15/05/1971 Belfast England 0-1
Pat Jennings, Pat Rice, Sammy Nelson, Liam O’Kane, Allan Hunter, Jimmy Nicholson, Bryan Hamilton, Eric McMordie (Tommy Cassidy), Derek Dougan, Dave Clements, George Best
England secured a lucky win at Windsor Park in a game that suggested they had taken a step backwards since the previous summer’s World Cup. This was a workmanlike performance at best, seemingly shorn of all joy and excitement. It appeared that, in these days of bigger international tournaments, the British Home Championship just didn’t excite England players in the way it used to. What little attacking intent there was came mainly from the Irish, and on eleven minutes came the most famous moment of this, or perhaps any other, England-Ireland match.
As Banks released the ball ready to punt it upfield, the quick-thinking genius of Best flicked the ball up, beat Banks to the bounce and nodded it in. The referee disallowed it, presumably for “foot up”, but it seemed an immensely harsh decision, and robbed Best of one of the all-time great opportunist goals. Other than that, Banks performed brilliantly, pulling off at least three superb saves. The English defence was fairly solid too, but up front they appeared short of ideas. It seemed that if anyone would win, it would be Northern Ireland, for whom Best was superb, and Dougan a constant threat.
Yet, with time running out, England stole victory. For the home fans, still incensed at the referee for disallowing the Best goal, this was more than they could take. A high ball by O’Kane was blocked by Lee with both hands, but the officials missed this blatant infringement. Lee broke forward and released Clarke. His first shot was parried by Jennings, but Clarke then slotted the ball into an empty net on the rebound, and England had won. As it turned out, had Northern Ireland won, or even drawn, this game, they would have won the championship.
May 15, 1971: Northern Ireland 0-1 England, Home International, Windsor Park Belfast.
Still one of the highlights of Best’s career, even though it ultimately counted for nothing.
Gordon Banks had enhanced his reputation as the best keeper in the world the previous summer with what is widely regarded as the greatest ever save – his save from Pele’s header in the 1970 World Cup.
But Best almost made him look a stooge with a piece of lightning thinking.
Best was idling like a street-corner urchin as Banks prepared to punt the ball upfield. The England keeper tossed the ball into the air and in the instant he draw his leg back, Best toe-poked the ball upwards.
As a bemused Banks looked around for the ball, Best nodded it into the empty net, only for the referee to disallow the goal for dangerous play.