George Best - True Genius: BT Sport Film remembers one of the greatest ever at his spellbinding best

The superb film, which is available to watch on the BT Sport app and btsport.com, charts the extraordinary rise of Best at Manchester United.

By Tim Williams Published: 27 May 2021 - 8.40am

“I know what people will think. They’ll forget all the rubbish when I’m gone, and remember the football, simple as that.”

In his last-ever interview weeks before his death, George Best - aged only 59 - allowed himself a moment for introspection. 

For most of his life, one of the most revered and charismatic footballers of any generation became synonymous with celebrity culture. His personal life superseded a prodigious and unique playing career.

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He made 466 appearances for Manchester United, scoring 179 goals but - for some - became more famous for his indiscretions. 

But how did he want to be remembered? He answered emphatically: “I don’t give a toss about anything else - as long as they remember the football,” he said. “If only one person thinks I was the best player in the world, that’ll do for me, because that’s what it was all about as far as I’m concerned.”

George Best: True Genius, the latest documentary in the award-winning BT Sport Films series, pays homage to the carefree icon from Cregagh, Northern Ireland, who became the game’s first superstar.

The documentary, which is presented and narrated by Best’s son Calum and is being released in conjunction with a new book of the same name by respected author Wayne Barton, charts the rise and rise of a player who is still immortalised at Old Trafford and beyond.

To commemorate what would have been Best’s 75th birthday on Saturday 22 May, the compelling portrait documents his astronomic rise through the ranks at United in the wake of the Munich air disaster all the way through to the historic 1968 European Cup win at Wembley.

“I think I’ve found you a genius,” scout Bob Bishop wrote to Sir Matt Busby after discovering Best at the age of 15.

Busby, who survived the tragic crash which claimed 23 lives in February 1958, was tasked with uniting a club afflicted by tragedy and building a team capable of returning to the upper echelons of the European game.

He didn’t know it at the time, but the slight teen from Northern Ireland who was deemed too lightweight for his local club Glentoran would become his linchpin.

179
Goals scored by Best for United in 470 appearances

The acquisition of Denis Law among others rejuvenated United, but it was Best, who was a first-team regular aged 17, who brought an extra spark of genius which made the team truly memorable.

“He brought back the swagger, the confidence of the Busby Babes and more,” said renowned sportswriter Paddy Barclay. “George was a phenomenon right from the start. He was completely confident in his football ability. He had this unquenchable desire to entertain, to have fun.”

He became part of United’s legendary Holy Trinity alongside Law and Bobby Charlton - whose legacy has been honoured with a statue at Old Trafford - and helped United win the title in 1965 which earned them a place in the following season’s European Cup.

It was in Europe less than a year later that Best truly arrived. After beating Benfica 3-2 at Old Trafford in the quarter-finals, United travelled to Lisbon for the return leg against one of the game’s pre-eminent forces of the day. Such was their dominance, they hadn’t lost a home game since they'd started playing in Europe.

“It’s an absolute honour to be part of this film, that I hope will introduce my dad to a new generation of footie fans”
- Calum Best

Unfazed, Best produced one of the greatest-ever performances on the European stage, scoring twice in the opening 13 minutes to seal a famous victory. “When I came off, for the first time I felt I had the potential to become whatever I wanted to be,” he reflected.

The previously impregnable Benfica - complete with Eusebio - had been humbled and Best arrived back in England a new man. Sartorially resplendent, he greeted the baying photographers wearing a sombrero he had bought in a tourist shop. “El Beatle” was born.

In the Swinging Sixties, he was a demigod in sport and popular culture and he continued to propel United to even greater heights. Inspired by his World Cup-winning team-mates of 1966, he set off on a quest to becoming the world’s best.

For club and country, he was becoming borderline unplayable. In 1967, Northern Ireland’s game against Scotland was named after him in yet another clear indication of his remarkable influence.

United were pipped by Man City to the league title in 1968, but were on track for European glory 10 years after Munich.

George Best
Best donning a sombrero after his match-winning performance against Benfica in the European Cup

A decade after the Busby Babes were robbed of their chance to make history, Best gave United a slender first-leg semi-final lead over Real Madrid in Manchester. The precarious lead was soon extinguished at a raucous Bernabeu and the Spaniards led 3-2 on aggregate at half-time.

But Bill Foulkes, a survivor of the Munich air crash, scored the equaliser on the night to complete a poignant comeback and send United into the final against Benfica and a date with destiny at Wembley.

Three years after Best had mesmerised Benfica’s defence in Lisbon, they were acutely aware of his genius. After the Portuguese side equalised to force extra time, Best gave them another timely reminder of his prowess with a superb solo goal to hand the initiative back to United.

Brian Kidd and Bobby Charlton sealed the win and United’s first-ever European Cup win. They had blitzed Benfica in seven minutes and had become the first English champions of Europe.

George Best
George Best’s son Calum presents and narrates the latest BT Sport Film

“It gives me chills when I think about it, that he scored the most important goal in Manchester United's history to give them their first European Cup 10 years after Munich like it had been written in the stars,” says Calum in a moving moment on the Wembley pitch.

Best was crowned European Player of the Year soon after. His legacy, like United’s renewal post-Munich, still resonates around the world today.

“One thing they’ll never take is away is the football,” he reflected all those years later. He was simply the best, after all.

Calum Best said: “It’s an absolute honour to be part of this film that I hope will introduce my dad to a new generation of footie fans. BT Sport Films’ George Best: True Genius delves into his life both on and off the pitch, underlying his status as the greatest footballer to come out of the United Kingdom.”

Sally Brown, executive producer of BT Sport Films, said: “While Best’s career is sometimes overshadowed by what followed and his ability and influence on the game can sometimes be forgotten, George Best: True Genius recognises Best for what he was - a wonderful footballer, one of the game’s greatest talents, arguably the best-ever footballer from the British Isles and an inspiration to a generation.”

Watch George Best: True Genius on btsport.com here or catch up on the BT Sport app now.