Ulster bids Best goodbye

Family, friends and more than 100,000 fans have said goodbye to George Best, the mercurial Manchester United star who died last week.

Best received a state-style funeral in Belfast
Best received a state-style funeral in Belfast

Best, 59, received a state-style funeral in Northern Ireland, inside Belfast’s Stormont Parliamentary, on Saturday.


Mourners, many too young to have seen Best in his 1960s heyday, nevertheless lined the 5km route from his family home in Protestant east Belfast.


They applauded and tossed bouquets and soccer scarves into the path of the hearse, which bore floral wreaths reading “Legend”, “George” and “Dad”. Police saluted the passing coffin.


Former team-mates from Manchester United es and Northern Ireland carried the coffin up Stormont’s steps for a service televised live throughout Britain and Ireland.


At the request of the Best family, 10 fans were picked at random from the crowd outside to join about 300 family members, friends and dignitaries in the Grand Hall of Stormont.


In attendance


Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England manager, Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, Lawrie Sanchez, the Northern Ireland coach, and Ole Gunnar Solkskjaer, the Manchester United player, were among the guests.


Former team-mates were amongthose who carried the coffin

Former team-mates were among
those who carried the coffin

 Also there were Ireland‘s former world featherweight boxing champion, Barry McGuigan, and Alex Higgins, the snooker player from Belfast.


Rival political leaders from the British Protestant and Irish Roman Catholic factions of the divided community sat side by side.


Peter Hain, the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said: “Whatever our politics, whatever our religion, George Best has helped us find our common humanity.”


Those outside on a typically chilly and wet Belfast winter’s day followed the ceremony on three giant TV screens. 


Best was to be buried at Roselawn Cemetery on the Belfast outskirts alongside his mother, Ann, who also died an alcoholic. City officials ordered the cemetery closed to the public on Saturday to protect the Best family’s privacy.


Matinee-idol looks


Best, who died on 25 November in a hospital in London, joined Man United at 17 and became a phenomenon with pace, dribbling and guile that left defenders in his wake.


“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars…The rest I just squandered”

George Best

But he walked away from the game in 1972 to run nightclubs, fashion shops and other ill-fated business ventures.


“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars,” he once said. “The rest I just squandered.”


He returned to soccer, largely to regain the money he’d partied away, pursuing assignments in the now-defunct North American Soccer League and with Hibernian in Scotland. He lost the Hibernian job after missing two games because of hangovers.


Best made 37 international appearances for Northern Ireland. But the team had few other stars and he played in neither the World Cup nor the European Championship.

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