Belfast Telegraph

Superfan Linda tells of annual pilgrimage to grave of hero George Best - footballer's ex-wife gives her verdict on statue

The new statue of George Best
The new statue of George Best
The football legend with fan Linda Galeozzie
Linda Galeozzie at the unveiling of the statue to George Best
George Best
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

A George Best superfan from south Wales has revealed that she pays an emotional journey to Belfast every year to lay birthday flowers on the grave of her idol.

Linda Galeozzie (60) has also spoken of her plans to convert part of her new home into a "George Best suite" filled with memorabilia associated with the Manchester United and Northern Ireland hero.

She admitted that she has been obsessed with the Cregagh-born legend for half-a-century - even though she never saw him play.

"There was no one quite like George, as a footballer and as a person," said Linda, who was in the crowd at the unveiling of a statue to the player outside Olympia Leisure Centre near Windsor Park on what would have been his 73rd birthday earlier this week.

"It was tremendous to see him being honoured at last," she added.

She went to Roselawn Cemetery after the ceremony to pay her respects to George, as she always does, by leaving seven red roses.

Linda's fascination kicked off in 1968 when she watched on television as George inspired Man United to their famous 4-1 European Cup Final win over Benfica at Wembley.

Sitting alongside the then 11-year-old was her late father Hugh Mooney, who hailed from Londonderry.

She said she fell in love with George in a heartbeat and immediately joined a fan club for the Old Trafford maestro.

Down the years her affection for George grew and she turned her bedroom into a shrine for the wayward genius, who died in 2005 after losing a battle against alcoholism.

Linda spent years gathering together a vast array of Best posters, badges and even a number 7 shirt worn by him, but her collection eventually got too big for the space she had.

Now, however, she is moving home and will be utilising an extra bedroom to house all of her cherished Best gems, including wrappers from a range of bubble gum that bore his name and picture.

"My old house was full up but now I am putting everything together in a room I am calling the George Best suite," said Linda, who didn't get to meet the man of her dreams until 1993, when he and maverick former England international Rodney Marsh went to Cardiff to appear together in a chat show.

She said: "After it was over the two of them were signing autographs and I got George's.

"Even though there was pressure on him to leave, George refused to go until he had met every one of his fans in the line-up. That was the measure of the man."

She met George again at book signings in 2001 and 2004.

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)

"And he remembered me," added a chuffed Linda, who recalled how George once made a fuss of a homeless man who had queued up to shake his hand, even though he couldn't afford the book.

She prayed for George after he received a new liver and during the worst of his illness.

After his death she paid a pilgrimage to Old Trafford and attended his "never to be forgotten" funeral at Stormont and a memorial service at Manchester Cathedral.

Linda is just one of a number of devoted fans of George who regularly pay homage to him at Roselawn.

Last Wednesday, after the unveiling, they went together to his grave, where among the bunches of flowers alongside Linda's were two-dozen roses with a simple message attached thanking George "for the football"

A framed photograph of a young George was accompanied by the words from the song You Raise Me Up - sung by Brian Kennedy at the footballer's funeral.

On the eve of the unveiling of the statue in Belfast, Linda was a guest of the Best family at a special party in Eddie Spence's fish and chip shop on the Beersbridge Road, one of George's favourite haunts.

Thirty close friends and relatives were treated to a fish supper and ice cream delivered to the chippie from Desano's shop on the Newtownards Road.

"George would have loved it," said a friend.

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.

Best’s ex gives her verdict on statue

Angie Best has given her verdict on the controversial new statue of her late husband George.

Writing on Facebook, the former model and Playboy bunny, who was the Belfast football legend’s first wife, said: “Oh dear, should have gone to Specsavers. Poor George.”

Angie (66), who now lives in the USA, married George Best in 1978.

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