George Best to Hibs: Saab convertible, cologne and wash bag - former team-mates recall what Man Utd legend was like
Northern Irishman left lasting impression in his Easter Road comrades
George Best’s arrival at Easter Road left everyone stunned – not least his new team-mates. But as star struck as even they might have been, the genius in their midst quickly turned out to be one of the lads.
Yes, there were the trappings you’d expect. The flash car, expensive colognes and a bumper pay packet which they could only dream of and, yet, other than spending most of the week amid the bright lights of London, Best was as down to earth as any of them.
“The first thing I remember was reading about it in the Evening News,” recalled Gordon Rae. “Stewart Brown had the inside line on what was going on at Hibs. The story was about George possibly coming – and the next thing it’s happened.
“George was a player you only saw on television, the cavalier type like Stan Bowles or Rodney Marsh. Not many years before he’d been terrifying Benfica in the European Cup final for Manchester United and there he was, in our dressing room
“Everything went crazy for a while, it was all going off, everybody was at you for tickets and, of course, the crowds we got were huge.
“He was actually a really nice guy, wasn’t a big-time Billy or anything like that. We didn’t see a lot of him, he’d come up from London towards the end of the week but he mixed well with everybody. We’d get a 40-seater Silver Fox bus down to Hunter’s Hall (the Jack Kane Centre) and he was a good trainer, a normal footballer who fitted in well, no problem.
“He used to have a bottle of cologne he had made for him in France which probably cost more than a week’s wages for the rest of us.”
And that, along with a Saab convertible supplied by Eastern Motors, was about all that differentiated Best from the rest, insisted Craig Paterson, then only four months or so into his own first-team career.
“To suddenly find myself training and playing with one of the best players who has ever played was some thrill,” he said. “Obviously it was towards the end of his career, but he still had that skill, vision and balance.
“He had a toilet bag – the first time I think we’d ever seen anyone with one at a time when we had a bottle of shampoo between 15 of us. George had his own very expensive after-shave and one day while he was in the shower we helped ourselves. We must have dabbed quite a few pounds worth on, but he just laughed.”
Naturally Best’s name was on everyone’s lips but, revealed Paterson, the novelty of having a superstar who ranked alongside the Peles, Cruyffs and Beckenbauers faded a little.
He said: “I realised I was becoming a George Best bore when I went out for a beer with a few mates one night. They were already there when I walked in, they didn’t see me but they were sitting at a table writing on bits of paper and putting them, and some coins, in an empty glass.
“It turned out they were having a sweep to see how long it would take me to mention George, not minutes but seconds.”
Best did inhabit a different world, spending his nights in London clubs such as Tramp but, insisted goalkeeper Jim McArthur, the 33-year-old had time for everyone. He said: “George was no prima-donna when you’d expect the exact opposite.
“Wherever we went people just wanted to speak to him, get his autograph and he had the time of day for everyone.”