A statue has been unveiled of footballing hero George Best in his home town of Belfast.
The Manchester United and Northern Ireland star has been immortalised in bronze in the shadow of Windsor Park, the stadium he graced so many times for his national side.
Best’s sister Barbara McNarry and fellow Northern Ireland great Pat Jennings revealed the life-size tribute to a crowd of fans on what would have been the former European Player of Year’s 73rd birthday.
He died in 2005 after a long battle with illness linked to alcoholism.
Here he is. An amazing bronze statue of George Best unveiled outside Olympia. Make sure you come down and get a pic pic.twitter.com/jm9VsTmDEv
— Better Belfast (@Better_NI) May 22, 2019
The statue, which captures Best dribbling with the ball, was created by Belfast sculptor Tony Currie from the art group Lecale Bronze.
It was funded by fans through public donations and stands at the front entrance of Belfast City Council’s Olympia Leisure Centre, which adjoins the National Stadium at Windsor Park.
Mrs McNarry described the occasion as “momentous and emotional”.
“Today 73 years ago – the 22nd of May – George Best was born and little did our mum and dad know, or indeed the rest of the world, what the road ahead was to bring,” she said in a statement.
“It was a road that took George to dizzying heights but also at times to lonely and troubled lows.
“At his funeral I said do not look at George as gone, he has merely stepped off the pitch. Prophetic words as today George is most definitely back on the pitch and today the road has brought our Belfast boy back to the city, the people and the family who loved him most of all.”
Jennings, who was joined at the event by fellow star of yesterday Gerry Armstrong, recalled his favourite memories of Best.
The ex-Tottenham and Arsenal goalkeeper made his international debut on the same night as Best, against Wales in Swansea in 1964.
Jennings, Northern Ireland’s record cap holder, described Best as an “unbelievable and incredible” player.
“We look at world class players and the Messis of today – that was George in his day. Nobody could touch him,” he told the crowds.
“It’s hard to judge players against each other, it is impossible when you look at Messi and Ronaldo nowadays, but George was right up there with the best of them.
“My one regret is for such a fantastic world class player that unfortunately he didn’t get to make the World Cup with us, that’s my one regret, he didn’t get to play in ’82 or ’86 (when Northern Ireland qualified for the finals in Spain and Mexico).”
Singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy, who sang at Best’s funeral service at Stormont, read a poem at Wednesday morning’s event.
After the unveiling, fans lined up to get a picture with the statue – a scene set to be replicated countless times in the years ahead.