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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Best: First of the superstars
George Best
George Best left the game he loved aged just 26
The rise of modern footballer as multi-millionaire superstar can arguably be traced to the emergence in the 1960s of one George Best.

Best combined dishevelled good looks and supreme talent with a rock 'n' roll lifestyle that made him the first in a what has since become a long line of players whose antics have become not just tabloid entertainment, but big news.

The growth of television - Best made his debut as a 17-year-old the year before the BBC began its weekly Match of the Day show - meant he was rocketed to stardom in a way never experienced by those before him.

Arguably the most naturally gifted footballer of his generation, Best is famous for squandering his skill and failing to achieve his full potential.

Best factfile
1946: Born May 22 in Belfast
1963: Makes debut for Man Utd
1964: Makes Northern Ireland debut
1965: United win the league championship
1968: Voted English and European footballer of the year
1970: Sent off for Northern Ireland for throwing mud at ref
1972: Walks out on United aged 26

He revelled in the limelight but as the first of the new superstars, found himself unable to cope with the temptations littered across his path.

Alcohol, late nights, women. He indulged in them all to excess and as a result walked out of top class football in 1972 aged just 26.

He spent the next 11 years plying his trade with various second-rate clubs on both sides of the Atlantic before finally hanging up his boots in 1983.

By then he had sunk into alcoholism.

In 1984 he hit rock bottom when he served two months of a 12-week jail term for drink driving and assault on police.

Many of his fans will forever rue his lost promise, the promise which led a scout to telephone Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby with the message - "I think I've found a genius" after seeing him play as a 15-year-old.

Busby promptly signed Best, who had learnt his craft dribbling tennis balls through the terraced streets of Belfast.

He was 17 when he made his First Division debut for United against West Bromwich Albion in September, 1963.

Best hit the big time at once, exploding onto the scene at the same time as the Beatles went to number one in the hit parade.

George Best
Best's fast-paced lifestyle has taken its toll
Two years later he helped United win their first championship for eight years - by then he was not yet 20 - and it was followed by another in 1967.

A year later Best picked up the English and European footballer of the year awards as United became the first English team to win the European Cup.

He helped United romp to a 4-1 triumph over Benfica at Wembley. Two years earlier he had masterminded a 5-1 demolition of the Portugese giants, scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes.

He also famously scored six goals in an FA Cup fifth-round tie against Northampton.

The world seemed at his feet, but only four years after his famous night at Wembley he shocked the football world by announcing his retirement.

He made a brief but unsuccessful comeback with United then followed spells with Stockport, Fulham, Hibernian, Los Angeles Aztecs and San Jose Earthquakes before finally retiring in 1983 after a brief stint with Bournemouth.





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