Best is born on May 22, 1946 and grows up in Cregagh, east Belfast. In 1957, he passes the eleven-plus and goes to Grosvenor High School, but he soon plays truant as the school specialises in rugby. He then moves to Lisnasharragh Secondary School, reuniting him with friends from primary school and allowing him to focus on football. He plays for Cregagh Boys Club. He grows up supporting Glentoran F.C. and Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C..
Best spends most of his club career at Manchester United. Named European Footballer of the Year in 1968, he is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. A highly skillful winger, considered by several pundits to be one of the greatest dribblers in the history of the sport, he receives plaudits for his playing style, which combines pace, skill, balance, feints, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to get past defenders.
In international football, Best is capped 37 times for Northern Ireland between 1964 and 1977. A combination of the team’s performance and his lack of fitness in 1982 means that he never plays in the finals of a major tournament. He considers his international career as being “recreational football,” with the expectations placed on a smaller nation in Northern Ireland being much less than with his club. He is regarded as one of the greatest players never to have played at a World Cup. The Irish Football Association describes him as the “greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland.”
With his good looks and playboy lifestyle, Best becomes one of the first media celebrity footballers, earning the nickname “El Beatle” in 1966, but his extravagant lifestyle leads to various personal problems, most notably alcoholism, which he suffers from for the rest of his life. These issues affect him on and off the field, often causing controversy. Although conscious of his problems, he is publicly not contrite about them. He says of his career, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds [women] and fast cars – the rest I just squandered.” After football, Best spends some time as a football analyst, but his financial and health problems continue into his retirement.
Best is diagnosed with severe liver damage in March 2000. His liver is said to be functioning at only 20%. In 2001, he is admitted to hospital with pneumonia. In August 2002, he has a successful liver transplant at King’s College Hospital in London.
On October 3, 2005, Best is admitted to intensive care at the private Cromwell Hospital in London, suffering from a kidney infection caused by the side effects of immunosuppressive drugs used to prevent his body from rejecting his transplanted liver. In the early hours of November 25, 2005, treatment is stopped. Later that day he dies, aged 59, as a result of a lung infection and multiple organ failure. He is interred beside his mother in a private ceremony at Roselawn Cemetery, overlooking east Belfast.