In the 1960s, a football genius burst onto the scene – he graced the world with his talent, dazzled it with his beauty, and was so far ahead of his time that he proved to be the forerunner of every modern day football superstar. He loved women, he loved life, but most of all, he loved to kick a football around. George Best was the first superstar footballer who was born to play football, and to mesmerise the world with his silky skills and pop-star looks.
Best’s love for the game became prominent while growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was not long before his talent as a 15-year old boy was spotted by then Manchester United scout, Bob Bishop, who famously told then United manager Sir Matt Busby, “Boss, I think I’ve found you a genius.”
He was immediately called for trials at Old Trafford, and after fending off initial homesickness, the Irishman spent two years at Manchester United as an amateur. He then signed a professional contract with the club at the age of 17 in May 1963. Just days after Best signed his contract, as United were celebrating their FA Cup final victory over Leicester City, George’s father Dickie Best took Matt Busby to a quiet corner to reassure himself whether his son had what it takes to be a top level footballer. He told the United manager, “If George isn’t going to make it, I’d be grateful if you’d let me know within six months because I have a position held open for him back home in the printing trade.”
Sir Matt had full confidence in Best’s abilities and reassured Best senior that his son had a big future ahead in football. Four months later, Sir Matt’s moment, for which he was preparing the shy, skinny lad from Belfast since 1961, finally arrived – George Best made his United debut against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. The rest, as they say, is history. Fifty years on from his debut at the big stage, his legacy continues to live strong in the hearts of everyone associated with the beautiful game.
When Best arrived at Old Trafford, Matt Busby was still under the process of rebuilding his team from the tragic air crash in Munich in 1958, and it was the stylish Irishman’s influx into the team upfront with Denis Law and Bobby Charlton that proved to be the brooding, swaggering catalyst for what followed next in the glorious five years at Manchester United.
Within minutes of his debut, the United faithful realized that they had seen something special in this young lad from Belfast. Sir Matt later commented, “Almost immediately the little whipper-snapper had taken it (the match) by the scruff of the neck and was cheekily beating his man as if he’d been in the First Division for years. From the moment he started to play in the first team, George Best had pulses racing.”
Georgie’s greatest strength was his dribbling skills – speed, balance and superb close control. Everybody likes dribblers, everybody likes people who can control the ball, who they can see while sitting on the edge of their seats. But very few players possess the confidence and the ability to showcase those dribbling skills in front of thousands of glaring eyes watching. George Best, however, had confidence in bucket-loads.
Best could run as quick with the ball as he could without it. He was like an express train; one didn’t know which way he would turn until the very last second, when he would turn the defender inside out. The speed with which he turned with the football at his feet while running towards the goal was reminiscent of a cheetah hunting down its prey – the defender just knew that he would get beaten.