Back in the eighties, Portadown Football Club’s claim to fame in the George Best story is the fact that the Manchester United and Northern Ireland maestro once turned out for the Ports.
It was a Portadown versus Glenavon showpiece at Shamrock Park when Best, dead 10 years this week, captained the Ports and Glenavon were led by Alan Fraser.
Shamrock Park was packed to the gunnels that night and when Best led the Ports out, he was followed by the team and by hundreds of kids who followed him around in the ‘Pied Piper of Hamlyn’ style. It took the stewards several minutes to clear the pitch, with Best’s then wife Angie also a big hit with the fans.
Best was here courtesy of Portadown businessman Gerald Black proprietor of Bannview Bed and Breakfast who has attracted many stars to the town. Among them Stanley Matthews, Henry Cooper, James Hunt and Best’s legendary Northern Ireland team mate Pat Jennings.
Best had been here earlier to play in a match featuring Bourneview YM (see pic bottom right). Gerald had made contact with Best as a result of that match and invited him across for a chat show, conducted by Portadown Times journalist Niall Crozier and attended by councillor Mary Simpson, the then Mayor of Craigavon.
Said Gerald, “He was very personable and really communicated with the packed house that night.
“And when I was driving him back to the airport, the idea for the football match came to me and we worked out a good deal.
He enjoyed his trips to Portadown and we set up the match with the aul’ enemy, which the Ports won- but the result didn’t matter.
There was a great atmosphere that night thanks entirely to George Best.”
Of course by that stage Best was past his peak but he showed a few touches of genius.
“He didn’t score but he led on a couple of goals for the Ports.
The records show that Best played at his peak for United from 1963- 1974 and after that he seemed to roam the world showing off his talents.
He played for the likes of Stockport County, Cork Celtic, Fulham, Hibernian, San Jose Earthquakes, Hong Kong Rangers and Brisbane Lions. He ended his illustrious career in the province with lowly Tobermore United.
Best showed many silky skills that night and there was great anticipation every time he touched the ball.
But he was just a pale shadow of the world class player who graced Manchester United with his 361 appearances and Northern Ireland for whom he played for 37 times.
But not withstanding his sad fall from grace and his fight with the sickness of alcoholism, which he ultimately lost. Everyone who attended Shamrock Park that night will cherish the memory.
“As far as I’m concerned he was simply a decent man who went out of his way to make contact with the fans, especially the young ones,” said Gerald. “On the three occasions that I met him in Portadown there was never a hint of him playing the Primadonna.
“He was a model of modesty and really mixed with the fans both at Bannview and at Shamrock Park.”