Great Britain’s during the Swinging Sixties was all about football, music and fashion. It was the era of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Manchester United.
According to one former team mate – someone who witnessed first hand the the mayhem at 3pm on a Saturday and then again at 3am in the night clubs – George Best was the biggest superstar of the lot.
On the pitch there was fame, glory, goals and medals as he carved his name into United history.
Off the pitch there were booze, parties and girls.
Don’t tell old Gunnar Solkskaer but his injury time winner in 1999 is not the most important goal in Manchester United’s history.
That accolade belongs to George Best according to Paddy Crerand for the magic he produced in the 1968 European Cup final against Benfica. United fans will return to memories of past glory when boss Solskaer prepares for the Europa League final against Villarreal on Wednesday. The Norwegian will forever be remembered for that most dramatic goal in the Nou Camp against Bayern Munich. But former United legend and great friend of George wound back the clock 53 years for the goal he calls the most crucial in the history of the club.
NOW THIS IS SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE
Following the match in Gdansk, fans can either celebrate or commiserate by watching a new BT Sport documentary on Best, narrated by his son Callum. It has been produced to mark what would have been Bestie’s 75th birthday party. On 29 May 1968, in front of 92,000 people at Wembley, Matt Busby’s United faced Eusebio’s Benfica, ten years after the Munich Air Crash. the score was 1-1 and heading for extra-time as Bobby Charlton’s header was cancelled out by Graca on 79 minutes ‘s equalizer. Crerand recalled: “George was never under any pressure for any game. This was his big moment for a European Cup final at Wembley.
George didn’t have to prove anything to anybody but he went out there to show the world how good a player he was.”
Did Paddy say "good?"
As I read about this I had two thoughts in my mind, firstly, I hope they can live up to the expectations unlike those who made that absurd film his Life Story (Ouch!) and two, it really will be something to invite one or two friends round to drool over my friends incredible existence. I have a painting on my wall which holds the pride of place, a piece of work hand painted by Elwyn James a man I got to know in Barlaston, just around the corner from Wedgwood Estate where he worked as their main man in this particular kind of work. Some people like George, Charlie Cooke, Jim Baxter, Puskas, Messi and today although a little way to go, Jack Grealish, have it not only between the ears but in their feet, those that can make the ball talk, this gentleman had it in his head and his hands. Unbeknown to me drinking regularly on a Sunday night with this very talented boozer he would come up with something that has always been so mysteriously viewed by my visitors and none more so when I lived in northern Cyprus (ouch again!) than Elwyn’s exquisite masterpiece taken from a tiny picture I gave to him, taken by the Mirror’s Monte Fresco and given to me personally, even though years later I had to pay £800 for a copy from those rogues who remain nameless purely because of their name being promoted.
I mean how can they charge me if the photographer gave me the original?
When he asked me if he could paint me, I thought it a bit weird as the whiskey left his glass like an aeroplane taking off a runway when the wheels eventually left the tarmac. ‘What do you mean?’ “AIan, bring me in a photograph and I would like to copy it for you,” which was something that nearly escaped me the following Sunday but my friend little Lennie Bacon – no relation to Francis – the proprietor of the Duke of Wellington reminded me of a couple of times. The outcome a coupe of weeks later was completely staggering and it wasn’t until years later when George fell ill I had to make sure our painting wouldn’t.
Strangest thing is reading another friend, Paddy Crerand, account of his goal although the importance was monumental, mainly because of the incredible work done by Busby to assemble a team of pre-and-post Munich Manchester United players to become the first English team – second only to Jock Stein in Britain – to bring the biggest European club trophy to these shores. What it doesn’t mention in this newspaper is that George become El Beatle in the Stadium of Light prior to Wembley and talking of Eusebio, George probably looked at him and got his inspiration for him playing such a big part in the 1966 World Cup when his friend Nobby Stiles did a “job” on him at the same venue in the semi-final, not only that but his other friend, Alex Stepney, was face to face with the big Portugeezer and couldn’t believe his “Donald” when he smashed the ball straight into his arms. The point is George was not only winning the European Cup for Manchester United but reminding Europe, if not the world, that it was HE who should have been having such a say in a World Cup.
On the other page alongside our good friend Paul Trevillion, who I saw a couple of years ago, any brilliant artist funnily enough, wrote a piece about his friend George telling: “I lost count of the number of times I drew George but there was one portrait he insisted HAD to be in the green jersey of Northern Ireland – I told you so – and he said it was the BEST of the BEST. He continued: George would put a piece of white paper across the face and say: “You’ve captured my Irish, mischievous glint. It’s the perfect portrait.”
Best on Best: We beat Benfica 3-2 in the first leg but they were big favourites to win in LIsbon and go through. As I walked out I told Matt that I would score. “Make it two,” Matt replied. I did just that in the first 15 minutes and we went on to win 5-1. I wore a sombrero on the plane on the way back and was still wearing it through the Airport, and the headlines next day were THE RETURN OF EL BEATLE.
That being the case and me being the biggest fan of the Beatles around that time, and although I was still at school I was the first in the queue, holding my mothers hand, outside the King’s Road record shop, on the first say their album was released.
For the record: The Beatles’ sixth UK album Rubber Soul was released on this day as Parlophone PMC 1267 (mono) and PCS 3075 (stereo). Rubber Soul had advance orders of more than 500,000. It entered the album charts on 11 December 1965, and spent nine weeks at the top from 25 December – and I was in the front of that queue.
The thing about George was that had he became a Beatle I can see him right now sitting behind the drums without drum sticks looking over at Lennon and McCartney as they wondered why he wasn’t playing an instrument yet getting all the attention?
I recall the days having the occasional drink in The Cock in North End Road, Fulham with George’s agent Phil Hughes. I had asked George, through Phil, to write a foreword for a book I had written and of course that was no problem for him, but it was for me, because he was so much more intelligent which might have put my writing in the shade. I was getting close to deadline day, editing etc, and said to Phil, ‘Have you got it?’ and he replied, “George told me to tell you to write it because you are friends and he trusts you.”
This happened. I sat and wrote something quite special – about me. One day I had a book signing in a club in the Fulham Road full of Chelsea supporters as there was a home match. It was packed to the rafters. After an hour or two a few began to leave and stopped on the way out complimenting me on the book THE TINKER AND TALISMAN and added “We really didn’t know that George rated you that highly as a player and person,” to which I replied, ‘Well, you don’t read my books enough do you?’
George’s foreword was so very important to that book, and of course, my importance?