Belfast Telegraph

Sculptor defends under-fire Best statue as fans give own verdict

Adrienne Hawthorne and Alan Hamilton
Adrienne Hawthorne and Alan Hamilton
David Pogue
Sujata Benson
John Hudson
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

The much-ridiculed new statue of George Best became an unexpectedly popular tourist attraction yesterday as its creator defended his sculpture against an onslaught of derision.

More out of curiosity than anything else, scores of people descended on the Olympia Leisure Centre beside Windsor Park to see the bronze of Belfast's most famous footballing son for themselves.

It came after the lifesize statue was mocked repeatedly by critics, who said it didn't look anything like the Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend.

Even BBC journalist Joel Taggart put the boot in, tweeting: "Please tell me the George Best statue is better in the 'flesh' than it is in photographs."

The Manchester Evening News cried foul, calling the statue "ridiculous", and bookmaker Paddy Power tweeted that it was "terrible".

But sculptor Tony Currie from Lecale Bronze, who did a busy round of TV and radio interviews to tackle his critics yesterday, wasn't fazed.

He said: "What is more important to me is that George's family all endorsed the statue and said it was a good likeness after it was unveiled on Wednesday at Windsor Park by his sister Barbara, by his former international colleague Pat Jennings and by his superfan Robert Kennedy, who supported the project from the kick-off.

"They are the important people, the ones who matter. So what more can you ask? Everyone has an opinion. But they're not all right. You can't please everybody."

He said that while he hadn't read the online attacks on the statue, he had been made aware of some of the more acerbic comments - though he denied they had hurt him.

He added: "They haven't stung at all. I am used to taking criticism. And to tell you the truth, I was expecting to encounter negativity. But that means nothing if the family have given us their seal of approval."

Pat Jennings and Gerry Armstrong at George Best statue unveiling. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Pat Jennings and Gerry Armstrong at George Best statue unveiling. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled by Pat Jennings and Barbara McNarry, George Best's sister.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Pictured at the unveiling Pat Jennings and Gerry Armstrong former Northern Irish footballers. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Pictured at the unveiling Pat Jennings former Northern Irish footballer. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
At the unveiling of the statue are Pat Jennings, Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Peter McReynolds, Georges sister, Barbara McNarry and artist Tony Currie from Lecale Bronze.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Pat Jennings former Northern Irish footballer unveils the statue. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Pictured at the unveiling Pat Jennings former Northern Irish footballer, Barbara McNarry George Best's sister and football fan Robert Kennedy unveil the statue. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Pictured at the unveiling Pat Jennings former Northern Irish footballer, Barbara McNarry George Best's sister and football fan Robert Kennedy unveil the statue. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Pictured at the unveiling Pat Jennings former Northern Irish footballer, Barbara McNarry George Best's sister and football fan Robert Kennedy unveil the statue. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Pictured at the unveiling Pat Jennings former Northern Irish footballer, Barbara McNarry George Best's sister and football fan Robert Kennedy unveil the statue. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Pictured at the unveiling Pat Jennings former Northern Irish footballer, Barbara McNarry George Best's sister and football fan Robert Kennedy unveil the statue. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 22/05/2019: George Best statue unveiled in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bronze statue of football legend George Best has been unveiled. Funded by the public, the statue was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie of the Lecale Bronze art group. The life sized statue sits outside the Olympia Leisure Centre - just yards away from Windsor Park where Best played many games for Northern Ireland. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
George Best (PA)

Throughout the day the debate over the statue widened to a discussion on whether George, who died in November 2005 after battling alcoholism, deserved a tribute at all.

Opponents cited his drink problems and reports that he had been abusive to women.

Mr Currie added: "I am tired listening to all the arguments like: 'You shouldn't put up a statue to a wife-beater'. George died nearly 14 years ago and every time there's something done in his name the same old attacks are trotted out again and again."

The artist repeated George's plea just before his death that people should remember him for his football.

"That's what I tried to do to remember a genius," added Tony, who created the work after consulting a large number of books and videos of the footballer.

He said: "Sometimes it can be challenging to create a 3D image from two-dimensional pictures which aren't even lifesize but I think it's an achievement to get even a close resemblance to someone who's not here anymore.

"So I am happy with what we've done."

One of his colleagues from Lecale Bronze, James G Miles, said they were "relaxed" about the social media storm. He added: "We know that opinion is divided but we think the statue looks like George Best and we think the movement in it is great, as is the fact that it's down on the ground where people can interact with it.

"My only appeal is that people should go to Olympia to see the statue because the photographs are not doing it justice. And eventually it will all settle down and people will realise that Tony has done a brilliant job."

Yesterday at Olympia it was clear that was what many visitors were doing - making their own minds up.

Many concurred that the statue was more impressive in reality than it was in newspaper and TV pictures.

Paul Kane said he knew right away who the statue was supposed to be, adding: "I think it does look like George. Definitely. That's him for sure. And he deserves his place here on talent alone, never mind what they say about his drinking."

The statue of George Best, unveiled near Windsor Park, has been the target of social media abuse but the sculptor says he is happy with the positive reactions of those who are 'important'.
The statue of George Best, unveiled near Windsor Park, has been the target of social media abuse but the sculptor says he is happy with the positive reactions of those who are 'important'.
George Best was first immortalised in statue form at Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium. This famous commemoration of Best (left), along with fellow legends Denis Law and Bobby Charlton was unveiled on May 29 2008, 40 years to the day since the trio helped the club lift the European Cup for the first time. Charlton, Best and Law scored 665 goals between them for United and between 1964 and 1968 and all won the coveted European Footballer of the Year award.
A third George Best statue is set to be unveiled at the new George Best Hotel. It's due to open in Belfast city centre next month, six months behind schedule.
Sporting statues are few and far between in Northern Ireland. The other prominent football sculpture stands in Coleraine town centre and is of former Celtic, Coleraine and Northern Ireland star Bertie Peacock. He made over 300 appearances for Celtic, winning the first division once and the Scottish Cup twice, before returning home to help hometown club Coleraine to their only league title in 1974.
However mixed the reaction to the new George Best statue, it has certainly not come close to the furore that followed the unveiling of a Cristiano Ronaldo bust (left) at Madeira Airport in 2017. It was mercilessly mocked on social media and was even remade by sculptor Emanuel Santos. There is a full statue of the Portuguese hero at his CR7 museum (right). For more statues that drew a less than impressed reaction, see our embeds in the article.
If the Ronaldo bust is commonly thought of as the worst, the most bizaree football-related statue has to go to the Michael Jackson monument at Fulham's Craven Cottage home. It was unveiled by then owner Mohamed Al-Fayed and 2011 but, to no surprise whatsoever, it was removed by Shahid Khan when he bought the club in 2013. It was on display in the National Football Museum but has now been taken off display.
One of football's most famous statues stands outside Wembley and features who else but England's World Cup winning captain from 1966 Bobby Moore.
Bestie isn't the only man with two statues. One of the other much-loved footballing figures to be commemorated in two different places is legendary manager Sir Bobby Robson, whose statues stand at former clubs Ipswich (left) and Newcastle (right).
Celtic icon Billy McNeill was commemorated in 2015 as the club looked to remember the greatest night in their history. Captain of the Lisbon Lions, McNeill is still the only Hoops skipper to get his hands on the European City when his side defeated Inter Milan 2-1 in 1967.
Remembering the same night is the statue of then manager Jock Stein, which stands alongside McNeill outside Celtic Park.
What about Sir Alex Ferguson's statue at Old Trafford? It was unveiled in November 2012, before Ferguson won his 13th Premier League title and retired in 2013.
Speaking of legendary managers, the only man to have a statue outside Anfield (bar the mock David Moyes one unveiled by Paddy Power during the Scotsman's less than glorious Manchester United reign) is Bill Shankly. It has been standing since way back in 1997 and is a popular spot for visiting fans to get their photo taken.
Another manager to be immortalised outside a club's stadium is Graham Taylor, who now sits outside Watford's Vicarage Road.
The statue of former Newcastle United and Linfield striker Jackie Milburn stands outside St James' Park. Milburn is the uncle of World Cup winning brothers Jack and Bobby Charlton.
Arsenal have recently unveiled three statues of their recent playing greats. The first two to go up were unveiled in 2011. One of those is of former captain Tony Adams.
Also remembered at the Emirates Stadium is Thierry Henry, whose sliding pose is a hark back to his celebration after scoring against rivals Tottenham at Highbury in 2002.
Joining Adams and Henry in 2014 was Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch magician's trademark skill shown with his action pose.

Paul Walsh agreed that the tribute to George was well merited.

However, he added: "I'm not so sure that the pose is quite right, though I understand they're trying to show him moving and dribbling the ball."

Alan Hamilton struggled to warm to the statue.

He said: "I was a huge fan of George and I was disappointed to see the pictures in the paper. But it is certainly a bit more like George when you get up close. However, I still really can't see the familiarity."

Man United fan Adrienne Hawthorne from Finaghy said she thought the statue, in which George is crouched over striking an action pose, would have worked better on a plinth.

She added: "You really have to bend down a lot to see George's face. But I think it's good. And you'd know it was him."

Davy Pogue from the nearby Village changed his mind on getting up close and personal with George.

He said: "I wasn't impressed when I saw it on the TV but it does look like him when you're here."

Manchester-born but Belfast-based United fan John Hudson said: "I've heard a lot of criticism but I quite like it.

"I think it's him okay, but the statue is not that noticeable when you come in here. And besides, I would rather see it at the City Hall than outside a leisure centre."

Mark Marshall from south Belfast said he wasn't a football fan but applauded the statue as a "good" piece of art.

He added: "However, if I hadn't known to expect the sculpture here I would have been struggling to recognise who it was."

Marion O'Neill and Sujata Benson had travelled to the Olympia after hearing so much talk about the statue on the radio.

Sujata said: "You know, it's a lot better than I thought it was going to be. The right profile, for example, is perfect. And I like his hair."

That comment was too much for one passer-by, who didn't want to be identified.

She interrupted Sujata to say: "The hair's nothing like George's. He never had wavy hair. That's Pat Jennings' hair."

The last word went to comedian Tim McGarry, a Cliftonville fan, who said on social media that Theresa May's government resembled a functioning government in the same way that a statue of George Best resembled George Best.

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