Saturday, November 24, 2012

24 November 1979 - Best Comes Back To Britain

On 24 November 1979, George Best returned to the UK from his American exile to play briefly for Hibernian and scored on his debut.

He became one of the most famous footballers in the world while playing for Manchester United, winning, among other things, the 1968 Ballon d'Or. But his inability to resist women and alcohol caused problems for him at Old Trafford, resulting in a series of retirements from the club, the last of which came in January 1974.

Afterward, he turned out for a handful of clubs, including Stockport County (1975) and Cork Celtic (1975-76), before splitting time between the Los Angeles Aztecs and Fulham from 1976 to 1978. When he left Fulham in 1978, he remained in the US, playing for LA and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

But in the fall of 1979, Hibernian manager Tom Hart lured Best back to Britain. At the time, Hibs were at the bottom of the Scottish First Division table and were lucky to draw 5,000 people to a match. Hart figured correctly that Best, despite having lost much of his ability, was still a big enough name to bring in the crowds and agreed to pay him £2,500 per match at a time when most of the team's other players were making less than a tenth of that amount.

Best's first appearance, though, was in an away match against St. Mirren, where a crowd of 13,798 watched him score the visitors' only goal in a 2-1 result. In his home debut the following week, more than 20,000 filled the stands. He didn't score, but helped Hibs claim their first win since August. It was only a brief respite, as they were relegated at the end of the season.

He played only 17 games for Hibernian across two seasons, scoring a total of three goals, before returning to the US to play for the San Jose Earthquakes. He continued to move around over the next few years before his final retirement in 1984, but never played professionally in the UK again.



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