Not much rain that month they say - May of nineteen-forty-six;
the ache of war, still in the bones, where Cregagh boys kicked tries
down at Malone and dodged the sixes from the next-door cricket pitch.
Wednesday, the twenty-second, an ordinary Belfast day,
but some alignment of the spheres, some sorcery, conspiracy of Gods,
some fate; a child was born, a boy, blue eyed, dark haired - different from the rest,
and soon this world would come to worship, to call him great, “the one”, the best.
A slight kid, “too small, too light” they said, to kick a ball for our Glentoran,
as they watched him claim the greens round Burren Way. But a Bishop’s wise eyes
watched, and saw the spark of a messiah,
a message arrowed down the wires to rainy Manchester:
“I think I’ve found you a genius.”
Your fate was sealed that day.
At just fifteen uprooted from the green of Ireland - Busby’s newest babe.
In red they led you down the Warwick Road, where Munich’s ghosts
still strode and whispered in the stands. Perhaps they never knew back then,
of magic in your feet, the future held in those two hands. Two years you waited,
training every day, and scrubbed the muddy boots of legendary men; until at seventeen
your dream came true - named on the sheet,
a number on a shirt,
- they let you out
How did it feel, that walk out of the darkness, trembling in that deafening wall of sound?
A wide-eyed kid, still damp behind the ears, let loose to run with giants;
the chance to walk on hallowed ground? Did you see that day,
the world waiting at your feet? That every ragged kid on every street
would take your name? The shimmy through the papers, from the back page
to the front - a beautiful face
for the beautiful game. Did you start to feel that devil’s trident pricking at your heart,
the flashbulb lightning storm of words, the demons, slowly picking you apart?
Yet in those golden scarlet years, there was no other God but you, no other game,
no other team. And from the Streford End the faithful sang your name,
while you played out
their every dream.
The clubs, the clothes, the cars, the girls, the champagne-comet trail you blazed.
While we just watched; glaze-eyed in the glory of of a supernova superstar.
Those were the days, your days, and ours.
Your face upon a million walls, while your feet danced through
defences like Irish mist, to tunes no one else could hear.
Each passing year we polish up the memories.
The big men cried the day they laid to your rest.
For their brilliant, blue-eyed Belfast boy,
What they said about him:
- "Boss, I think I've found you a genius." (The telegram sent to Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby by talent scout Bob Bishop, who discovered a 15-year-old Best playing for Cregagh Boys' Club.)
- "He's not George Best, but then again, no-one is." (Commentator Clive Tyldesley.)
- "The closest I got to him was when we shook hands at the end of the game." (Northampton Townplayer Roy Fairfax, who had been marking Best when he scored six goals in an 8-2 FA Cup win for Man Utd in 1970.)
- "Shellito was taken off suffering from twisted blood!" (United team-mate Pat Crerand after Best had given Chelsea full-back Ken Shellito a torrid time.)
- "He was able to use either foot - sometimes he seemed to have six." (Sir Matt Busby)
- "So George, where did it all go wrong?" (The hotel bellboy who delivered champagne to Best's room and found him entertaining a scantily-clad Miss World on a bed covered with his winnings from the casino.)
- "After his first training session in heaven, George Best, from his favourite right wing, turned the head of God who was filling in at left-back. I would love him to save me a place in his team, George Best that is, not God." Eric Cantona pays tribute to the late George Best)
- "Maradona good; Pele better; George Best" (A banner near the Best family home in the Cregagh Estate on the day of Best's funeral)
- "From the second best player in the world" (On a signed football left as tribute to George Best by Pele)
What he said about himself:
"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."
"I used to go missing quite a lot... Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World."
"In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life."
When Michael Parkinson asked how soon before kick-off George had made love: "Half time!"