Belfast, Northern Ireland | Linked in life to players like Pelé and Maradona, George Best in death continued to draw comparisons. Writers received extended column inches to describe the Best cortí¨ge on Saturday, Dec 3, and tied the public mourning and spontaneously created tributes in memorabilia and replica shirts to ceremonies that had acknowledged the passings of Princess Diana; the Queen Mother, Elizabeth; Sir Winston Churchill; and Charles Dickens. Thousands left flowers at the open grave of Dickens in June 1870, writes the Times (London), and similar leavings for Best were recorded by the Sunday Times’s Bryan Appleyard. From the Cregagh boys’ football club in the east Belfast estate from which Best hailed, a sign read: “George, you lived your life like a football match, a game of two halves. The first half goals, flair, excitement; the second yellow cards, fouls and hurt.”
The Guardian’s Richard Williams looked farther afield for cases. He mentions the funerals of Bob Marley (see Feb 19) and Brazilian Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, killed during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, as having similar resonance for their communities. “Like [Best],” writes Williams, “they were folk heroes whose prowess attracted worldwide attention, allowing their compatriots to walk a little taller. And when the reggae singer, the racing driver and the footballer died before their time, their homelands came to a halt in salute.”
Bringing it all back home, however, is Gail Walker’s report in the Belfast Telegraph. She gathers with family members and neighbors on Burren Way in the aforementioned Cregagh housing development to give almost a minute-by-minute chronology of the gathering, what she likens to a “traditional Ulster wake.” Best’s father, Dickie, 86, marches as the “epitome of stoicism and dignity” to follow the event’s predetermined timing. Walker stresses the mundane beginnings:
Dickie Best’s house is one in a row of 17 identical houses. It’s 20 feet from the public path to his front door. The garden is 15 feet square. Across the road in another identical house it’s Christmas. Overlooking the scene are blocks of high rise flats. At Dickie’s there are two police officers on the door step, and they are bigger than the door. This could be anywhere, anywhere at all.
The quirkiest tribute perhaps appeared in The Scotsman, which recalled Best’s short-lived, post-United flings with Scotland sides Hibernian, Scone Thistle and Arbroath Vics. When Best played in a charity event in Scone Thistle strip at Burrelton Park in the summer of 1982, writes Alan Pattullo, “[i]t was like seeing a pink flamingo wading across the River Tay.” Best’s girlfriend, beauty-pageant queen Mary Stavin, also managed to make an impression. “You would expect Miss World to be stuck-up,” says Scone Thistle honorary president Scott Farquharson. “Nothing was further from the truth. She sat at the side of the pitch chewing blades of grass, talking to my wife.” Best came on in the charity fixture with 20 minutes remaining. He scored to make it 14–0.