Football legend George Best today made his final journey though the streets of his home city in an extraordinary funeral for an extraordinary man.
The Manchester United and Northern Ireland icon’s remarkable life, which took him from Belfast’s working class Cregagh estate to the theatre of dreams, Old Trafford, was celebrated by about 300 family and friends in an emotional ceremony at Stormont’s Parliament Buildings.
But it was also shared publicly by 32,000 people who packed into the Stormont estate and thousands of others who lined the streets of Belfast to pay their last respects.
Fans from all corners of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe and around the world paid their own tribute to the football genius, applauding the funeral cortege one more time as the coffin made its way from the Stormont estate to Roselawn Cemetery for a private family ceremony.
A piper played Amazing Grace while admirers threw scarves and flowers at the cortege as it left the Stormont estate.
Undoubtedly the most touching tribute at Stormont came in the form of a poem read by George Best’s 24-year-old son Calum during the funeral ceremony.
Written by Belfast woman Julie McClelland, the poem read by a tearful Calum said: “Farewell our friend, but not goodbye, Your time has come, your soul must fly. To dance with angels, find the sun, But how we’ll miss our special one.”
There were also emotional tributes from George Best’s sister Barbara McNarry, his friend and Manchester United teammate Denis Law, and the medical staff who treated him in London’s Cromwell Hospital as he fought his final illness.
Among the mourners were Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, Minister of Sport John O’Donoghue and many Northern politicians including Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, Democratic Unionist deputy leader Peter Robinson and his wife Iris and the Progressive Unionist leader, David Ervine.
From the world of sport, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, boxers Barry McGuigan and Dave McAuley and former world snooker champions, Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor attended.
Former Northern Ireland team-mates Gerry Armstrong, Derek Dougan, Pat Jennings, former Celtic boss Martin O’Neill, Billy Hamilton, Alan McDonald, current international squad manager Lawrie Sanchez and Best’s former manager Billy Bingham were among the mourners.
Best’s Manchester United team-mates Harry Gregg and Paddy Crerand smiled as Denis Law recalled their close friendship during his contribution to the funeral.
From the world of entertainment, another famous east Belfast son Van Morrison and Hollywood actor Mickey Rourke sent floral tributes.
The Duke of York also sent white roses, bearing the tribute: “An inspirational footballer from Northern Ireland whose skills captured the imagination of fans from around the world.”
However as he embarked on his last journey through Belfast to Roselawn Cemetery where he will be buried alongside his mother Ann, the focus of the ceremony switched to the Best family circle.
Calum’s mother, and George’s first wife, Angie, touched the coffin as it left the marble Great Hall of Parliament Buildings.
His second wife, Alex also paid her last respects.