Hibernian FC

GEORGE BEST AND HIS HIBERNIAN CAREER

GEORGE BEST AND HIS HIBERNIAN CAREER

By: Hibernian Media on 22 May, 2018 14:00

George Best is one of the most iconic footballers to have ever graced a football pitch.

Famed for his persona, both on and off the field, the mesmeric Northern Irishman wowed many a spectator with his fantastic performances for both club, most notably at Manchester United, and for his country.

George Best was born in Belfast on 22 May 1946. His talent was obvious from the beginning and he was seldom without a ball at his feet, honing his skills.

As a young teenager George's exceptional talent came to the notice of Glentoran, the local football team in East Belfast, but they decided he was too small and slight to have a future in the game.

Manchester United scout Bob Bishop disagreed, who, after watching George play, sent a telegram to Manchester United's manager Matt Busby. It simply read: "I think I've found you a genius."

Aged 17, George made his debut for Manchester United, featuring against West Bromwich Albion in September 1963. His performance for the Red Devils that day saw him win praise from the press and supporters.

The immensely talented winger would appear 474 times for Manchester United, scoring 181 goals in the process, helping them to the league title in 1964/65 and 1966/67, as well as the European Cup in 1968 with a 4-1 win over Benfica – in which George scored.

Best would be the first ever ‘show-business’ footballer as he received over 1000 pieces of fanmail each week from his adoring fans and also modelled and made personal appearances at events after training.

His love of football diminished following Matt Busby’s retirement, and George soon turned to drink with his training and performances taking a dip as a result. After a well-documented bust-up with Tommy Docherty, his Manchester United career ended at the age of 26.

He had spells with Stockport, Cork Celtic, Los Angeles Aztecs and Fulham before he made the extraordinary switch to Leith.

Chairman Tom Hart contacted Fulham to speak to George and the permission was granted. Many thought this was a publicity stunt, but the tune changed when he was sat in the Director’s Box for a home game against Kilmarnock.

The fans in the 5000 crowd gave him a tremendous reception when he took his seat, and again when he drew the winning ticket in the half time draw.

George hadn't played in five months and needed to lose some weight, and it was agreed that both parties would meet again the following Tuesday when he was due to play in Bobby Robson's testimonial match at Ipswich. 23,000 turned out for the game and afterwards George claimed to be 70% fit.

The next day, George agreed to sign for £2,000 per game which Tom Hart reportedly paid from how own pocket.

He made his debut in the green and white jersey at Love Street against St Mirren on 24 November 1979, and Paisley had never witnessed so many press photographers behind the goal.

It wasn't just the media who took an interest as 13,670 turned up to watch, the majority having travelled along the M8 from the capital.

Alas there was no fairytale start as Hibs lost 2-1, although he did mark his debut with a goal just before the final whistle.

Relegation was looming large for the club with just five points from 15 games, but his arrival also served to lift the spirits in the dressing room and the terracing.

Usually only 5,000 attended matches at that time, but with the chance to see a truly gifted player in action the crowd swelled to 20,622 for the visit of Partick Thistle.

The winger sparked Hibernian into life and the side won 2-1, claiming maximum points from a fixture for the first time in 14 weeks.

Every touch from George was greeted with applause, and it took a sensational save from Alan Rough to prevent a 40-yard free-kick entering the net.

George then played in friendlies against Kilmarnock and Leicester City but failed to appear in the next league game against Morton causing some speculation, despite the club's cover story.

A 2-1 win against Rangers just before Christmas saw George show off his talent once more, as well as his incredible self-deprecating humour with a moment that has since entered folklore.

George was constantly abused by the visiting fans who at one point threw a few beer cans in his direction, taunting him for his well-documented battle against alcoholism. The winger picked the can up and appeared to take a swig from the tin, with laughter coming from fans of both clubs following the moment.

He then contributed a memorable goal in a draw against Celtic a fortnight later in front of 22,000 fans.

February saw him have a disastrous month. Staying at the North British Hotel instead of an apartment, he indulged in drinking alcohol. The French rugby team were staying at the hotel and he joined them in the bar, causing him to miss the Scottish Cup game against Ayr United the following day.

It appeared that his short career with Hibs was over, but he admitted to being an alcoholic and started taking tablets that would make him ill if he drank spirits. He was invited back after being banished by Hart, and a flat was arranged for him and his wife Angie.

George played in a further eight games, including a Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic which culminated with Eddie Turnbull being replaced by Willie Ormond.

One game however stands out above all the others, when George produced a vintage display in a 2-0 win over Dundee, scoring a magnificent solo goal to the delight of the supporters. By that time however, Hibs only had 14 points, all won at Easter Road, and relegation inevitable.

That summer, George relaxed in California but returned to play four league games in the first division and two league cup ties, none of which were lost. His last game was a 2-0 win against Falkirk and Hibs made him captain for the day.

George was a Hibernian player for 325 days, playing 22 times and scoring three goals.

His career wound down with spells at San Jose Earthquakes, Sea Bee, Hong Kong Rangers, Bournemouth, Brisbane Lions, Osborne Park Galeb, Nuneaton Borough and Tobermore United.

George sadly passed away aged just 59 as a result of his battle with alcoholism, which saw him drink heavily following a liver transplant.

Despite harbouring his own demons, George was simply an angelic talent and one that football was lucky to have seen play the beautiful game.

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