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George Best: The Cork Years

George Best: The Cork Years

While George Best's post-United period is usually regarded as a tawdry afterthought, it provides some delightful morsels for football historians to nibble on. One of the earliest clubs he played for in his later years was the famous Cork Celtic.

Cork Celtic were struggling financially. They badly needed to whip a rabbit out of the hat.

At the time, they were managed by former Chelsea's then record goalscorer turned Jehovah's Witness missionary Bobby Tambling.

The Cockney boss got on the old blower and tried to rope in a celebrity who'd played across the water to help draw back the punters - a common gambit among League of Ireland clubs at that time.

The word came back that George Best could be persuaded to come over and play. For the price of £1,000 per match, Best would give his all for Cork Celtic.

Bestie, owing to his loose personal fiscal policy at the time, was badly in need of the money.

His first game for Cork Celtic was against Drogheda United. Interest was huge.

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The match was moved from Turner's Cross to Flower Lodge (nowadays known as 'Pairc Ui Rinn) to accommodate what they anticipated would be a greatly swelled home support. They anticipated right.

12,500 turned up, producing £6,000 in gate receipts. Drogheda were considered a mediocre side back then. Sadly, so were Cork Celtic, and Best was too much of a wreck to alter this.

The Drogs won 2-0 and Best spoke of the difficulties of bedding in with a new side. He did, however, promise that he'd be better the next day.

And he was. Best delivered a much improved performance at Turner's Cross as Celtic beat the League winners of the previous season, Bohemians 1-0. However, he did not win Man of the Match. That honour went to local boy Bryan MacSweeney.

MacSweeney's fee for the game worked at £988 less than that offered to Best, or £12 in total.

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Best's third (and last) game for the side was an away trip to Dublin to play Shelbourne. Shels weren't much use for most of the 70s and 80s and it would be 12 or 13 years before they moved to Tolka Park in the Northside.

Back then they played in Harold's Cross and no fewer 5,000 turned up for the game. This was 4,650 more than their average gate.

It is claimed that Best prepared for the game by charging a number of bottles of champagne to the club on the night before. He was in no shape to play and Celtic lost 2-1.

Derek Jones of the Irish Times gave a sensitive review of Best's performance in an article entitled 'Best at his worst as Shelbourne win'

He began the article thus:

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How much longer will Irish soccer devotees be so gullible as to dig deeper into their pockets and stampede to grounds just to see George Best? As far as I'm concerned I never want to set eyes on him again.

Watch John Creedon's lovely little feature on Best's time at Cork Celtic here.

This article originally appeared on Balls.ie on Balls.ie on November 25, 2015

UPDATE:

Reader John Carroll was decent enough to send us the following photos of Best in Cork on Twitter today.

 

Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney