Ten years on from his death at the age of 59, we look back at George Best’s time at Hibernian
Twenty-two matches, three goals, countless memories.
George Best’s time at Hibernian came towards the end of an arguably turbulent career. His 11 years at Manchester United ended with loan spells at South African side Jewish Guild, and Dunstable Town.
Brief spells with Stockport, Cork Celtic and Los Angeles Aztecs were followed up by a fleeting return to the top with Fulham, between 1976 and 1977, where he scored ten goals in 47 matches.
A short stint in the USA - while still officially registered with the Craven Cottage side - came to an end when Edinburgh Evening News sports reporter Stewart Brown alerted Hibs chairman Tom Hart to Best’s availability.
Languishing at the wrong end of the table, Hibs were faced with dwindling attendances and the very real prospect of relegation. The side undoubtedly needed a lift.
Hart contacted Fulham for permission to speak to Best, who was in the directors’ box for a 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock on November 10th 1979, putting to bed any rumours that talk of Hibs signing Best was merely a publicity stunt.
Later that week, Best put pen to paper on a lucrative pay-as-you-play deal, earning £2,000 for every appearance in a Hibs shirt, joining from Fulham for £57,500.
The next day’s game at Celtic came too soon for the Northern Irish star, and so it was an away tie at St Mirren where a 33-year-old Best made his Hibs debut.
A crowd of over 13,600 packed into Love Street - the majority of them from Edinburgh - while press photographers jostled for position behind the goal. Best got on the scoresheet, but Hibs fell to a 2-1 defeat.
He made his home debut in a 2-1 win against Partick a week later, in front of 20,622 fans at Easter Road - almost four times the expected attendance.
Best’s every touch was greeted with applause, and an audacious 40-yard free kick brought out the best in Thistle ‘keeper Alan Rough, robbing Best of a home debut goal.
Best turned out for a couple of friendly matches against Kilmarnock and Leicester, but was posted missing for the next league match against Morton.
But his return for a pre-Christmas clash with Rangers at Easter Road provided a memorable anecdote.
Faced with continual abuse from the visiting supporters, who at one point threw a handful of beer cans at him as he took a corner, Best picked up one of the cans and seemed to take a drink from it.
Laughter could be heard at both ends of the stadium, and Hibs went on to record a 2-1 win.
But Best’s Hibs career went on a downward spiral after that, despite a goal in a 1-1 draw with Celtic two weeks after the Rangers game.
February saw Best miss a Scottish Cup tie against Ayr United, following a Saturday night bender with Blondie singer Debbie Harry and the French international rugby team at the North British Hotel (now The Balmoral), that lasted until 11am on the Sunday.
The player was sent back to London, but a week later after admitting alcoholism and pledging to take tablets which would make him ill if he drank spirits.
The highlight of his return was a 2-0 win over Dundee, with Best pulling the strings and scoring a marvellous solo goal.
The lowlight was the 5-0 drubbing in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic in front of 33,445 at Hampden Park.
Hibs were relegated from the league, but Best returned for a handful of matches in Division One, his final game in green and white coming in a home match against Falkirk.
Best was named captain for the day, and goals from John Connolly and substitute Willie Jamieson ensured Best left Hibs on a high note.
Hart announced the player’s departure in dramatic fashion, saying ‘The marriage between George Best and Hibernian is over’ while sweeping his hand across a table of glasses, sending them crashing to the floor.
Best did return to Easter Road on two occasions after his departure, in a friendly with new club San Jose Earthquakes and for a final time in 1984 for former team-mate Jackie McNamara’s testimonial against Newcastle United.
Perhaps it was the player himself who best summed up his time in Edinburgh when he said: “To be honest, I couldn’t take [playing for Hibs] seriously.
“The alcoholism had kicked in to the point where, if I was in a bar and enjoying myself, I wouldn’t leave for anyone or anything.”