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George Best: 1946-2005
Here we pay our own tribute to George Best, who made twelve appearances against Town between 1968 and 1973, and famously made one appearance FOR Town in Bobby Robson's Testimonial match against England in 1979.
Best debuted for Manchester United in September 1963, 11 days after United tore Town apart 7-2 at Portman Road. Perhaps fortunately, Town had played United twice at the very start of that season and so Best never played his part in our relegation, but who knows what the score could have been had he played!
May 1968 was a good month. Town gained promotion to the First Division and George Best scored for United to win the European Cup at Wembley. Later that year the two came face to face for the first time, at Old Trafford, and Town came away with a very creditable 0-0 draw. Best's first appearance on the Portman Road turf later that season was also Bobby Robson's first home game in charge of Town, and a then-record attendance of 30,837 saw Town win 1-0, thus completing a memorable pair of games against the reigning European Champions.
United and Best gained their revenge the following season, beating Town on all three occasions they met, Best scoring after only two minutes in the League game at Old Trafford. The FA Cup match ended cruelly for Town with Mick McNeil putting through his own goal in injury time, and it was later in this cup run that Best scored six times against Northampton in an 8-2 win.
The following season marked Matt Busby's last in charge of Manchester United and Town were the final opposition at Old Trafford that season, Best scoring United's first in a 3-2 win over Town in April 1971. Town still had bragging rights that season having beaten United, and Best, 4-0 at Portman Road the previous September.
For Town the worst was still to come; for Best the best was yet to come. On Saturday 4th September 1971 at Old Trafford, George Best earned a corner, took it himself, and scored directly against his namesake David Best to earn United a 1-0 win. Three days later the teams faced each other again at Portman Road in a League Cup tie. Again Best stole the show including an extraordinary goal: he released Brian Kidd down the wing with a great pass, then met Kidd's cross with a diving header which was palmed onto the bar only for Best, lying on the ground, to poke the rebound home. A second goal from Best sealed a 3-1 win for United and Best also had another inswinging corner hit the post. The result prompted sections of the crowd to call for Bobby Robson's head, and for Town Chairman Mr John Cobbold to subsequently apologise to Robson for their behaviour.
Best played twice more against Town, both times at Old Trafford, and both games memorable for Town's own stars-in-the-making. The opening day of the 1972/73 season saw an 18-year-old Kevin Beattie subdue George Best as well as laying on both goals in a 2-1 win for Town. The following season a 17-year-old George Burley made his debut against Best in what would turn out to be Best's final appearance at Old Trafford.
Best was of course to play once more on the Portman Road turf, this time in a Town shirt! On November 13th 1979, in front of 23,284 fans, George Best guested for Town against England in a testimonial match for Bobby Robson. The shirt he wore that night is proudly on display at Portman Road.
In all Best played 7 times at Portman Road, with a further 6 games against Town at Old Trafford, scoring five times in all. In particular those few days in September 1971 will long be remembered .