Tens of thousands…

Well, it was tens rather than hundreds of thousands, according to Reuters. According to one policeman I spoke to the road from the Best house to the lights at the Newtownards Road was lined with forty thousand. Not bad, for the pig of a day it was. It was quiet and dignified demonstration of mass affection, nothing hysterical. When it passed people simply applauded, then turned and walked home. Just like a football match.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • CS Parnell

    Still a pity that some of the political demonstrations of the last 30 years had bigger crowds. Has to be an invisible sun, gives this heat to everyone…

  • A life of two halves, one could say. The dianification of Bestie didn’t quite work, maybe because we have more sense?

  • DanDaMan

    Just a few thoughts from a Northern Ireland supporter on the day we buried a legend.

    I was queueing up at around 7.30am, by that time the line had stretched from the entrance of Stormont to Castlehill Park. People were being let in gradually from around 8am, in dribs and drabs, putting paid to the idea that the gates wouldnt be open until 9am. I got in rather easily, though it did start to fill up as time passed and we got closer to 10.30 and the cortege was making its way further to Stormont.

    Throughout, the atmosphere inside was a combination of good humour, with many telling stories of Bestie, and a quiet reflection, as footage of some of his achievements were shown on a continuous highlight reel on the giant screens, to a backdrop of various songs including “Dedicated follower of fashion” which I thought was a nice touch.

    I thought the service was emotional and fittingly humorous. I didnt see too many shedding tears in the crowd, though I confess I was choked up on a few occasions, not least of all the start when Peter Corry sang “Bring Him Home” as the coffin was carried in to the Great Hall. I also felt an immense sense of pride on seeing that his coffin was draped in the green IFA flag. Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland football on a trully international map.

    For those inside Stormont, it wasnt a matter of simply applauding then going home, as we had everything relayed to us on the giant screens for upwards of four hours, the rain bringing out the umbrellas en masse rather than an immense rush for the door.

    The choice of speakers was varied, each with an individual take on Bestie. I know some were rather disgruntled that the second of the two medical staff to comment made reference to George Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the overthrowing of “evil dictator” Saddam Hussein. (Not because of political belief but because partisan politics had to be mentioned at all.) However, his overall sentiment of uniting the divided Sunni and Shi’ite sections of Iraq, in the tradition of George Best and his unification of the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland, was positively received, if not a little misguided.

    Like many others, I enjoyed Dennis Law’s comments, and my heart went out to members of the family, in holding up so well in the public eye with theirs. I did however grow tired of the multitude of young girls so obviously infatuated with a “hot as f**k” Calum Best, showing a sympathy which would hardly have been matched had he been a little ‘colder’.

    Peter Corry and Brian Kennedy did everyone proud with their various contributions, another great example of Northern Irish talent.

    Afterwards, as everyone quietly made their way home, or to the town for Christmas shopping in my case, it dawned on me how well organised the Police and security staff had been, especially considering the large numbers, and the atrocious weather.

    In the midst of Christmas shopping, I decided to try and find a sports shop that might print “Best 7” on the back of my Northern Ireland top, only to find on the third enquiry that the appropriate lettering is only available at Windsor Park, and that said shop might actually have been open [today]. Doubtful, I hurried to the ground only to be greeted by the sight of the two massive blue gates closed and locked, as I had expected. Worth a try, I thought, but on casting my eye to the right, I knew that the trip hadnt been wasted. It had temporarily left my mind that there was a massive floral tribute to Bestie outside the ground. As I approached, the tears welled up once again.

    Now that the most concentrated celebrations of his life, between death and burial, have passed us by, and following the coverage of the funeral in the Sunday papers, people will gradually begin to let go, and the local lad who became an international icon will finally rest in peace. Cheerio, Geordie. RIP

  • John East Belfast

    Each to their own Dan Da Man but by this time last week I had started to feel this had become too big a media hype with the intention of selling newspapers and Sky pictures around the world.

    Genuine people’s sadness was (including my own) but I resent being manipulated and used as a player on a stage the sole aim of which was to sell product.

    I live in East Belfast and 20 yards from where the cortege was to pass but by 8.30 am I headed south to work to get as far as way from it all as possible.

  • willowfield

    It was never going to be hundreds of thousands – that was irresponsible media hype and lies. Like the lies they told about Pele’s attendance. Shame on them.

    The funeral was magnificent in its own right – we didn’t need the nonsense about “up to half-a-million” (whatever that means).

  • esmereldavillalobos

    It’s a first! I agree with David Vance on something! Thought it was a nice service and a good send off to the man done with typical NI reserve and poise. A day to be proud of ourselves – we should reflect on this in terms of our reputation overseas. I mean even Eamonn was good!

  • martin

    I was too young to get to see George Best play live in his heyday—but as a youngster I remember he did a game with a local team of some town against another local team for a charity I can’t remember the teams but it was about 20 years after his retirement from professional soccer–and Im not sure but I think the Kelly show hosted the charity event—I watched him score a goal and he was very impressive for I guy out of training for years—does anyone else remember it or am I mistaken

  • james orr

    A well written piece. I’m usually very reticent about this sort of celebrity hype, driven by the same newspapers and tv stations who hounded Best for many years. But I went yesterday.

    The fans were superb, although I felt that the big screens and schmaltzy pop music (you know, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton, “Have I Told You Lately that I Love You” by Van Morrison etc etc) were too intrusive, and perhaps even manipulative. It was the clumsy NIO one-size-fits-all approach to event management – and not in keeping with the calm reflective mood of the crowd, who were well-behaved and quiet throughout.

    The service was mostly good – I agree with the comments about the doctor/surgeon who definitely overstepped the mark. The Pastor was bang on. His opening reference to Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” was masterful – a perfect summary of George’s paradoxical lifestyle.

    And to hear Gilnahirk Pipe Band, gathered round the Carson moument, playing “Amazing Grace” as the cortege rolled past – the message was both theological and a commentary on his footballing genius. A man who played with Amazing Grace.

    I kinda feel sorry for the begrudgers, perhaps because I’m usually in their ranks. But this was different. A man who was tortured by drink and the spotlight, blessed with ability but cursed by its baggage.

    From family members I know, I hear that Best may have had a christian conversion experience in his last weeks in Cromwell Hospital, being aware that his time was short and that he was staring death in the face. With this knowledge, I will admit to a few tears when the lone piper struck up with the melody of the Sunday School chorus “Jesus Loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” as the coffin was carried up the Stormont steps. I wonder who chose that tune? And why?

    I wish his family well, and I wonder if they will now have a chance to grieve. The funeral service was overloaded with VIPs, second rate wannabees, and tinpot politicos – which must have felt shallow and showbizzy to the family circle.

    I trust that he did indeed find real Peace before his final breath. And likewise to you all.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I agree with the points here about the media – the bandwagon jumping that went on was ridiculous. Six months ago they were all queuing up to publish all the scandal on him they could get hold of, and say what a rotten person he was; I bet if someone were to look through back issues of some of the papers idolizing Best lately, they might find calls for his liver transplant to be stopped. The crap coming from the Belfast Telegraph is worst of all, calling for the City Airport to be renamed among other things.

    I can’t help but think an awful lot of people were out yesterday because they were led by the nose, by the media – the Big Brother generation.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The Pastor was bang on.

    I was actually kind of annoyed by the way he seemed to try to use the sermon to recruit people to his religious beliefs in their time of grief. But I guess you’ll expect that from the God squad.

    I thought the best eulogy came from the first medical consultant.

  • James Orr,

    I sincerely hope the news you report is right.

  • Bemused

    What an utterly bizarre load of nonsense. Let’s give a state funeral to a wife-beating, transplanted organ-abusing drunk who happened to be good at football. This brainwave obviously came from the same bunch of bozos who keep prattling on about ‘celebrating’ the Titanic. Quote of the week has to be from some work-shy Royal Mail lard-arse who spluttered “It’s a disgrace that management aren’t giving us the day off to attend the funeral. They gave a day off on the mainland (sic) for Diana’s funeral. Don’t they realise, Bestie is our Diana?” Bizzare sight of the week has to be last night in the Potthouse nightclub where at about half eleven who waltzes in with an entourage of gormless sycophants only yes, you’ve guessed it, Calum Best! Christ! Irony of ironies.
    Really, this is about as low as the “Norn’ Iron’ is a great wee country” brigade have sunk.

  • willowfield

    Think you’ve misunderstood things, Bemused. People were commemorating Best the footballer, not a wife-beater “who happened to be good at football”.

  • George

    I thought Johnny Giles’ observation (paraphrasing here) that what he got out of the funeral was that it showed how much the people have in common with each other even though they seem to have spent most of their lives espousing their differences.

    On the media stuff, I wouldn’t blame the people of NI, I blame the media who tried to turn it into a Diana event.

    The crowd that came out is about right for Belfast’s most famous son.
    His is about the only person from that city you could name in a bar in Rio (or Barnsley for that matter) who people would have heard of.

  • iluvni

    A life of two halves, one could say. The dianification of Bestie didn’t quite work, maybe because we have more sense?

    Posted by David Vance on Dec 04, 2005 @ 12:36 AM

    Most Belfast people had more sense anyhow and saw through the media hype. No overly emotional scenes that I saw at Stormont yesterday…just Belfast people (and those from beyond) paying our respects to a great footballer from our own wee country.

    Still standing by your desciption of those in attendance as ‘total emotional retards’?

  • james orr

    So do I, so do I.

  • I’m still standing by description of you as such, iluvni, since you ask! 😉 I

    ‘m still standing by my criticism of the media, and note that it is echoed by several others here. I was pleased to see the Belfast Telegraph singled out – it deserved it.

    But as Best is laid to rest, I would merely pray for his family and trust that what James said may be correct. In the final analysis, I hope George Best is now at peace…the peace of God. (That’s it from me on this one)

  • iluvni

    Aah, I see you fail to answer the question yet again.
    Perhaps you have some shame after all.

  • Henry94

    The weather may have contributed to the dignity of it. After all if bad weather is going to prevent you going to a funeral maybe you should ask if you should have been going in the first place.

    If, what we can call, the fair-weather mourners had turned up with their cameras and their sandwiches it may have been less impressive. As it was I found what I saw of it quite moving.

    May he rest in peace.

  • DanDaMan

    I have to say that I agree on most of the points made about the over-hype from the media, though I do think that extensive converage of some nature was required. If we can agree that Bestie was one of the greatest practicioners in the history of one of the greatest sports and he came from this tiny and oft-negatively reported land, then a celebration of his life and a mourning of his passing on a grander scale should have been expected. Some of the music beforehand though was definitely a little much.

    As far as my own experience was concerned, it was precisely that, my own. I know that I wasnt led by any section of the media. I bought a few papers for posterity, but as with most fans out there, any sadness I felt was due to my own appreciation of how much he meant to me and to us. Essentially, (a partially resentful the media over-hype passed us by, we didnt need people to tell us or remind us how to react and feel. I know I speak on behalf of many when I say that, with debates over how best to honour his legacy in a more permanent fashion (a statue etc) aside, we should let the man rest in peace, allowing the same quiet reflection present at Stormont and beyond on Saturday 03/12/05 to reign supreme.

  • Jo

    Its a pity that even a event like this couldn’t generate a completely unanimous response, but then you cannot satisfy those who cant be satisfied. Such is the venom reserved for our local media, whose 30 pieces of silver some arch-critic are only too happy to accept for appearances on 7 days and Hearts and Minds. I made the point elsewhere that thousands didnt get up from their beds on one of the nastiest mornings of the year because of the media.

    I doubt that any of them would appreciate being called “retards” – especially the man I saw with his Downs Syndrome child, making his way home in the rain afterwards…there are a number of words I could use, but I’ll stick with iluvni’s “shameful.”

  • Full marks to the Pastor for his short but excellent sermon. He said what needed to be said and will never have a better pulpit from which to say it. I can think of many CoE clerics who would have wasted the opportunity to preach the Gospel.

    I’m pleased to read that George may have come to Christ on his deathbed. Like James Orr, I was also moved by the piper playing “Yes, Jesus Loves Me”.

    Did anyone else hear on Sky a story that Ian Paisley visited him recently in hospital?

  • james orr

    Watchman – I heard the same, but not on TV. I expect we will never know what took place.

    As a soundtrack on the day, the organisers really should have played the Elvis version of “Long Black Limousine”:

    There’s a long line of mourners, driving down our street
    Their fancy cars are such a sight to see
    They’re all your rich friends who knew you in the city
    And now they’ve finally brought you home to me

    When you left you know you told me that some day you’d be returning
    In a fancy car, all the town to see
    Well now everyone is watching you, you’ve finally had your dream
    And you’re riding in a long black limousine

    You know the papers told of how you lost your life
    The party and the fatal crash that night
    The race up on the highway, the curve you didn’t see
    Now you’re riding in that long black limousine

    Through tear-filled eyes I’ll watch as you ride by
    A chauffeur at the wheel dressed up so fine
    Well I’ll never love another – all my heart, all my dreams
    They’re with you in that long black limousine
    They’re with you in that long black limousine

    J ;-(