At around 10am 50 years ago on September 14, 1963, David Sadler jumped into a taxi cab in Chorlton in the suburbs of Manchester alongside a 17-year-old stripling of a lad who was about to embark on a journey which would bedazzle the world of football.
That boy was George Best.
Imagine the excited chatter as the pair, who shared a bedroom in the council house digs of Mrs Mary Fullaway, shook the sleep from their heads and made their way to the Davyhulme golf club where Manchester United’s players regularly enjoyed their pre-match meal at around midday on Saturday.
Three hours later Best had pulled on a United first team shirt for the first time and was trotting out at Old Trafford for his first division debut against West Bromwich Albion, a match which United won 1-0.
Sadler, a precocious centre forward who was also 17 and who later played in midfield and central defence, scored the winning goal in that game but cannot remember a thing about it.
He can remember, however, the manner in which Best announced himself on the wing, handing a lesson in Northern Irish trickery to his opposing fullback, a stocky and experienced Welsh international named Graham Williams.
Sadler recalled: “Graham was a smashing guy, but he was almost as broad as he was tall and he was a real toughie. George didn’t score that day or run up the line like Roy of the Rovers but it was clear to everyone that we had something here which was out of the ordinary.
“I didn’t realise then he would be the best player I ever played with.
“But if George was nervous, it was not apparent in the build-up to kick-off. Nobby Stiles was pacing up and down in nothing but his football boots in the changing room while the rest of us were busy using the toilet facilities. It was nerve-racking. But with George it was as though he was going for a stroll in the park rather than playing football in front of 60,000 at Old Trafford.
“I remember that, but I can’t remember if I scored the goal with my boot or my head, probably it went in off my backside.”
Former United midfielder Pat Crerand also played in that match and was also taken by the chasing Best meted out to the unfortunate Williams.
The next summer Crerand, with a handful of United players, ran in to Williams in a bar in Majorca.
“Williams came up to me and said ‘Will you introduce me to George, I’ve only ever seen him from the back?’” said Crerand. “You have to remember George was just a bag of bones then, he looked like some waif who had not been fed for a couple of months. But he had tremendous courage and knew he had a special ability. That’s why we are still talking about him 50 years later.”
Strangely, after starring on his debut, Best was dropped to the reserves before scoring his first senior goal in his second appearance in a 5-1 win over Burnley on December, 28, 1963.
Yet one of Sadler’s fondest memories of Best came later that season when they were part of the United side which won the 1964 FA Youth Cup, the sixth under the management of Jimmy Murphy and the first since the 1958 Munich air disaster.
Sadler scored a hat-trick in the final.
“You’d think I’d be the star man after scoring three, wouldn’t you?” said Sadler. “Well I wasn’t. All three were tapped in from three yards after George had beaten defenders here, there and everywhere and passed the ball to me. The fact I was centre forward at United for a while was due entirely to George.”