Where do you start with your memories of George Best a football icon? The first time I saw him play he scored 6 goals against Northampton! The greatest player I ever saw play in the flesh and worthy of an oil painting portrait. I’ve painted a few well known icons https://www.cordellgarfield.com/gallery/portraits/ and Bestie remains one of the most enjoyable.
On the 7th of February 1970 I stood on the duckboards of the cricket pitch side on Northampton Town’s old County Ground. It was the 5th Round of the FA Cup and Manchester United were playing my home town side Northampton. Because it was Manchester United, and because it was football icon George Best playing, it was televised, and the game was a sell-0ut. I even saw myself in my duffle coat on the football highlights programme ‘Star Soccer’ the next day! The pitch was a mud-bath, a heavy gluepot, which was typical for that time of the year. Bestie glided over the pitch, scored with two headers, with his sixth goal rounded off by walking the ball round the hapless Northampton’s goalkeeper Kim Book. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=northampton+town+v+manchester+united+1970&docid=608047901096478366&mid=726C3B13A2AE706270ED726C3B13A2AE706270ED&view=detail&FORM=VIRE
That day his skill, balance and speed was the thing that stayed with me. When I watched him on telly it was obvious to me he was the world’s best footballer of the time. Unlike many of today’s modern footballers he didn’t play on bowling greens. He played at a time when defenders took the man first in challenges with the ball being an afterthought. There was no protection for the more skilful players that there is in today’s game.
Fast forward to September 1971 and my first visit to Old Trafford Manchester United’s ground, to watch them play West Ham United, graced by English football royalty at the time. Best, Law, Charlton (the Holy Trinity at Man Utd) and Moore, Hurst, Brooking and even Harry Redknapp for West Ham! Bestie scored a hat-trick, full of guile, skill and athleticism.
Nine goals in two games! Immediately I joined the George Best fan club (run by somebody from a terraced house in Huddersfield I think!). To quote the Fast Show’s Ron Manager “Small boys in the park? Jumpers for goalposts”, I was one of them, clumsily recreating the Best magic on muddy parks. It was phenomenal, pure celebrity, ‘E for B and Georgie Best’ (for those that remember the advertising), the restaurants, the boutiques and model girlfriends. We all got caught up in his career, there had been nothing like it in English football.
From his debut for Manchester United in 1963 to his last game in 1974 his star burned bright for that short window. Admittedly, towards the end, in a declining side, his performances tailed off, he wasn’t the talisman of earlier years. With hindsight we know some of the reasons behind it now. Alcoholism which for many was seen as the ‘Celtic Flaw’ played a big part in his downfall. But for those glory years at his peak, before the decline, he transformed football for you and me.