THE PLAYERS

 

Players to wear the green and white of the Hibees.

Here is a growing collection of players and internationalists to feature for Hibernian throughout the years.

Position Winger

In November 1979, Hibs unveiled a new signing which shook the football world.

 

George Best Profile

 

George Best was born in East Belfast on 22nd May 1946. His talent was obvious from the beginning and he was seldom without a ball at his feet, honing his skills.

George was selected to play for the local boys club in Cregagh, however after winning a scholarship to the local grammar school Grosvenor High he was disappointed to learn that rugby was the only sport on the curriculum. Although he did play the game and was a useful player, he left after a short period and went to the football playing Lisnasharragh Secondary alongside his close friends.

As a young teenager George's exceptional talent came to the notice of Glentoran, the local football team in East Belfast, but they decided he was too small and slight to have a future in the game.

One man who disagreed however was Manchester United scout Bob Bishop, who, after watching George play, sent a telegram to Manchester United's manager Matt Busby. The telegram simply read: "I think I've found you a genius."

George turned professional and made his Manchester United debut as a seventeen year old against West Bromwich Albion on 14th September 1963, winning rave reviews from the press and fans alike. He returned briefly to the reserves before being recalled to play against Burnley in December and the youngster scored his first goal for the club in a comprehensive victory.

In 1965, alongside Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton, George helped United win the league title which resulted in entry into the European Cup. In the quarter final, United met Benfica, and George played what many consider to be his finest game for the club.

With just 12 minutes gone and against Matt Busby's instructions to "keep it tight", George had scored twice, once with a header, and the second a moment of pure magic as he beat 3 opponents before shooting past the goalkeeper. The final score was 5-1 and George returned home wearing a sombrero on his head, to the delight of photographers who christened him 'El Beatle'.

That was probably the turning point in his career, and George became the first show-business footballer, receiving more than 1,000 fan mail letters a week from his adoring fans.

Another league title win gave Busby a further crack at the European Cup, which meant so much to the club and they progressed to meet Benfica at Wembley in the final. On a glorious evening in London, United won 4-1 although the 90 minutes ended with the teams level at one apiece.

Early into extra time, George controlled a long clearance from Alex Stepney, before ghosting past the Benfica goalkeeper and casually rolling the ball into the empty net.That year he was voted European Player of the Year, and appeared to have the world at his feet.

Instead of building on that success however, United rested on their laurels and the modelling assignments and personal appearances became overwhelming and temporarily took its toll on George's football career.

When Matt Busby retired George's love of football diminished and after seeing United beaten by teams they used to hammer a few years previously was painful for him. He began to drink more with the result that his training suffered although there were still magical days with George returning from suspension in 1970 to score 6 out of 8 goals against Northampton Town in the FA Cup.

After several disappearances and comebacks, George's time at Old Trafford was over by the end of 1974 following a well-documented fall out with manager Tommy Docherty. He was only 26.

George only played 37 times for his own country, scoring nine goals, but every time he put on the green jersey he electrified the crowd with his performances, never more so than the day he practically defeated Scotland on his own on 21st October 1967 at Windsor Park. To this day, that game is remembered as 'The George Best International'.

After leaving Manchester United in 1974 he turned out for a number of clubs and enjoyed a productive period in the USA. Although not as fit as he was in his prime his incredible skills were still undisputed.

In late 1976 he returned to England and along with Bobby Moore and Rodney Marsh and turned out for Fulham, playing 42 games in two seasons and scoring eight goals.

Although Fulham still held his registration, George made it plain that he would listen to offers, and former Edinburgh Evening News sports reporter Stewart Brown, muted the idea of him coming to Easter Road with Hibs boss Eddie Turnbull, who suggested that Chairman Tom Hart may be interested.

Hart contacted Fulham who gave permission for Hibs to speak to George, and whilst many thought this a publicity stunt, the doubters were silenced when he appeared in the director's box for a home game against Kilmarnock.

The Hibs' fans in the 5000 crowd gave him a tremendous reception when he took his seat, and again when he drew the winning ticket in the half time draw.

George hadn't played in five months and needed to lose some weight, and it was agreed that both parties would meet again the following Tuesday when he was due to play in Bobby Robson's testimonial match at Ipswich. 23,000 turned out for the game and afterwards George claimed to be 70% fit.

The next day, George agreed to sign for £2,000 per game which Tom Hart reportedly paid from how own pocket. Hibs eventually agreed a transfer fee, believed to be between £50-60,000 with Fulham, and the formalities were completed two days later in London.

 

 

Hibs were due to play Celtic the following day, but George felt that it wasn't a good idea for him to play and asked for a week to step up his fitness.

He made his debut in the green and white jersey at Love Street against St Mirren on 24 November 1979, and Paisley had never witnessed so many press photographers behind the goal.

It wasn't just the media who took an interest as 13,670 turned up to watch, the majority having travelled along the M8 from the capital.

Alas there was no fairy tale start as Hibs lost 2-1 although George did score with a left foot shot just before the final whistle.

At that time, Hibs had only five points from 15 games, all of which were won at Easter Road, and relegation looked a certainty, but George's arrival had an extraordinary effect in the dressing room morale and also amongst the fans on the terracings.

Those who questioned Tom Hart's decision were silenced when George made his home debut against Partick Thistle the following Saturday. Normally a crowd in the region of 5,000 would be expected for this fixture, but an amazing 20,622 turned up to see the master in the flesh.

They were not disappointed and George cajoled his new team-mates into their first win for 14 weeks by the slender margin of 2-1. Hibs went in at the break 2-0 up thanks to a Brian Whittaker own goal and a strike from Ally McLeod, however Jim McArthur saved a penalty and Thistle pulled one back before the final whistle arrived to prompt the celebrations.

Every touch from George was greeted with applause, and it took a sensational save from Alan Rough to prevent a 40 yard free-kick entering the net.

George then played in friendlies against Kilmarnock and Leicester City but failed to appear in the next league game against Morton causing some speculation, despite the club's cover story.

He then starred in the pre-Christmas game against Rangers which Hibs won 2-1 thanks to goals from Tony Higgins and Colin Campbell. That game now forms part of Hibs folklore as George was constantly abused by the visiting fans who at one point threw a few beer cans in his direction.

When he went to take a corner, George simply picked a can up and seemed to take a drink from it. The abuse stopped to be replaced by laughter at both ends of the stadium.

He then contributed a memorable goal in a draw against Celtic a fortnight later in front of 22,000 fans.

February was a disastrous month for both George and the club. With time hanging heavy on his hands whilst staying at the North British Hotel (Now the Balmoral), George turned to drink. The French international rugby team were also staying in the hotel, and George joined them in the bar, causing him to miss the Scottish Cup tie against Ayr United the following day.

He was sent back to London, and it appeared that his short career with Hibs was over, but when he admitted to being an alcoholic and started taking antibuse tablets which would make him ill if he drank spirits, Hart invited him back and arranged for him and wife Angie to move into a flat.

George played in a further eight games, including a Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic which culminated with Eddie Turnbull being replaced by Willie Ormond.

One game however stands out above all the others, when George produced a vintage display in a 2-0 win over Dundee, scoring a magnificent solo goal to the delight of the supporters. By that time however, Hibs only had 14 points, all won at Easter Road, and relegation inevitable.

In a rearranged game at Pittodrie, George got involved with a famous argument with Willie Miller who made some disparaging remarks about Hibs' and in particular George's performance in a 1-1 draw, but he responded by suggesting that the dropped point had cost Aberdeen the league title. It almost did, but the Dons, under Alex Ferguson and Pat Stanton pipped Celtic, winning the championship with a 5-0 win over Hibs at Easter Road.

That summer, George relaxed in California but returned to play four league games in the first division and two league cup ties, none of which were lost. His last game was a 2-0 win against Falkirk and Hibs made him captain for the day.

George then returned to the United States and the San Jose Earthquakes who paid a reported £30,000 for his services.

In 1983 George finally ended his football career with Bournemouth, although he did go on to play in numerous charity and friendly matches, including a return to Easter Road to play in Jackie McNamara's testimonial match against Newcastle. Despite his wayward tendencies, George was still 'box office' and his team-mates sympathised with his 'goldfish bowl' existence.

In December 2001 he received an honorary doctorate from Queens University and in April 2002, Freedom of the Borough of Castlereagh.

During this time George's health took a turn for the worst, as years of heavy drinking finally resulted in severe liver damage. A liver transplant in 2002 gave new hope but its success was to be short lived. Personal problems drove George back to the bottle and on 1st October, 2005, he entered the Cromwell hospital in London with flu-like symptoms. Over the next weeks, his condition deteriorated and on 25th November, surrounded by his close family and friends, he lost his battle for life.

In keeping with his wishes, George returned home to Belfast for the very last time and was buried beside his mother in Roselawn cemetery. Over one hundred thousand people lined the streets and the grounds of Stormont to say a fond farewell to their greatest local sporting hero and millions more around the world watched as a legend was laid to rest.

In 2006, Belfast International Airport was renamed the George Best International Airport in his honour and his signature was incorporated into the logo.

George was a Hibernian player for 325 days, playing 22 times and scoring three goals.

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