George Best: A match going fan’s perspective

George Best

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.

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47 Comments on George Best: A match going fan’s perspective

  1. Fantastic article.Loved reading ever word of it! It is right up there with some of the best articles about a United player I have ever read.even though I haven’t seen much of Best play in a United shirt.

  2. Brilliant read lots of bits and pieces I’ve never read before, why not put the Best goal that you rave about up instead of the Coventry free kick.

    Surprised he admitted to not passing to Charlton I thought that was a myth.

    Would have loved to have seen him tormenting and embarrassing the opposition you describe that wonderfully. Almost gladiatorial by the sound of it with the crowd instead of begging for blood the humiliation.

  3. Maradona Pele Messi Cruyff had more ability Best was never in their class.

    He gets praise because he comes from these shores he isn’t rated as highly in other countries.

    Did he reach his peak?

  4. Had the United team not been at their peak would they not have still motivated Best to have kept his interest?

    His lack of interest must have been bit by bit over the years.

    Rather than a sudden loss of interest

  5. Good read, but he isn’t as good as some make out.

    Looking back with rose coloured glasses

    Doubt he would be a great player in the modern era

  6. Never got him as a man people made too many excuses for him didn’t know he was top scorer for 6 years on the bounce though.

    Always thought Denis Law was the main finisher in those days

  7. had best been playing in this era i think he would have had more support

    no one knew how to cope in those days

    he was ahead of his time

  8. also I forgot to say

    I think Ferguson would have managed him better than Busby he was a bit soft busby from what i’m told he let Best get away with things and that allowed best to continue

    had he had rules from day one best may not have continued on his merry path to destruction

  9. We saw by his death how much effect Best had on young and old alike.

    He took people to a different level it was like taking drugs leaving a match after Best had produced the goods.

    and anyone thinking best couldn’t have produced the same today your havin a laugh

    the man was gold the only player to come close is messi

    and even then he is a few steps behind

  10. Cantona was better he played when football was better, he got voted the greatest ever united player i think best or charlton was 2nd.

    ronaldo too is better than best and more dedicated

  11. Seriously cannot believe some on here criticising the article and best. He was a football god. And he is rated highly in every country I’ve ever been too. Being Irish and knowing i have a passion for football lots of people love to talk to me about Best.

    He was a very intelligent man too and shy he was hurt because charlton had been critical of him and looked up to charlton thats why he wouldn’t pass to him.

    and i think it only lasted a few games i’m not sure about that though.

    He had lots of famous hangers on

  12. also want to say His mum had the same drink problem she only started drinking later on in life but couldn’t handle it.

    there was nothing busby or best could do he had an illness that he couldn’t escape.

  13. My granddad talks about him endlessly my dad is named after him.

    He tells lots of stories like the one where the porter at a hotel asks Best where its gone wrong with George Best and Miss World or Miss UK half naked with thousands of pounds on the bed after a good night at the casino

    Without question loved by the reds

  14. If I could watch any player or come back to play for the reds it would be this lad.

    Even just watching the you tube clips gets you at it. He scores so many different type of goals and they weren’t even all televised in those days apparently.

    Its sad to read two great United heroes of mine although I never saw either wouldn’t pass to each other.

    They seem to have made it up when Best died though.

    But heard Charlton didn’t have Best in the world XL he chose in his book going for Cruyff instead.

  15. Believe it or not I always felt sorry for him. He seemed like he had everything bud did he? My guess he was an unhappy man who struggled to find happiness despite having everything.

  16. yes agree a bit boring tbh, let’s write something about future i.e. transfers, cos now it’s very important period for us (this transfer window), if glazers won’t give funds for proper players (sancez, modric etc.) we fucked next year

  17. @ William “He gets praise because he comes from these shores he isn’t rated as highly in other countries.”

    Well then Pele, arguably the greatest player to have graced a football pitch, doesn’t know much, because he rates Best as one of the greatest

  18. Pele said that George was the best player ever. That’s all the evidence I need. It’s a shame the way things ended up with him but to deny the man’s talent is nutty

  19. George Best was the finest player ive ever seen.George waslet down because United did not sign the likes of Mike England best Centre half at that time Peter Shilton went to Stoke. Allan clarke went to Leeds because they offered more money.George carried United got fedup with no signings.Its a different game now but i feel Privalidged to see George at his Best.Memories Priceless.Worst ever loss was at Home to Norwich City3rd round of F.A.CUP.That was when the F.A. CUP was great.It should be Prince William who Presents the CUP now then it might get back some of its lost importance.

  20. Comment by Malcolm Rodney Moore — June 16, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

    Yes Busby wouldn’t authorise the extra 10,000 to buy Mike Egland so Wilf McGuiness bought the worst player I’ve ever seen in a United shirt Ian Ure.

    I read quite recently we tried to buy Martin Peters
    From 1964-72 we only bought 3 players.

    Didn’t know we went for Clarke though are you sure of that? I think we went in for SuperMac when he was leaving Luton.

  21. I think the piece captures the essence of the man as well as words can. For a few fleeting years, he played like a two-footed Messi. The rest were simply wasted by alcohol and pig-headedness. He’s the most talented player ever to wear the United shirt, but he can’t be considered the best. Giggs and Charlton simply lasted longer (I’d prefer 8 great years and 8 good years to 5 stupendous years and 3 poor years)
    I really recommend this video though.

  22. Comment by matt — June 16, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

    Yes that is a great video I think the music echos the man too

  23. This is the best article I’ve ever read on Best. It is fantastic, it expresses what Best meant to fans and why and why he kept the love of many United fans.

    This genuinely is a superb read thank you so much

  24. Good article – GB was the most exciting player I have ever seen and you would have to say, beautiful with a football at his feet
    But WOW what a load of responsibility you put on his shoulders to say that he was responsible for the club’s decline. He was one player, there was a whole team of others including very expensive signings during O’Farell’s time but every time they lost it was his fault? He took incredible flak on and off the field and ended up confused and depressed. No support or good advice for him

  25. Comment by newki — June 24, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

    Cheers and I accept what you say there were lots of factors which culminated in United’s decline.

    However I do think that the club was built around him and he had become so important that when he started missing training and pissing about the club let him get away with it. A semi final against Leeds 1969 he had women in the hotel room the night before he should have been dropped the manager knew the players knew.

    When you have players getting away with things like that it has a negative effect on the team. I know you can blame the managers Busby Wilf etc but I do think that it was more than that when Best was no longer performing or missing the fans didn’t know what to do nor did the players. The place was relatively flat and we felt lost.

    I only felt we started to rebuild when Best was out of our lives.

  26. I agree with what you say about Best getting away with things (although there were – and still are- plenty of others who drank and had women trouble without all the flak GB got- he was too public a figure)- That’s kind of what I mean about no support and proper guidance as there is nowadays.
    You say United could only start to rebuild when he went but I think that was the problem in the first place.Why did they wait? They should have started earlier and he might not have got so pissed off
    I remember after the 68 final that he more or less carried the team until 71/72 but how long can one person do that? The times that the team gelled and played well together became less and less and the debate after a lost game always seemed to be about his performance and not the mediocrity of the team.
    What is sure as you say is that the place was lost and flat without him – there was a huge void, almost grief that he could do this and I wonder if that is why there was so much anger instead of the strong help he needed.
    I often think he was in a terrible state about it all himself
    Love your description about his taunting the kickers!

  27. Comment by newkie — June 25, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

    I agree they should have rebuilt earlier between 64-72 we only bought 3 players. I think the main reason for this was Busby didn’t have the same drive and energy and we had a good team but it was getting to old.

    And I also agree he was the first of his kind and we had no previous experience of dealing with such a phenomena.

    However with Best and looking back at my article I did understate this and I did to it deliberately because I didn’t want to make it the centre of the article. But Best’s antics went on for year after year after year. He didn’t turn up for training he did what he wanted virtually. He was a very very selfish player and he didn’t pass to Bobby Charlton because they had fallen out.

    You can bring new players in but is that going to resolve a problem when the main man who the team will be built around is doing his own thing and playing for himself. Moreover the drink, missing training and late nights was starting to tell on his performances.

    Could Best have been handled better yes, could and should United have been improved, rejuvenated more frequently with top class players yes undoubtedly.

    However I probably go with the sour apple analogy it spoils the rest. I stated in my article many fans forgive Best anything and nowadays especially I’m probably in a minority although I do remember an awful lot of anger and frustration by United fans to Best although he gave them so much he also had tremendous love and many many fans forgave him anything always wanting to put the blame on others.

    I wanted this to be an article which was different from all the others I’ve read I wanted it to be more comprehensive understanding of the player and his strengths and weaknesses. Whether I’ve done that will depend on the individual reader and I accept their opinions this is my feeling of what Best meant to me and how I fell in love and out of love and what type of player he was. And his effect on United. I accept that I may have been over critical putting too much blame on United’s decline but I do believe that although yet again I concede I may be wrong.

  28. I do see what you are saying about one bad apple etc and agree that Best’s behaviour soured the team spirit.
    From other players accounts I have read though I believe that much of the initial problem was from the ‘older’ players who were passed their prime-they seemed to cause a lot of bad feeling especially during Wilf Mcguiness’s tenure because he was seen to be from their peer group/age rather than having the authority of a manager.
    However, let’s remember the thrill and excitement of GB’s games
    Your article certainly did capture the feelings of the time and the story of the man, well told and giving your own personal memories and feelings rather than the same old well trodden stories usually churned out.
    Enjoyed the read v much- Ta

  29. Comment by newkie — June 27, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

    Firstly I agree with what you said and thanks for your kind words. Its a pleasure to discuss football with someone who understands the game!

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