21/10/1967 Belfast Scotland 1-0 Dave Clements
Pat Jennings, Billy McKeag, John Parke, Arthur Stewart, Terry Neill, Dave Clements, Billy Campbell, Johnny Crossan, Derek Dougan, Jimmy Nicholson, George Best
The George Best Match
Upon the conclusion of this infamous match it was dubbed “The George Best Match” and has been talked about ever since as the ‘best’ ever individual display, not only by George Best himself, but of any player who has worn an Irish shirt. Although the goal itself was not scored by George himself, it was his outstanding display on the field throughout the game which the game will be most remembered rather than the result. Perhaps Best’s performance was because on that very day he received a telegram from LuLu. It read, “I know you should win, but against Scotland – are you kidding? Love LuLu.”
This was George Best’s thirteenth international cap for Northern Ireland a number unlucky for some but obviously not for George! Best showed all his footballing attributes in this game which made him a superstar of the game – elegance, skill, ball control, passing, pace and balance. The late Malcolm Brodie described it best:
“The whole fascination of his performance was like a dream … It was all so staggering. He entranced the crowd with those delicate touches as he dispossessed Scottish players to begin his buildups, for he rarely got a service from his colleagues. He had to do it alone, do it his way.”
The Scottish players did everything they could to stop him, tackles went flying and Best was brought down on numerous occasions but he dusted himself down and started all over again.
It was through Best’s assist in the 68th minute of the game which allowed Dave Clements to score the only goal of the game, Northern Ireland’s third successive victory over the Scots.
Tommy Gemmill (who’d been given the job of shackling Best) – “One-nil going on five … I couldn’t get close to him. It was like trying to catch the wind. I tried to body check him. Trip him. Kick him. Nothing worked!”
Duncan Hamilton (Writer of ‘Immortal: the Approved Biography’) – “Even his own teammates said they couldn’t get the ball off him. By the end … the Scots were so disorientated and dizzy that you wonder how any of them walked in a straight line to the players’ tunnel.”
Terry Neill (Northern Ireland Captain) – “I told you we could do it. They kept us busy in the middle, but wasn’t George magnificent. I always felt it was going to be our day.”
Billy Bingham (Northern Ireland Manager) –
“The little fellow was a master. The Scots tried everything to stop him and failed miserably. It was his greatest game for Ireland.”
“I was delighted with this performance and I thought that on the second-half performance we could have won by a greater margin. I don’t like singling our players for special praise, but I thought George Best had his finest game for Ireland. I was also particularly impressed with Arthur Stewart and I am certain that Billy McKeag is an international prospect.”
* Trivia –
Malcolm Brodie had arranged for George Best to visit a young child at the Belfast Children’s Hospital the following day who had requested his autograph via Malky. George wanted to meet the child in person rather than just give him an autograph. The next day George went to the hospital and presented a parcel to the child which contained his match worn shirt and a signed programme from the Scottish match at Windsor Park the day previous. He went round the children’s ward speaking with other children and their families.
Northern Ireland 1 Scotland 0
Published: Happy Days Issue 8
Ten Greatest NI matches. No.4
21/10/1967 Belfast; Attendance 55,000
Northern Ireland 1 Scotland 0 (ECQ/HIC)
When Stan Mortensen scored a hat trick in the 1953 FA Cup Final he could be forgiven for being a little miffed that it was dubbed ‘The Stanley Matthews Final.” In the same way, Dave Clements winning goal against the Scots in 1967 has been overshadowed by the performance of the man who provided the assist; El Beatle himself, George Best. The game has become known as his greatest ever performance in the green shirt and stories of the day have been well recounted through the years.
There is little doubt that George Best was a huge name. A year after destroying Benfica in the 5-1 demolition in the European quarter final, he was a huge revenue generator for the Irish FA. For the game against Scotland, the crowd was three times larger than it had been at the previous home game against Wales where Best wasn’t playing. Despite having the 21 year old talent in their team, Northern Ireland resumed the role of underdogs, against a Scottish team fresh from defeating World Champions England, and boasting a strong line up including Denis Law, Ian Ure and Tommy Gemmill. Gemmill is seen as arguably one of the greatest British full backs of all time, and just 6 months previously had helped Celtic become the first British team to win the European Cup. When faced with the genius of Best however, he was painfully embarrassed as George would twist and turn, ‘nutmegging’ the full back and then gallop back to tease him again. Best’s performance that day was mesmerising, on an arena that resembled more of a quagmire than a football pitch, gaining credit from the Scottish press the following day.
There were 22 players on the pitch, but the vast majority seemed to be spectators, Gemmell in particular sitting on the field for much of the game. Debutants for Ireland Billy McKeag and Billy Campbell might have spent the night previous dreaming of a perfect performance, but they were merely pawns along with their teammates as Best battled with Scotland and Celtic goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson who excelled in goal, matching everything that Best could throw at him. The same could not be said of his defence however, who longed for the final whistle and the torture to end. Best would pop up everywhere, taking on defenders who tried to bring him down by any means possible but his exquisite balance shone through, all the time heading either for goal, or for Gemmell. Never has such an individual performance been witnessed, tearing apart the Scots, twisting their blood and shattering self-belief.
The goal finally came in the 67th minute. As the Scottish defence flocked to the immediate danger that was Best, he played the ball into Dave Clements in space, and he finished the move from within the penalty area. It was no more than was deserved, Simpson finally beaten after his heroics. The goal gave Billy Bingham a win in his first match as manager, a fact that has been glossed over in recent years. There was no doubt that the glory and limelight belonged to the ‘Belfast Boy’. The joy he gave the people of Northern Ireland had never been encapsulated as much as it was that day, in what has rightly become known as ‘The George Best Match’
Team: P. Jennings, W. McKeag, J. Parke, A. Stewart, T. Neill, D. Clements, W. Campbell, J. Crossan, D. Dougan, J. Nicholson, G. Best
Author: Robin Peake