Even the greatest George Best fans had to admit, by 1976, that his best days were well behind him. 30 years old. Addicted to alcohol. Kicked out of Manchester United. George Best, many argued, was now a pale shadow of the genius dribbler he used to be.
That’s also what Dutch journalist Bert Nederlof thought. With the Holland vs Northern Ireland World Cup qualifier approaching, Nederlof was assigned the task to write a portrait of George Best. Nederlof flew to London to watch Best play for his new club Fulham against Southampton. After 90 minutes, Nederlof had seen enough. He wrote that Best was a fallen superstar no longer able to do what it takes to be a good footballer. Nederlof would soon regret those words.
A few hundred miles away, British journalist Bill Elliot was traveling with the Irish squad to the stadium where they’d meet Holland. The Orange squad, and their captain Johan Cruyff, in 1976, were synonymous with greatness. Elliot asked Best what he thought of Cruyff. “Outstanding”. “Better than you?”. George looked at the journalist and laughed. ‘You’re kidding aren’t you? I tell you what I’ll do tonight… I’ll nutmeg Cruyff first chance I get.”
What follows is Elliot’s description. “Five minutes into the game Best received the ball wide on the left. Instead of heading towards goal he turned directly infield, weaved his way past at least three Dutchmen and found his way to Cruyff who was wide right. He took the ball to his opponent, dipped a shoulder twice and slipped it between Cruyff’s feet. As he ran round to collect it and run on he raised his right fist into the air.”
“Only a few of us in the press box knew what this bravado act really meant. Johan Cruyff the best in the world? Are you kidding? Only an idiot would have thought that on this evening.”
While there doesn’t exist video evidence of this historic scene, Nederlof confirms that Best had played an absolutely incredible match, inspiring small Northern Ireland to a 2-2 draw against the best team in the world. “After the game, I caught the eye of the Dutch coach, Jan Zwartkruis. He gave me the most cold stare I’ve ever witnessed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told him before the game that Best was nothing to worry about”.