Last Wednesday saw football fans remember one of Northern Ireland’s favourite sons who passed away. George Best, was loved by many and ten years after he died in the Cromwell Hospital at the age of 59 years of age, he is still remembered with great fondness.
The former attacking midfielder, who won two First Division titles with Manchester United as well as the European Cup, is widely remembered as one of the greatest footballers in history and in 1984 he gave the people of Ballymoney the opportunity to see his silky skills up close when he played in an exhibition match at the Cricket Park.
The game between a NW International XI and Ballymoney Select was an exhibition match with part of the proceeds going towards a new heart monitor at the former Route Hospital, Ballymoney and playing alongside George was Coleraine favourite Dessie Dickson, former Middlesborough and Northern Ireland keeper Jim Platt, Roy Coyle and BBC commentator Jackie Fullerton.
Gerry McAleese, a long standing committee member of Ballymoney United remebers the game well.
“I was always a big fan of George Best and had been fortunate to have met him on a number of occasions but it was really special to have him play in Ballymoney.
“There were huge crowds at the game at the Cricket Park and the club was coming down with people all wanting to meet him or get a photograph with him.
“I had a drink with him after the game but because we were so busy trying to deal with the huge crowd of people I forgot to get my photo with him or even to get an autograph.
“I still have the ticket and programme from the game and Admission was only £2 which is hard to believe.”
The match report from the game said: ‘George had a quiet first half as did most of the other past masters on view, with the North West dictating most of the play.
Former Coleraine star Jimmy Nicholl put the North West on up after 20 minutes and the score remained that way for the rest of the half.
All the real action came in the second half when the Ballymoney Select clicked into gear. a particular favourite was Dessie Dickson who was born in the town and who actually played alongside best in the Northern Ireland team against Scotland at Windsor Park and against Wales in Swansea 14 years prior. He tormented the North West defence in the second half.
Best got himself on the scoresheet when he equalised from a penalty after former Leeds United and ards player Billy Humphries was brought down in the box. Excitement reached fever pitch when Best put the home side in front when he cleverly beat the keeper from an Arthur Stewart cross.
The goal of the game came when George send Des Dickson away with the Showgrounds favourite brilliantly lobbing over the head of the keeper.
One of the biggest cheers of the night came when ex-Coleraine player Johnny McCurdy, who came on for injured Hibs player Bill McMurdo, scored after being sent through by Des Dickson. With ten minutes left Jackie Fullerton scored a brilliant goal to make it 5-1 with the North west equalising through John Duffy of Finn Harps to make it 5-2.’
Watching the game was a 19-year old Paul McFeeley, aplayer with Ballymoney United at the time who ended up having a spell at Coleraine after he was signed by Jim Platt who played on the Ballymoney Select side in the exhibition game.
“I remember Dessie Dickson scoring with a lob and Johnny McCurdy coming on as sub. It was probably the biggest crowd I ever saw at the Cricket Park. I was a young player at Ballymoney United at the time and there was much excitement leading up to the game as you could imagine all the players were hoping they might get a chance to be selected to play alongside the great Best.
“Eventually Derek McComb and Billy Atkinson who had both been long and loyal servants as players at Ballymoney United were selected to play. It was great to meet Best briefly as he mingled with the crowd in Ballymoney United’s old social club after the game and I got my programme signed. Best had turned out for Tobermore United against Ballymena in the Irish cup in February of that year and I was lucky to at that game too.”