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The forgotten goal against Dundee 40 years ago which could have been the greatest George Best ever scored

George Best played for Hibernian in 1980.
George Best played for Hibernian in 1980.

It is still known as the greatest goal ever scored in the history of the North American Soccer League (NASL).

Playing for the San Jose Earthquakes in 1981 against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, George Best dribbled past no less than five defenders to dice his way into the six-yard box before he finished with a powerful shot to the far corner.

Best was supposed to be past it but those who watched him spend 325 days in Scottish football knew he still had something special.

Dundee fans especially.

Best ended his time in Scotland in September 1980 with a 2-0 win against Dundee at Dens Park.

Wonder goal

By then he was playing in the First Division after being unable to save Hibernian from being relegated the previous season.

Best’s greatest moment at Easter Road also happened to be against Dundee when he scored a goal which was up there with his wonder strike in California.

Little wonder then that Tayside held a special place in Best’s heart.

Former Dundee goalkeeper Ally Donaldson has recalled Best’s moment of genius 40 years ago to mark what would have been his 74th birthday.

The long-serving Dens Park stopper told how it wasn’t all smiles for Best however when he first came up against Dundee in a match which took place in California in 1967.

George Best played for Hibernian in 1980.

Dundee went to the United States to prepare for the following season and defeated one of Manchester United’s greatest teams – featuring the holy trinity of Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law – 4-2 in San Francisco.

Holiday mood

Matt Bubsy’s side had circumnavigated the globe on a mammoth post-season tour, with a series of matches in Australia, California, and two in New Zealand.

Dundee goalkeeper Ally Donaldson.

“I was on the tour in 1967 when Dundee beat Manchester United 4-2,” said Donaldson.

“To be honest, the Man Utd players were in holiday mood.

“Pat Crerand arrived wearing slippers and Best, Law and Charlton played the match like a practice game.

“However it was a fine result as we also beat Chelsea 4-2 and drew 2-2 and were unbeaten in the 11 tour games.”

Best was 27 when he played his final competitive match for Manchester United on New Year’s Day 1974 when he was sacked by United’s then manager Tommy Docherty after a long series of alcohol-related disciplinary breaches.

He played a handful of games in South Africa, three for Stockport County and another three for Cork Celtic before he went to LA Aztecs in the summer of 1976 and scored 15 goals in 23 games and looked fitter than he’d been in two or three years.

It earned him a couple of seasons in the Second Division with Fulham as part of an all-star trio alongside Rodney Mash and Bobby Moore, while continuing to spend the English close season with the Aztecs.

He moved on to Fort Lauderdale Strikers when then-Hibees chairman Tom Hart was made aware that the winger could be available.

Ipswich testimonial

Hibs were having a bad season, languishing near the bottom of the table and struggling to pull in the punters, many of whom felt that relegation was a real possibility.

Hart and Hibs manager Eddie Turnbull went to Ipswich to watch Best play in Bobby Robson’s testimonial match the following midweek in which the Irishman starred in front of a 24,000 crowd.

Hibs paid a fee of £50,000 on November 16 1979, to Fulham with an agreement he’d play a minimum of 12 games.

George Best makes his debut for Hibs.

Best made his debut for Hibs away to St Mirren where 13,670 turned up to see him, the majority of which had made the trip through from Edinburgh.

He gave a good account of himself and got on the scoresheet at the death, but still couldn’t save Hibs from losing 2-1.

One infamous incident saw Best briefly sacked in February 1980 after he went on a massive drinking session with pop star Debbie Harry and the French rugby union team, who were in the city to play Scotland.

Best was reinstated and chose a match at Easter Road against Dundee just a month later to turn in his finest performance in a Hibs jersey – and his best goal for the club.

No footage exists of the goal but the newspaper match reports suggest it was virtually a one-man show from one of the greatest players ever to grace Scottish football.

Rolled back the years

Best rolled back the years and opened the scoring on 25 minutes.

He charged from the halfway line and dummied four Dundee defenders in the box before he sent a left foot shot low past Donaldson.

The Northern Ireland international set up his team’s second goal just before the break with a magnificent pass for winger Willie Murray to race on to and stick the ball past Donaldson.

Ally Donaldson.

“He collected the ball around the centre circle and headed downhill towards our goal,” Donaldson recalled at his Tayside home.

“I cannot remember how many players he beat by skill – as his dynamic pace had gone – but he beat another couple of defenders at the edge of the box, before striking a scintillating, unstoppable shot into the net.

“He took around five minutes to return to the centre circle and fully recover.

“He was a fantastic player in his prime, which lasted all too soon.

“The phrase ‘a flawed genius’ sums him up quite well.”

Best played his final game in Scottish football with a 2-0 win against Dundee in September before he returned to the US to play for the San Jose Earthquakes.

Glided across the park

Former Dundee captain Bobby Glennie described gracing the same park as him as “unbelievable”.

“He was just really unbelievable, even at that age he glided across the park and just mesmerised the fans and the players on the pitch,” he said.

“He was just a down to earth guy.

“There were no airs and graces with him.

“He spoke the whole way through the game and even took the time to have a beer with us afterwards.

“He ran the show and was full of the flicks and tricks, at times he tore us apart, but both sets of fans were applauding his every move.”

Billy Bingham had still considered including Best in the Northern Ireland squad which spent the summer of 1982 at the World Cup finals in Spain.

Instead, he kept faith with the group of players who had earned qualification to the World Cup, and Best was there only as part of the ITV commentary team.

Return to Dens Park

He put the World Cup disappointment behind him and came back to Dundee in October 1982 to make a guest appearance at the club’s open day at Dens Park.

George Best at Dens.

Best played five games for Third Division Bournemouth and went to Australia to play four matches for Brisbane Lions.

After he finally hung up his boots in 1984, aged 37, the alcohol problems began to pile up.

That year, he spent Christmas in Pentonville Prison after failing to appear in court on charges of drink-driving and head-butting a policeman.

He was jailed for 12 weeks, mostly spent at Ford Open Prison.

In 1990, he turned up for Terry Wogan’s chat show clearly drunk and told his host that his hobbies mainly centred around having sex.

He met Alex Pursey, a former air hostess, in a London nightclub in 1995, when she was 22 years old – 27 years his junior.

They married the same year.

In the late 1990s as he gained regular employment on television as a pundit and as an after-dinner speaker.

At the turn of the millennium Best underwent extensive treatment for liver damage.

The final journey

In August 2002 he had a successful transplant at King’s College Hospital in London.

He was warned then that if he ever drank again it could kill him but in February 2004 Best was convicted of another drink-driving offence and banned from driving for 20 months.

In October 2005 he was admitted to intensive care at the private Cromwell Hospital in London, suffering from a kidney infection caused by the side effects of immuno-suppressive drugs used to prevent his body from rejecting his transplanted liver.

He died on November 25, aged 59, as a result of a lung infection and multiple organ failure.

Former Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham plus internationals Derek Dougan, Peter McParland, Harry Gregg and Gerry Armstrong, and Law, carried the coffin to the base of the Stormont steps in Belfast.

Afterwards, Best was cremated and his ashes were interred beside his mother in a private ceremony at the hilltop Roselawn Cemetery, overlooking east Belfast.

For the first anniversary of his death, Ulster Bank issued one million commemorative five pound notes.

The notes sold out in five days.

The legendary Brazilian Pele famously named him as the world’s greatest ever player.

Drinks with 007

Former Hibernian player Tony Higgins said: “He was fun to be around.

“I remember I liked to start each week by asking the guys how their weekends had gone.

“Jackie McNamara said he had had a great night.

“He had been in the Easterhouse Masonic Club, where the beer was 3p cheaper than his usual pint.

“I said: ‘And what about you, George?’

“‘Me?’, he replied, “I was at a party with Rod Stewart, Britt Ekland and Roger Moore, and, yeah, it was a pretty good night too’.”

Best’s Tayside odyssey didn’t end in Dundee

During the later years of his career, Best also played matches for Scone Thistle and Arbroath Vics.

He gave fans the thrill of seeing one of the world’s greatest footballers stepping out with a former Miss World.

Gayfield starring role

To celebrate the club’s centenary year, the Vics secured 36-year-old Best’s services for a match against Arbroath FC and he scored twice in a 4-3 win at Gayfield.

Arbroath Vics club secretary Jimmy Smith was an associate of McMurdo’s who was Best’s agent at the time.

Manchester United legend George Best lining up with Arbroath Vics in 1982.

He chanced his arm and called McMurdo, and a guest appearance was duly arranged although only a little more than 1,000 people attended the match.

The Manchester United legend arrived at Gayfield with Miss World Mary Stavin on his arm and drank only tea after the game.

Former Vics manager Ian Hardie said he had never given an easier team talk – pointing at Best, he told the players: “Give the ball to him.”

Hardie said: “Despite his image as a hard drinker, the only thing he had to drink all day and all evening was a cup of tea.

“George was a hero of mine when I was growing up but I could never have dreamed that one day I’d manage him.

“He was the first name on the team sheet that day, put it that way.”

Simply the Best

A report on the match tells of how Best brought the game to life in the 34th minute with a solo run reminiscent of the mazy runs of his heyday.

Vics were 2-0 down when he dragged the ball across the box, turned several defenders inside out and then struck from six yards, having left the opposition in total disarray.

The shot was handled on the line by a defender and Best converted the penalty.

George Best and Mary Stavin sign autographs in Arbroath following the game.

Vics then equalised before Best put them 3-2 in front — again from the penalty spot.

Arbroath scored a penalty themselves to make it 3-3 before Vics claimed victory with a goal that brought applause from Best himself.

He had a hand in it but the plaudits went to Ian Harrison who eluded a couple of defenders before thumping the winner from an acute angle.

After the game he went back to the Vics social club for a question and answer session and the Vics players and officials got an hour with him for photos and autographs before the public got in.

The match programme, which was signed by Best and his girlfriend Mary Stavin, was sold off at a Royal Mail “lost in the post” auction.

The teams that day were: Arbroath Vics – E. Martin; S. Arbuthnott, A. Sommerville, D. McIntosh, S. Hunter, J. Hunter, T. Cargill, R. Coull, B. Chapman, R. Butchart, G. Best. Subs – D. Gall, I. Harrison, G. Mitchell, B. Cargill, D. Johnstone, G. Forrester, A. Dalglish, A. Swankie, D. Swankie.

Arbroath FC – D. Larter; S. Forsyth, Farrell, D. Durno, Davie, Rendall, D. Robb, W. Gavine, B. Duff, D. Young, T. Hill. Subs – D. Powell, Cavellini, Anderson, Brown, Hird.