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Last Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005, 13:55 GMT
Obituary: George Best
George Best

Manchester United football legend George Best will be remembered for his dazzling skill on the pitch, and for his champagne lifestyle away from it.

Best was a footballing genius. He had speed, superb dribbling skills, the ability to accelerate past players and was adept with both feet.

He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to have graced the British game.

1965: Helps Man Utd win League Championship
1968: Scores in United's victory in European Cup
1974: Walks out on United aged 28
1984: Jailed for drink-driving offence

Together with Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, Best formed a triumvirate that inspired Manchester United to League Championships in 1965 and 1967 and the European Cup in 1968.

In that year, he picked up the English and European footballer of the year awards.

His heyday occurred during the "swinging sixties", and, with his good looks, he brought a pop star image to the game for the first time.

But the accompanying champagne and playboy lifestyle degenerated into alcoholism, bankruptcy, a prison sentence and, eventually, a liver transplant.

Stunning debut

George Best was born in Belfast, the son of a shipyard worker. He was spotted by a Manchester United scout while still at school.

George Best fills a champagne fountain
He enjoyed a champagne lifestyle
At 15, he was taken to Manchester by Matt Busby, with a job as an office boy near United's ground, and signed as a professional at 17.

He burst on to the international scene with a stunning display against Benfica in 1966 in which he scored two goals in the first 10 minutes of a 5-1 demolition in Portugal.

At 18, he won the first of 37 international caps for Northern Ireland and was being hailed as the new Stanley Matthews.

A slight figure, 5ft 8in tall and weighing 10 stone, he dazzled the crowds with his skill.

Hedonistic lifestyle

But soon the shy, unworldly boy from Belfast was caught up in the trappings of fame. He acquired an agent and a secretary and went into business, opening two boutiques.

Although he rarely missed a game in his early career, he started causing problems at Old Trafford, and in 1971 was suspended for a fortnight for failing to catch a train for a game at Chelsea.

George Best with a blonde woman
George Best was a notorious ladies' man
A year later, he was dropped from the team again for failing to attend training, and was ordered to leave the house he had built in Cheshire and move into lodgings near Old Trafford.

By now his lifestyle was a constant source of newspaper gossip, with countless stories of girls and heavy drinking.

Tommy Docherty's arrival at the club inevitably led to a showdown and Best finally parted company with Manchester United in January 1974.

Christmas in jail

In the following years he played, briefly, for 11 different clubs, including Fulham, Hibernian and three American sides.

His personal life became increasingly more difficult, with bouts of alcoholism, bankruptcy and the failure of his first marriage.

George Best arrested by two policemen in 1984
Arrested for drink driving in 1984
Then, in 1984, he was convicted of drink-driving and assaulting a policeman, and was jailed for 12 weeks. An appeal failed, and Best spent Christmas in Pentonville Prison.

He claimed that the experience made him turn over a new leaf, but in 1990 millions watched his infamous drunken performance on the Wogan television chat show.

Eight months later he was bound over for assaulting a man in a London pub.

In 1998 he agreed, under pain of eviction, to leave the Chelsea flat he had lived in for the previous 13 years. He was 70,000 in mortgage arrears.

Plagued by alcoholism

Though he had married again in 1995 and had gained regular employment on television and as an after-dinner speaker, his alcoholism continued to plague his mind and body.

George Best playing for Manchester United in 1972
Crowds loved Best's athleticism
In March 2000 he spent several weeks in hospital with a liver problem, almost certainly a result of his drinking.

His liver was said to be functioning at only 20%. Two years later, he entered hospital again for a liver transplant. His second marriage faltered shortly after, when he admitted to being back on the booze.

George Best will be most fondly remembered for his sublime footballing skills, his balletic grace and his sinewy athleticism.

But he wrote his own epitaph when he once said: "I was the one who took football off the back pages and put it on to page one."


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