AUTHOR: – The Mancunian Red (Guest Blogger)
Probably the questions I most get asked – Did I watch George Best and who is my favourite player over the years. Many fans are surprised after hearing I watched Best over 100 times live and drool about his abilities that I then go with Robbo as my favourite ever red. George was my first hero, my first love if you like but my feelings towards him soured. I’m writing this article about Best because although thousands of articles have been written I personally do not feel they express my feelings as a fan or sum up the feelings of reds at the time he played and then in effect quit on us.
George Best: He played 361 times in the league for United scoring 137 goals.
I don’t intend this as an article to eulogise over him. Instead I will try to explain to the reader why he took the title favourite and why I fell out of love with the player. My reasoning for this is to give the reader a comprehensive understanding of the players’ strengths and weaknesses and how he made fans feel and the era this took place.
George was a genuine genius no matter how you define or restrict its definition The finest description of Best’s abilities comes from David Sadler who argued he could do everything better than anyone else at the club, considering we had the Law man’s aerial ability and finishing, Morgan’s dribbling, Charlton’s passing and shooting and Stiles and Crerand’s tackling that is some accomplishment. It may slightly over exaggerate certain aspects of his game but not to any meaningful extent. Best was that good, he didn’t have a weaker foot and was top scorer at the club for 6 consecutive seasons from a genuine wide position.
Growing up as a kid in the 60s and 70s football was our only escape from reality; we played it before we went to school at breaks and dinner at school and for hours after school. There were no videos only a couple of TV channels, no computer games or Internet or mobile phones. The only real form of entertainment for many of us was football. We would go to Old Trafford one week and Maine Road when we were playing away.
Football was critical to us and it wasn’t about winning it was about being entertained and being able to share a passion with friends, there were few areas in life that you could feel and express emotion openly. Males especially were taught to hold our emotions intact and keep a stiff upper lip. But when Saturday came you expected to be entertained and see things from players you could only dream about. Busby asked his players to do one thing – “Go Out and Enjoy Yourself”!
Best with all these attributes set out with one objective – to entertain. If you read any of Best’s many books that was what he loved to do, it was better than drinking or socialising or sex. He loved to lift people up and put a smile on their face and take their breath away. In a book written by his friend Michael Parkinson in the late 60s or early 70s he talked about scoring his ideal goal. Standing on his hands at a corner and volleying the ball in to the net, to my knowledge he never scored such a goal in a game but claims to have in training. He also wanted to round the keeper, as he often did stop the ball on the line go down on his knees and put it over the line with his head. He wanted to do this against Benfica in the final in the European Cup but the keeper got back too quickly. I mention these examples because I think they sum him up perfectly. Best was an entertainer!
He once read Bobby Robson in a morning newspaper say it would be impossible for a player to deliberately score from a corner against a top team. The next time we played at Portman Road who do you think scored direct from a corner, you guessed it! Often Best would be up against players who gave up on any hope of playing him fairly and just attempted to kick lumps out of him. And in those days the rules of the game allowed players to get away this. Best was one of the bravest players I’ve ever seen, he used to take it as an affront to his ability just to go down, he would try his utmost to stay on his feet. And when I read that when players are running at speed and they get a touch it knocks them off balance and they have no choice but to go down. WHAT????? I NEVER saw Best have a slight touch and go tumbling to the ground.
Moreover when a player would have no intention of playing football against him he would often go to the full back position pick the ball up from Stepney and move towards the player. With both hands he would outline the shape of the ball to the player with the ball at his feet. The crowd would pulsate with anticipation and excitement, we had seen it many times before, Best would then beg the player to come for the ball moving his hands up to his chest and curling back his fingers. Best didn’t want to physically act revenge; he wanted to humiliate the player for kicking him all game. The player knew everyone’s eyes were now firmly fixed on the battle which was going to commence. The atmosphere would move up a couple of notches and the venom would turn towards the player – Best had told the crowd that this player had one intention to try to kick him out of the game. We had our villain, at times it could be like a pantomime. I think for many of us at this point the result became secondary to the entertainment value of Best’s desire to humiliate and embarrass and ridicule. Quite often he would turn players inside out and go back he loved putting it through player’s legs which was the ultimate embarrassment in those days.
Best wasn’t a great team player he was the greediest player I’ve ever seen and Law blames him for his dramatic drop in goals and Charlton makes similar points. But Best loved to entertain many experts have wondered why that side didn’t dominate football and win more, looking back I think had Best been a better team player we probably would have done.
My favourite Best moment came in the night match in the old league cup against Chelsea at OT October 1970 and watching half the Chelsea team try to stop Best as he dribbled round Bonetti with Harris trying to drag him down by any means possible but Best just kept on going. I was gutted that ‘Match of the Day’ Goal of the month chose this ahead of it:
As Matt says below in the comments this video wonderfully expresses Best’s abilities!
My feelings of love turned sour towards Best as he kept missing training and fell out with players and story after story kept coming out regarding his lack of passion for the game. The final straw came against Wolves at OT we were top and Best just didn’t turn up. We lost 1-3 and after that we dramatically fell down the table. In truth Best had been carrying us but we were top when he went missing. Best often blames his loss of interest in football was due to the lack of ambition at the club and lack of quality signings. He has a point but we were top when he went missing and I think it is an excuse that Best used rather than being the definitive reason. I believe the demise of United and the subsequent relegation can be put principle at Best’s door. His antics ripped a massive hole in the team and left the fans flattened. As a consequence reds were often ridiculed by the blue part (not half) of Manchester and football fans in general. I think we only started to recover after we got relegated. It is difficult to express how much Best’s presence lifted the fans and how empty we felt when he wasn’t in the team. The atmosphere for a while was flat.
It’s often claimed no player is bigger than the club but many only started supporting United or went to watch United play because of Best. Best was for them undoubtedly bigger than United.
I also learned from a Best autobiography that he admitted he would not pass to Bobby Charlton because they had fallen out. I find it very hard to forgive him for this. I expect more from players who play for my beloved United especially my heroes!
Rodney Marsh once asked Best why he only played for second and third rate teams once he stopped playing for United. Best replied that he did not want to jeopardise his relationship with United and the fans. I would love to believe this, I really would but I think Best knew that he was finished as a top class player after he left United first time. He did return but he was nothing like the player he once was and I think he knew in his heart he would struggle to live the life he had now marked out for himself and be one if not the greatest player to grace the game. Instead he chose to stand out at lower levels than be a pretty ordinary player at the top level. He could still entertain at those levels which he loved to do.
At times I remember Best with wonderful memories at other times I don’t put him in my greatest United 11 due to his selfishness but I seriously doubt there has ever been a footballer in the world who was gifted with as many attributes as Best!
However many United fans I know forgive Best anything and love him as much today or at the end of his United career as they did watching him at his peak. Their argument – he was the greatest and gave them so much pleasure not to forgive the bad times.
Would United be the same club they are today without Best? Would Cantona have found his spiritual home had Best never played for United? There is something magical about our club and certain players will always fit a club like a glove and for many years Best and United were the perfect fit.