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Last Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005, 13:40 GMT
Best man
By Mike Burnett

George Best in action for Northern Ireland in 1971
Jennings made his international debut alongside Best (above)

It was a wet evening in April 1964 when two teenagers made their full international debuts on a soggy pitch in Swansea.

At 18, goalkeeper Pat Jennings was just one year older than his fellow Northern Ireland debutant George Best.

"I was just coming out of the third division with Watford when I got capped," Jennings, now 60, told BBC Sport.

"I hadn't come up against George with Manchester United - and that was the first I had really seen of him, even though there had been a few headlines in the papers before that."

The match was a Home International Championship tie against Wales and, though Best did not get on the scoresheet in the 3-2 win, his undoubted skill was there for everyone to see.

"As soon as I saw him, I knew that this was a special talent," Jennings recalled.

"It was a real wet night on a boggy pitch and he was just skating over the top of the ground. You knew that this was somebody special, even at that age."

He was not only a fantastic player, to me he was also a fantastic bloke
Pat Jennings
Best went on to play 36 more times for Northern Ireland and Jennings, who claimed 119 international caps over his glittering career, still remembers getting close to the flamboyant winger.

"I was his room-mate," added the former Tottenham and Arsenal player. "He played 37 times for Northern Ireland and I roomed with him on all those occasions.

"He was not only a fantastic player, to me he was also a fantastic bloke. The George Best I met then is the same George Best I knew years later."

While Jennings' reputation as the consumate professional seemed worlds apart from Best's wild profile, he insists his former room-mate was no different to the other members of the Northern Ireland squad.

"No, he was no different to the rest of us.

"But over the years, he became more and more popular, and couldn't do the simple things like the rest of us - like going shopping on an afternoon - because he got recognised wherever he went.

Pat Jennings
Jennings believes Best was trapped by his fame
"He just couldn't do the normal things - everywhere he went, people wanted to talk to him.

"Whereas they'd come and have a few words with us, they'd ask for an autograph off him and wouldn't leave him alone and then they'd get into trouble with him - that was the kind of lifestyle he had.

"Wherever he was there were people wanting to talk to him and sometimes annoy him."

Best might have been known for his partying lifestyle, but sometimes fame seemed to be a prison for him, as Jennings observed.

"In those days, after training we'd go out on the town whether it was in London, Belfast or somewhere else but a lot of the times he'd just sit in the room and watch television because he'd get tortured whenever he went out.

"And that was in the nicest possible way - people would just chase him for autographs and photographs."

Yet Jennings believes that despite his superstardom, Best remained one of the most genuine people he has ever met.

"If people had come to him in those days, which they did on many occasions, and asked him to visit kids in hospital or visit a home, he'd have been the first one there."




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