Ever since a skinny teenager from Belfast’s Cregagh Estate stepped on to the Old Trafford pitch the cities of Manchester and Belfast have been united. The mutual adoration and fascination of George Best has immortalised him in both cities, and as a bunch of teenagers from Belfast and Manchester can now vouch for, his legacy runs deeper than ever.
On March 17th (Saint Patrick’s Day), eighteen young lads from Trafford, Salford and Wythenshawe social inclusion programmes stood outside the Manchester United Foundation all decked out in their yellow George Best Tracksuits waiting to play in a game they would never forget.
They were about to face a team drawn together by the Castlereagh Borough Council, Belfast in the first leg of the George Best Memorial Trophy. The match was the brainchild of George’s sister, Barbara McNarry who wanted to recognise both the emotional and financial support that United fans have given to the George Best Foundation:
“George said remember me for my football and that is exactly what we did in Manchester on 17th March in Manchester and 22nd May in Belfast,” explains Barbara.
The Manchester venue was the first team training ground at Carrington and after an evenly fought battle, displaying some skilful moves that would have impressed Bestie himself, the game ended 1-1.
To mark what would have been George’s 64th birthday, the Manchester lads flew over to Belfast to play in the return leg. After a pre-match meal at the Northern Irish Parliament buildings - Stormont – the two teams lined up for what would be another 1-1 draw.
Despite such a closely fought battle the sportsmanship from both sides was exemplary. “The spirit in which the game was played was outstanding and each and every player is to be congratulated.” Says Barbara. “I would like to extend our personal thanks to these young men who were outstanding ambassadors not just for both charities, but most importantly for the memory of George Best.”
In a nail-biting penalty shootout, it proved to be Manchester United who were victorious, lifting the Tyrone Crystal Trophy after winning 9 goals to 8.
It was an energy-sapping but adrenalin fuelled finale to a tournament that had clearly made an impact on all involved:
“Being involved in this has changed my life and I feel honoured to be part of it.” Manchester United player, Jordan Valentine.
“It is a privilege for us to help keep alive the memory of one of the greatest football players who ever lived. All the teenagers entered into the spirit of the event. For the Manchester United Foundation players, the visit to George’s home city is a dream come true.” John Sheils, Chief Executive, Manchester United Foundation
“The event presented all these young people with a unique opportunity to learn and develop skills through the power of football both on and off the pitch.” Carol Kirby, Project Manager, Manchester United Foundation
Before returning home to Manchester the players visited George Best’s grave at Roselawn cemetery. As they each laid a flower in respect of this football icon, his tournament proved that no matter how humble your beginnings, you should never stop aspiring to meet your dreams…