Style Icon: George Best

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In Northern Ireland, there’s a saying. It goes: Pele good, Maradona better, George Best. One of the most gifted soccer players who ever lived, George Best lived a life ahead of his time, emerging as a playboy king in England in the 1960s and 70s, and up until his death in 2005, as a style icon.

 
 

Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Best was a gifted attacking midfielder as a child, which led to him being signed by Manchester United at just 15. The telegram that the scout sent back to Manchester said simply “I think I’ve found you a genius.”

Best made his debut for Manchester United two years later at age 17, scoring a goal in just his second game. He’d grow into an integral part of the team, but his off-field reputation and sense of style set him apart.
 

Best wore his hair long, when older players still preferred a short-back-and-sides, and was known as a notorious booze hound and club rat. When Manchester United played in Portugal, the newspapers named him “O quinto Beatle” – the fifth Beatle.

Best didn’t play it down either – he was young, handsome, and rich, in a city that loved their soccer players. And best of all, soccer teams only played once a week. He would leave training in the morning and go out from club to club until he had to fall back into bed, and do it all over again the next day, knowing he wouldn’t need to be 100% until the game on the weekend.
 
 

He ate it up, only wearing the latest fashions, partying at the most exclusive nightclubs, and dating the most beautiful women. He celebrated winning 1968 European Player of the Year by getting drunk and going home with two women. “I woke up still clutching my award and staggered out of the [apartment]. I hadn’t a bloody clue where I was,” Best said. 

 
And he wasn’t shy about it either. When a TV interviewer once asked Best what the closest time to a game he made love to a woman was, Best said “I think it was at half-time, actually…” 
 

One of the first soccer players to become a real superstar, Best even opened his own clothing store in 1970. He called it the “Best Boutique.”

By 1976 however, Best was done. Years of boozing and bad training habits had robbed his legs of quickness, and he went to America to earn one last paycheque from the North American Soccer League’s Los Angeles Aztecs. Best continued to booze around America for several more years, the shadow of the player he used to be. But when he was asked about giving up the lifestyle, Best said “In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol – it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.”

 

Best continued to drink, even after a liver transplant in 2002, and eventually died of complications relating to that transplant in 2005. The outpouring of grief was unbelievable, and Belfast eventually renamed their city airport after Best. More than anything, the world lost a legend that hasn’t been replaced to this day. Tough, stylish, and with a confident swagger, best was a true style icon.

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