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Rediff News  All News  » Sports » Belfast to bid farewell to soccer hero George Best

Belfast to bid farewell to soccer hero George Best

December 03, 2005 10:32 IST

An estimated half million people will bid farewell on Saturday to Northern Ireland's most famous son, George Best, the local lad turned soccer legend who finally lost his public battle with alcoholism and died last week.

With a three-mile procession from his family's modest Belfast home to the province's lavish parliament buildings, Best's native town will give the former Manchester United winger the type of send-off normally reserved for royalty.

Some of soccer's greatest names, including Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, will fly in for a ceremony that will be relayed to the multitudes gathered at Stormont, home to Northern Ireland's parliament buildings.

About 30,000 people will be allowed into the 164-acre estate that overlooks Belfast, while tens of thousands more are expected to line the funeral route.

Best, whose skills caused him to be mentioned in the same breath as Pele and Diego Maradona, died of multiple organ failure on November 25 after years of heavy drinking.


His funeral cortege will leave from the family home in the narrow streets of Cregagh council estate, east of the city, at 1000 GMT on Saturday for the rolling grasslands around Stormont.

The route between Cregagh and Stormont's white-pillared grandeur symbolises Best's own life story which took him from humble roots to global celebrity. He won the European Cup with United in 1968 and was voted European Footballer of the Year.

Best combined mercurial talent with pop star looks, a combination that vaulted him to the pinnacle of celebrity in London's Swinging Sixties.

But his love of champagne and playboy lifestyle slid into alcoholism. Best was unable to shake the disease and in the end it killed him.

The expected turnout and the tributes that have flooded in since the death of Best, a Protestant, show his immense popularity -- one that crossed Northern Ireland's sectarian divide.

The Best family home has been turned into a makeshift shrine. Flowers, football shirts and scarves cover every inch of the garden and footpath outside.

Former United team mate Denis Law, Best's sister Barbara McNarry, and family friend Bobby McAlinden will give tributes at the Stormont service. A guard of honour will be provided by children from Cregagh Football Club.

Popular Belfast singers Brian Kennedy and Peter Corry are to sing songs chosen by the family, including "Bring Him Home" from the hit show "Les Miserables".

Following the Stormont service, Best will be buried beside his mother Ann in the family plot in Roselawn cemetery. The family have asked the public and media to stay away from the cemetery.


Jodie Ginsberg
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