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  Sunday, 8 December, 2002, 22:11 GMT
Simply the Best
George Best in action for Manchester United in 1966
Britain's best ever footballer in full flight for United

George Best has ridden the rollercoaster of fame and fortune since making his debut for Manchester United in 1963.

Arguably the greatest player of his generation, he was the first superstar footballer.

But he had turned his back on a top level career within nine years, retiring to a life of alcohol and indulgence at the tender age of 26.

"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered," he famously said of his lifestyle.

George Best
Born: 22 May 1946

Club and country
Manchester United
Debut: 1963
361 apps; 136 goals
Northern Ireland
Debut: 1964
37 caps; nine goals

Honours
1965: League title
1967: League title
1968: European Cup

Other clubs
Dunstable, Stockport, Cork Celtic, Fulham, LA Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale, Hibernian, San Jose, Bournemouth, Brisbane Lions
Over the intervening 30 years, the Ulsterman has plumbed the depths, spending 12 weeks in jail in 1984 and fighting a constant battle against drink.

He was finally ordered to stop drinking in 2000 and only now, after a life-saving liver transplant operation, is he truly back on the "wagon".

It could have been so different, for as well as squandering his money, Best squandered a huge talent.

Pace, passion, positioning, an eye for a gap and an eye for a goal, speed, a magical swerve and a turn of pace that left opponents rooted to the spot - Best had it all.

He made his debut for United at the age of 17 and immediately bewitched the opposition and beguiled fans in equal measure.

A first trophy - the league title - came two years later in 1965, and within a year Best had been dubbed the "Fifth Beatle".

The nickname was given him by the Portuguese press after he had almost single-handedly dismantled an experienced Benfica side in the European Cup.

George Best owned numerous fashion boutiques and was always up to date with the latest trends
A follower of fashion
Although United missed out on any silverware that season, another domestic title, came in 1967.

He was at the peak
of his powers and United reached their pinnacle the following season.

Having come back from 3-1 down to beat Real Madrid in the last four of the European Cup, United faced Benfica again.

On home soil at Wembley the match seemed to be drifting away from Busby's team, with the Portuguese growing in stature as the match went into extra-time.

But then Best stepped up with a moment of magic to break the deadlock and set his side en route to a famous 4-1 victory that helped him win the European Footballer of the Year award.

He had the world at his feet but the once shy Belfast boy loved lapping up his life in the limelight.

When Busby stepped down in 1969, Best's tendency to fall to temptation increased and he began to drift... and drink.

When you look at the cost of some of these players nowadays just imagine what he would have been worth

Docherty on Best
He walked out on the club on a number of occasions but when he failed to turn up to training in early 1974, Tommy Docherty's patience wore out and Best's United career was over.

In effect his football career was over too.

A once great player was left to hawk his talents from pillar to post around the world before finally retiring from the game in 1983.

He turned out for one more team a year later - Ford Open Prison, having been sent down for drink driving and assault.

It was an ignominious end to what should have been a glorious career for Britain's best ever footballer.

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See also:

02 Dec 02 | Sports Personality 2002
01 Aug 02 | UK News
Links to more Sports Personality 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.


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