Martin Kenny looks back to 1983, when one one of the all time greats turned out for this weekend’s cup opponents.
There have been many publicity stunts in non-league football down the years but the appearance of George Best in a Nuneaton Borough shirt in March 1983 must rank as one of the most impressive.
The friendly match against Coventry City attracted a crowd of over 4,000 to Manor Park and the line-up of the teams contained an array of professionals such as Mark Hateley, Steve Hunt and Tony Morley. In fact, Morley would play 222 games for Nuneaton before eventually finishing his career at Masons Road with the Town.
George had confirmed his appearance in advance of the match, and he did not disappoint the fans. Best was 37 years old at the time and even though he was nearing the end of his career his ability was still apparent setting up 2 goals and scoring a penalty. In return for playing Best received a small plastic trophy that is displayed in the National Football Museum. It is ironic that a slightly younger holder of the Man United number 7 shirt Ronaldo has attracted such worldwide coverage for his return to the club in recent weeks.
Improved sports science, diet and training have meant that players can extend their careers at the highest level. Commercial spin offs have ensured Man United can finance their investment amid speculation of share price increases.
However, the memory of George Best dribbling past several players to score 6 goals in the Old Trafford mud feels more
closer to the experience of school games or Sunday league football after a good Saturday night.
In the National Football Museum there is displayed the plastic trophy that Best received for playing against Coventry City. It is remarkable that Best could turn in such incredible performances despite his extraordinary lifestyle.
Also the humour of George Best will remain in the memory, taking the ball off his own team mate Rodney Marsh whilst playing for Fulham and the laughs from his appearances on Michael Parkinson’s chat show.
Nuneaton Boroughs former ground at Manor Road was demolished in 2008, the stadiums capacity was set in 1967 when 22,114 watched the third-round replay with Rotherham United.
Since returning to non-league football more than a decade ago I find that you get more involved in the non-professional game. There are also indications that the profile of the non-league game is increasing. You can now watch 9th tier Lichfield play 7th tier Nuneaton live on BBC television, even if the budget didn’t stretch to showing replays!
Picture credits: Coventry Evening Telegraph