Belfast Telegraph

George was Best, says football's first £1m man Trevor

Ex-England hero Francis hails legend in new book

George Best and his side at the testimonial in Belfast in 1988
George Best and his side at the testimonial in Belfast in 1988
Trevor Francis after the 1979 European Cup Final
George with his son, Calum

By David O'Dornan

Former England striker Trevor Francis - the first £1 million British footballer - has spoken about how "incredibly sad" it was that his friend George Best lost his battle with alcoholism.

Best was just 59 when he died in 2005 after continuing to drink following a liver transplant.

The troubled Manchester United legend is widely regarded as one of the greatest players the world has seen, even though his career petered out as he fought his demons.

Francis (65), who moved to Nottingham Forest for the then-record fee in 1979, spoke warmly of Bestie in a chapter of his new autobiography, and compares the Belfast idol's life to Paul Gascoigne.

He said: "I played against George on both sides of the Atlantic, in the United States for Detroit Express when he was playing with Fort Lauderdale, and in England for Birmingham City against Manchester United.

"It was incredibly sad that his career was negatively impacted by his drink problem which, of course, was the ultimate cause of his death.

"That self-damage is apparent with Paul Gascoigne. In 1988, in one of my early games for Queen's Park Rangers, we travelled to St James' Park to play Newcastle United. In their team was a 21-year-old Gazza and I have never seen such a young footballer playing with such wonderful technical ability and confidence.

"He had great balance and outstanding dribbling ability, enabling him to beat players with ease. I realised I was watching a young player who was destined to be one of the best!

"On the long coach trip back to London I was talking to (manager) Jim Smith. We were eulogising about what we'd seen and I said Gascoigne was the best I had seen since George Best.

"This was another example of the game being robbed of a great talent too early. At least both players had incredible careers, but all too short."

Francis says in the book, One In A Million, that when he flew to Belfast to play in Bestie's testimonial, his late wife Helen was asked if her husband was away in Northern Ireland as a soldier.

He explained: "Without a doubt George Best was the greatest player I played against in Britain and I was honoured to be asked to play in his testimonial in Belfast on August 8, 1988.

"At the time Helen and I were living in a large thatched house on the Wentworth Estate.

"There had been a burglary at a house nearby and the police visited our house to check that everything was as it should be.

"The police remarked on the fact that Helen and the boys were alone and enquired about the whereabouts of her husband. She told them I was away in Northern Ireland, to which one of them said: 'Is he in the Army?'"

"She replied: 'If he was he would need to be a sergeant major to have a house like this one!'

"The game was played at Windsor Park between a Best XI and an international XI and featured players such as Ossie Ardiles, Paul Breitner, Wolfgang Overath, Johan Neeskens, Rudi Krol, Pat Jennings, Liam Brady and Johnny Rep. George's team won 7-6 although the result was immaterial."

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