Football legend George Best dies

Former Manchester United striker George Best has died in Cromwell Hospital, west London.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:53 IST
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Former Manchester United striker George Best has died in Cromwell Hospital, west London. The 59-year-old died of multiple organ failure after developing a lung infection. He had lived the last few days in critical condition. George Best will be remembered not only for his footballing genius but also for a lifestyle that brought a premature end to his footballing career. Triumph for United George Best was born in Belfast in 1946. After growing up playing football on the streets of Northern Ireland's capital, he arrived at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United in 1961. His exceptional talent was soon clear, and he was just 17 when he made his club and international debuts. In 1968, he helped inspire United to their first European Cup triumph, a 4-1 extra-time victory over Benfica. Later that year, at just 22 years old, he picked up the 'European Player of the Year' trophy. With good looks and charisma alongside brilliant natural sporting ability, George Best became known across the world as 'the fifth Beatle'. 'Fondness' for alcohol But it soon became clear that Best also had a voracious appetite for self-destruction – much of it stemming from a fondness for alcohol. "It could have been anything. I never ever measured it in quantity. It was the length of time, usually, how much I drank. But even in those days, I went for long periods of time when I didn't drink. But when I did, I suppose I drank the same way that I played or trained. I wanted to be the best trainer, I wanted to be the best player, and I wanted to be the best drinker, which isn't very smart when you're a professional athlete," Best had said. With his behaviour off the field becoming increasingly erratic, he graced England's top flight, with Manchester United, for a further four seasons. In 1974, the 27-year-old Best was sacked by United for excessive drinking and persistent failure to attend training sessions and matches. He had made 466 appearances for the club in all competitions, scoring 178 goals – including six in one match against Northampton Town. Over the next decade, Best drifted between several football clubs including Fulham, Stockport County, Dunstable Town, Hibernian, Los Angeles Aztecs, San Jose Earthquakes and finally Bournemouth, until he finally retired from the game for good in 1983 at the age of 37. Best often told the story of a bellboy who entered his hotel room with breakfast in the early 1970s. Seeing Best drunk, in bed with the current Miss World, a magnum of champagne and several thousand pounds of cash won from a night's gambling, the youth exclaimed, "George, where did it all go wrong?" But behind such amusing anecdotes, there lay a sad, and ultimately tragic story of self-destruction. Falling down Best is frequently held up by football fans as an example of the dark side of the game, where a prodigious playing talent is squandered by managers, agents, and hangers-on, too quick to ignore players' personal problems. In 1972 he was interviewed in Marbella, Spain, where he had effectively run away to - albeit temporarily - after deciding to escape the pressure he was under, both on and off the pitch. Following his retirement in 1983, Best continued his ongoing battle with alcoholism. He would never lose touch with football, though, and in the 1990s he embarked on a successful career as a television football pundit. Unfortunately he was never able to beat his alcohol addiction and he underwent a liver transplant in 2002. But in July 2003, he appeared to go off the rails and started to drink again. At the beginning of October, he was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Cromwell Hospital with flu-like symptoms and was said to be suffering from an infection and although he briefly rallied he unfortunately never recovered and died Friday 25 November at the age of 59.
(With AP inputs)