George Best (1946-2005) is a footballer from Northern Ireland, considered one of the greatest footballers in the history of football. Admired by the likes of Pele and Maradona, who considered him their idol, George Best was a popular and much-loved figure… A footballing genius, he led a life of excess, marked by alcoholism, partying and women…
George Best was born May 22nd 1946 in Belfast. He grew up in the working-class districts of the city, in the bosom of a Protestant family. His father was a blue-collar worker, while his mother was a professional lawn hockey player with alcoholic tendencies.
George Best soon becomes a ball teaser and joins a football club… At the age of 15, he was spotted by Bob Bishop and Matt Busby, Manchester United scouts. George was sent to Manchester to try out for a few tries, and immediately convinced the scouts. Nevertheless, without further explanation, George Best decided to get back on the plane and return to Belfast, believing he had seen enough.
George’s father immediately calls Matt Busby to apologise for his son’s attitude and asks him to give him another chance. He readily accepts, and George is sent back to Manchester, to be recruited as an apprentice by Joe Armstrong, the Manchester recruitment officer.
George Best turned professional in 1963 and joined Manchester United’s first team. From the very first game, Best was a great player, and played with amazing talent. His popularity skyrocketed during a European Cup match in 1966, when he scored three goals in a 5-1 win over Eusebio’s Benfica Lisbon. Now George Best has become a real star.
Success being there, Best allows himself all the excesses, parties, spends his time getting drunk, and slams his fortune in gambling. He learns however the resignation of his mentor, Matt Busby, who was one of the only ones to be able to channel his setbacks… His departure makes Best one of the most unstable: he misses some trainings, becomes aggressive on the field, and is sometimes drunk during important matches.
The tabloids then echo all these excesses. We see him gaining a lot of weight, and a worrying let go. His teammates feel a significant lack of motivation. Willie Morgan, Scottish winger for the club, will later say:
George thought he was the James Bond of football. He had everything he wanted,money,girls,fame. He took it one day at a time and he always got away with it. When he missed practice, people would make excuses for him. He didn’t have to make them. He didn’t care about anything.
Faced with his disconcerting attitude, Best was finally ejected from Manchester United. He then joined second-tier teams (Dunstable Town, Stockport County Football Club and Cork Celtic), then left for Los Angeles, joining the Los Angeles Aztecs. There he met Angie McDonalds, a top model, with whom he fell in love. The latter tries to help him by putting him in rehab, but nothing helps: George Best continues to drink and to spend at all costs.
The couple later returned to England, although Angie McDonalds decided to go back to the States, tired of the footballer’s deceptions. The footballer apologised to her, caught up with her and asked her to marry him, which she accepted in 1978. Their son Calum was born in 1981. Meanwhile, Best was still juggling several football teams, surfing on his reputation as a genius footballer. Nevertheless, he decided to retire in 1983 at the age of 37.
This does not prevent him from playing with his notoriety, and from appearing on television. In 1991, he appeared on a BBC programme, totally drunk. The debauchery continues, and from now on, Best is penniless and homeless. He resolves to sell his trophies and buys a house in Greece with the money from the sales.
In 1998, Sky Sport offered him a job as a sports commentator, which he gladly accepted. In the meantime, Best did a few jumps in jail for drunk driving.
In March 2000, Best’s health deteriorated: his liver could no longer tolerate his alcoholic excesses, and his life was clearly in danger. He received a liver transplant in 2002, but Best continues to drink and his liver is deteriorating once again.
He is then re-hospitalized in the intensive care unit, at the Cromwell hospital of London. He suffers from a pulmonary infection, and his liver is in a critical state. He finally dies on November 25, 2005, at the age of 59.
The news of his death shook the whole of Great Britain, as well as Northern Ireland. More than 300,000 people attended his funeral in Belfast and the city’s airport decided to change its name to George Best. Following his death, many city walls were also repainted in his honour.
After his liver transplant in 2002, which required a transfusion of twenty litres of blood (40 half-litres, i.e. as many pints):
Ten hours for forty pints, I beat my record by 20 minutes.
In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol, it was the hardest 20 minutes of my life.