Club Legends #7 George Best

We’ve reached #7 in our Club Legends feature, I think its fitting that #7 in this feature is one of the greatest players to wear the No.7 for Manchester United. We asked our readers to pick from three great players to have worn the No.7 shirt for our great club.

The choices were George Best, Bryan Robson and Cristiano Ronaldo. George Best was the clear choice with 58% of the votes. Though Best’s career at Manchester United and his career as whole wasn’t the as long as it should have. Manchester United fans should be grateful for the time we had George in our team and treasure all the memories he gave us.

George Best was born on 22nd May 1946 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he was the first child of Dickie and Anne Best. Best had four sisters Carol, Barbara, Julie and Grace and he also had one brother Ian. In 1957 at the age of 11, the academically gifted Best passed the 11 plus and went to Grosvenor High School, but he soon began to play truant from school as it specialised in Rugby. Best then moved to Lisnasharragh Secondary School, this reunited him with friends from Primary School and also allowed him to focus on football. At the age of 15 Best was spotted by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop, who sent a telegram to Manchester United manager Matt Busby that read:

I Think I’ve Found You A Genius

Best local team Glentoran had rejected him for being too small and light. Best was given a trial at Manchester United and signed up by United’s chief scout Joe Armstrong. When he first moved from Belfast to Manchester he only spent two days in Manchester before returning home because he was homesick. He would return to Manchester and spent two years as an amateur, as English clubs were not allowed to take players from Northern Ireland on as apprentices. Best was given a job as an errand boy on the Manchester Ship Canal, this allowed him to train with club twice a week.

Best made his first team debut for United age 17, in a first division match against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on 14th September 1963, United won the game 1-0. Best then dropped back down to the reserves until 28th December when he made his 2nd first team appearance and score his first goal in a 5-1 win over Burnley. Best kept his place in the first team and by the end of the 19963/64 season Best had made 26 appearances and scored 6 goals as he helped Manchester United to 2nd place in the league, finishing 4 points behind Liverpool and reaching the semi-final of the Fa Cup.

Defeat to West Ham in the semi-finals cost Best the chance to become the youngest player to play in an Fa Cup final. Best though did pick up a winners medal in the 1963/64 season as helped the Youth team win the Fa Youth Cup. Best is seen as one of the greatest dribblers of all time, his playing style combined pace, skill, balance, feints, two footedness, goalscoring and the ability to beat defenders.

Giving his playing style opponents would often try to use rough play to stifle his technical ability. So that Best would get used to these tactics from opponents, Busby often put on fierce and sometimes brutal training sessions that left Best well used to coping with the opponents tough challenges. In his first full season in the United first team, Best and United won the 1994/65 First Division league title.

Best played in 59 competitive games in the 1964/65 season and scored 14 goals. Best was now the rising star of English football and he was catapulted to superstar status aged 19 when he scored two goals in a European Cup quarter-final match against Benfica at Estadio Da Luz on 9th March 1966.

After this match the Portuguese media dubbed Best O Quinto Beatle, the fifth Beatle in English. Best was pictured wearing a sombrero on returning from the match with Benfica with the headline El Beatle in the papers. His talent and showmanship made him a favourite with the fans and the media.

Best went from being headline news on the back pages to featuring on the front pages for the rest of his career and life. The 1965/66 season was one without any major honours for both Best and United and Best missed the end of the season after suffering a bad challenge from a Preston North End player in a match of 26th March.

El Beatle
El Beatle

The 1966/67 season was a successful one for Best and United as they won the League by four points Best stated that:

If The Championship Was Decided On Home Games We Would Win It Every Season. This Time Our Away Games Made The Difference. We Got Into The Right Frame Of Mind

Best was an ever present all season as he racked up 45 appearances in the 1966/67 season and scored 10 goals. As the Champions United faced Tottenham Hotspurs in the traditional curtain raiser of Charity Shield at the start of the 1967/68 season. Both clubs shared the trophy as the game finished 3-3 in what was the first game to be televised in colour on British television.

The 1967/68 season saw United lose the League Championship by two points to local rivals Manchester City, a home defeat to City proved pivotal in the title race. Best did however score twice in a 2-0 win over rivals and also scored a hat-trick in a 6-0 home win over Newcastle United in the penultimate league game of the season. Best would finish the season with 32 goals in all competitions from 53 games.

The 1967/68 will always be remembered by Manchester United as they won the European Cup for the first time and also becoming the first English team to win the competition¬†and the victory also came 10 years on from the Munich Air Disaster. In the final United beat Benfica 4-1 after extra time, the game was 1-1 after ninety minutes and just three minutes into extra-time, Best went on a mazy run and beat the Benfica goalkeeper with a dummy before rolling the ball into an empty net. As well as will the European Cup Best had success on a personal level as he was named the Football Writers Football Of The Year and beat teammate Bobby Charlton to Ballon d’Or. This meant by the age of 22 Best had won the League Title, European Cup and European Footballer Of The Year.

Best and Manchester United went into steady decline after the 1968 European Cup victory, the following season though Best scored 22 goals in 55 games, United could only finish 11th in the league and at the end of this season, Matt Busby announced his retirement. Despite their poor league form United did manage to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup where they were knocked out by AC Milan after losing 2-1 on aggregate.

The 1969/70 season saw Wilf McGuinness take charge of United but they still only managed to finish in 8th place in the league despite Best scoring 23 goals in the season and also scored a record 6 goals in a Fa Cup match in a 8-2 victory over Northampton. Best finally left United for good in 1974 after he had walked out on the club 1972 but returned in the autumn of 1973. Between 1963 and 1974 Best made 470 appearances for Manchester United and scored 179 goals, he spent the rest of his career moving from club to club and had spells playing in South Africa, Ireland, United States and Australia.

Despite his short career at the top of the game Best is still discussed by football fans across the world as one of the greatest players of all time and there is no doubt that Best is seen as one of United’s greatest players of all time. The club honoured Best along with Charlton and Law with the unveiling of the Holy Trinity Statue at Old Trafford, which was unveiled in May 2008, forty years after United and the three players had won the European Cup.

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About Andrew Hyslop 398 Articles

Creator of Sir Alex Ferguson Way and writer of football books

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