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Last Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005, 13:13 GMT
Best was class from the start
By Jim Stokes
BBC Sport

George Best died as he lived ... keeping us waiting for something on a grand scale to happen.

George Best
George Best made an impression even at the tender age of 16

I first met George as a teenager when we were team-mates back in the early Sixties.

It was the first time that the footballer regarded by many as the 'best', first donned a Northern Ireland jersey at any level.

George had originally gone to Grosvenor High, a rugby-playing school. He hated that, and it was not long before he asked for a transfer to Lisnasharagh. By that time, his name was not in the football system.

Back then, the Northern Ireland Youth team had just come off a wonderful run in the European Championships back in April 1963.

The 16-team tournament was in celebration of the Football Association's centenary, and we eventually lost 4-0 to England in the final at Wembley.

Next up was the Home International Championships at under-18 level. Having beaten Scotland in the opening game, there was a new name on the team sheet for the trip to Boundary Park in Oldham to face mighty England.

George Best, Manchester United. Who was he, we all thought? By the end of the game we knew who he was ... the great magician of the beautiful game was thrust upon us.

I remember vividly when the team assembled in the open reception area of the then Queen's Hotel in the Piccadilly area of down-town Manchester.

First of all it was his boots. No studs, just five suction pads on each sole. State of the art boots. We all gazed in amazement.

We had finished dinner and were sitting around talking when suddenly Matt Busby arrived to pointed stares and chattering gasps of admiration.

Then, all of a sudden, out popped this figure from behind Busby's right shoulder.

It was the time when the Beatles were in their pomp, and George was donning the famous black suit with the high collar, and, of course, the black, well-groomed mop-head hair, and piercing blue eyes.

The Northern Ireland team manager was Norman Kernaghan, who up until another Manchester United star Norman Whiteside appeared on the scene, was the youngest player to have represented his country.

A smoker of the briar, Norman said at time that Best was like ''my pipe-cleaner after I had cleaned his mouthpiece''.

Only nine days off his 17th birthday, George, smiling from ear to ear and parading those pearly teeth of his, was no shrinking violet even then.

We got talking, and it emerged that like myself, he lived on the Cregagh Road in east Belfast. "God's golden acre", he said.

But it was on the park that he proved that he was something special.

First of all it was his boots. No studs, just five suction pads on each sole. State of the art boots. We all gazed in amazement.

In those days, pitches were not as professionally groomed as they are now, and Boundary Park had not a blade of grass on it. Just a rolled sea of caked mud.

That did not matter to our George, who in those days of fairly simple football tactics wore the number 10 jersey of an inside left.

A rasping shot from 25 yards belied the strength that emanated from his scrawny frame

I am sure he weighed six stone dripping wet. But he skipped over the ground, rode the heavy tackles, flicked the ball here and there, and set up a goal for our winger Richie Warburton to score the equaliser in a 1-1 draw.

Even then, on the 13 May, 1963, Best had the crowd in his pocket.

You could hear the spectators, who had come to watch the rematch of the European final, taking a breath through their teeth when George was in possession.

Even then, the ball appeared to be tied to his toe with an invisible string.

He was quick. Very quick. As Busby once said: "George's pace is very deceptive. He's slower than you think!"

Two weeks later we were off to Aberystwyth to face Wales, and George was again in regal form, scoring with a rasping shot from 25 yards that belied the strength that emanated from his scrawny frame.

Yes, the boy from Burren Way in Belfast had arrived. Nine months later he made his full Manchester United debut against West Bromich Albion, and he was soon joining Pat Jennings as a full international debutant against Wales in Swansea.

We met a few times in passing shortly afterwards. But after that, George went into the stratosphere, I became a journalist and a rugby player.

Such is life - and we all remember the passing of George's.


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