A long-planned statue of George Best has finally been unveiled – and its creators have made it a deliberately down-to-Earth artwork.
The bronze sculpture of the Northern Ireland and Manchester United hero was revealed at a the new Olympia leisure centre in south Belfast, next to Windsor Park, at 10.30am today in front of familiy members and old teammates.
It is a life-sized work, and instead of towering above onlookers atop a plinth it stands at ground level – a decision which sculptor Tony Currie said was symbolic.
He told the crowd, which had assembled despite no announcement being made publicly of the unveiling: “Symbolically we’ve placed him at ground level, not on a pedestal, to be looked up to, but as a normal guy.
“An exceptionally talented footballer – a flawed genius.
“And fans can now interact with his statue and have their photos taken alongside him, as they did when he was alive.”
It was made by the firm Lecale Bronze, and fundraising had been going on for about 13 years.
The statue itself has been several years in the planning, with the work to create it beginning in earnest two years ago.
Despite being at a council leisure facility, and close to Windsor Park, some of those involved in the project told the News Letter that no money for it had been given by either the IFA or Belfast City Council – instead it was raised entirely by fans, and ultimately Lecale made the statue at a loss, as a labour of love.
Best’s sister Barbara McNarry, said: “Today 73 years ago - the 22nd of May - George Best was born and little did our mum and dad know, or indeed the rest of the world, what the road ahead was to bring,” she said in a statement.
“It was a road that took George to dizzying heights but also at times to lonely and troubled lows.
“At his funeral I said do not look at George as gone, he has merely stepped off the pitch. Prophetic words as today George is most definitely back on the pitch and today the road has brought our Belfast boy back to the city, the people and the family who loved him most of all.”
Pat Jennings, Northern Ireland’s record cap holder, who was present with Gerry Armstrong, described Best as an “unbelievable and incredible” player.
“We look at world class players and the Messis of today - that was George in his day. Nobody could touch him,” he told the crowds.
“It’s hard to judge players against each other, it is impossible when you look at Messi and Ronaldo nowadays, but George was right up there with the best of them.
“My one regret is for such a fantastic world class player that unfortunately he didn’t get to make the World Cup with us, that’s my one regret, he didn’t get to play in ‘82 or ‘86 (when Northern Ireland qualified for the finals in Spain and Mexico).”