Belfast Telegraph

George Best's sister hits back at 'hurtful comments' about Belfast statue

Pat Jennings helps Barbara McNarry unveil the statue of her brother George Best close to Windsor Park
Pat Jennings helps Barbara McNarry unveil the statue of her brother George Best close to Windsor Park
George best
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

George Best's sister and her husband have spoken out against the "keyboard warriors" who've ridiculed the statue of the late football icon unveiled in his native Belfast last week.

Barbara and Norman McNarry spoke of the "hurtful" and "negative" response to the lifesize bronze of the Manchester United legend and questioned how many of its critics had actually seen it in real-life.

Scores of social media users and a number of newspaper columnists mocked the statue erected outside Olympia Leisure Centre near Windsor Park, where Best had some of his finest moments in a Northern Ireland jersey.

The most commonly-voiced complaint was that the statue didn't look like the star, who died in November 2005 after losing his lengthy battle with alcoholism.

His ex-wife Angie Best, who lives in America, joined the chorus of criticism, saying: "Oh dear, should have gone to Specsavers. Poor George."

Some Twitter users said the statue bore more similarity to TV detective Columbo than to George (right). Others said it was more like Pat Jennings or Jackie Fullerton than the Cregagh man.

One Twitter user said the statue resembled the clay bust used in the Lionel Richie video for the song Hello, while another said the bronze was even worse than the much-derided one of Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo, which eventually had to be replaced in his native Madeira.

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The Best statue was created by sculptor Tony Currie from Lecale Bronze in Co Down and it was part-financed by a crowd-funding drive by fans.

It was unveiled by Barbara, who recently revealed she is suffering from Parkinson's disease.

She was assisted by George's former Northern Ireland team-mate Pat Jennings and superfan Robert Kennedy, who campaigned for years for its erection.

Yesterday the McNarrys reiterated their thanks to the sculptor and to the fans who helped to pay for the statue, which they said had given them pride and satisfaction.

They said that they knew their words may not reflect everyone's opinions, adding: "To those who have felt a necessity to express a negative and, sadly at times hurtful, viewpoint, we ask how many of them have actually seen the statue?

"How many of them contributed to making the sculptor's dream come true?

"If they had done they may not have been so keen to join the ranks of the keyboard warriors to bring negativity to this positive addition to their city's and their country's heritage."

Reflecting on the campaign for the erection of a statue in Belfast, Barbara and Norman said it had been a long time coming and they added that they shared with the footballer's fans "an enormous sense of satisfaction and pride" that George was "home".

"The statue was forged in a spirit of positivity and generosity so apparent in most of the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland," the couple said.

"Our sincere thanks go to the Lecale team and fans that funded it without whom this tribute to George would never have been there for future generations to remember the 'Belfast Boy'."

Yesterday the sculptor, urging people to judge his creation "in the round", said: "The critiques of the statue mostly seemed to be based on images taken by photographers from a position below the face.

"A footballer/athlete sprinting at 15mph-plus will be subjected to stresses in the body and facial muscles and will not and cannot be the same standing still for a photographer."

He again appealed to people to see the statue for themselves, and said those who had viewed it had sent messages of support and congratulation.

"All views of the sculpture are important to consider: the movement, the profiles of the face and the overall impact of the piece. I have captured his movement in 'just one moment' and his image is my interpretation of the essence of George, who was my sporting hero," he added.

Barbara revealed that one woman, who had "known George better than most" in the late Sixties and early Seventies, had written to her after the unveiling, which took place on what would have been the Old Trafford legend's 73rd birthday.

She said the woman had told her critics of the statue had missed the point.

"It's representative of George. It is not him," she wrote, explaining that when she saw the statue for the first time she was overwhelmed with grief.

The woman added: "I didn't see his face, his hair, his pose. I felt the loss. When that statue was unveiled I was taken aback and all I could think was: how did this slip of a boy manage to do on a football pitch all that he did? What genes (your mum and dad's) fused to produce such a talent? We were unbelievably lucky to have seen it.

"George is in the hearts and minds of every one of us and it is different for each of us. Over the years the statue stands there, thousands upon thousands of people will have their photograph taken with George Best because they don't care whether some feel the face or the hair is 'just right'. It is George; and that is all that counts."

The statue controversy has had an unexpected spin-off, attracting scores of curious visitors to pass their own judgment.

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