented items of memorabilia to be housed at the hotel, including replica European Cups, a silver Northern Ireland cap, paintings of George and a shirt signed by many of the mourners who attended his funeral after his death in November 2005, at the age of 59.

The chairman of the hotel group, Lawrence Kenwright, said: "I cannot think of a more fitting tribute than to have a statue of this iconic footballer erected on the rooftop of this magnificent building.

"To have George Best looking down on Donegall Square and City Hall is an acknowledgement of how much the people and the great city of Belfast meant to him and how much he loved them."

The George Best Hotel will be the fourth football-themed hotel within the Liverpool Signature Living group.

Other footballers who have been honoured are the former Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly, and Everton centre forward, Dixie Dean.

The group is also planning another three hotels in Belfast, one of them in the former Crumlin Road courthouse, in an investment totalling £80m.

Belfast Telegraph

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