By Evie Andreou
Fans of football legend George Best were amazed – and sceptical – on Tuesday to read reports that he was in fact the love child of a Greek Cypriot woman and a Turkish Cypriot man 70 years ago.
First published by the Turkish Cypriot paper Kibris, the article cited what it called reliable sources claiming that Best was the child of a Turkish Cypriot man from Lefke, and of a Greek Cypriot girl from Limassol who was 16 at the time, but he was given up for adoption after his birth in 1946.
The tale of forbidden love, the paper said, was well known among residents of Lefke.
The Kibris journalist who wrote the story, Serhat Incirli, told the Cyprus Mail that the information reached him after a joke he made on-camera about George Best playing football on a now derelict stadium in the north.
“It all began on Monday when my story on a football stadium in Lysi was aired on Kibris TV,” Incirli said. He added that that specific stadium was one of the only three stadiums on the island before 1974 – the other two were in Kyrenia and Morphou – and the only one where night matches were being played because it had lighting.
“I was talking about the sorry state the stadium is in today and I joked that George Best and Gordon Banks played on this ground,” he said. “After I made this comment, I received several messages on Facebook from people in Lefke telling me that George Best was in fact Cypriot”. Incirli said that he would not reveal the names of his informants.
“Best, according to my sources, had a Turkish Cypriot father and a Greek Cypriot mother. She was 16 at the time. Neither one of the young couple’s families wanted a marriage so they sent the girl to the UK were she gave birth, and the baby was given up for adoption,” Incirli said.
In his article he mentions that Best’s alleged biological father, who passed away, was a member of a well-known Turkish Cypriot family from Lefke. It also says that Best himself had travelled to Lefke to meet him.
But on Best’s birth certificate, published by the Daily Mail earlier in the year in relation to another story about the famous footballer, his parents are listed as Richard and Annie Best. According to the birth cert, Best was born in Belfast on May 22, 1946, and registered as Ronald Samuel Best, however, a further entry on the certificate changes his name to George without explanation.
“Under the heading ‘baptismal name if added after registration of birth and date’, the registrar has penned: ‘George (on form for altering name) 6th June 1946,” the Daily Mail wrote.
The surviving family of the footballer, who had five siblings, said they are unaware why his name was changed, with his deceased parents thought to be the only people who knew. Best died in 2005 at the age of 59 from multiple organ failure after a kidney infection.
Norman McNarry, the husband of Best’s sister Barbara, told the Daily Mail that his wife didn’t have a clue about the name change on the birth certificate and that she didn’t think anyone could explain how it happened.
‘It’s a grey area as far as we’re concerned. We can only assume that it was a misprint, or that a mistake has been made and later rectified. Maybe the registrar of births got it slightly wrong and changed it after Barbara’s dad pointed it out and said he was called George,” McNarry had said.
Best, Incirli said, liked to holiday in Cyprus.
In November 2001, the footballer was rushed to a private clinic while on holiday in Limassol, with a stomach virus. The former Manchester United player, at the time 55, had been dogged by alcohol- related problems for years and was told that another drink would kill him. But his attending doctor, cardiologist Andreas Stylianides, had said then that his condition was neither serious nor drink-related at the time.
A few months before the episode, Best was rushed to hospital after collapsing with severe liver damage and doctors told him that one more drink could kill him.
Some 80 per cent of his liver has been destroyed by heavy drinking over the last 30 years.
A marvel at 16, Best was famous for his dribbling skills and scored some memorable goals for Manchester United.
In 1968, he was voted European Footballer of the Year. He retired from the game at 26, before making a brief come back for Fulham. He also made 37 appearances for Northern Ireland. After retirement, he also worked as a pundit for Sky TV.
Following his death, in Belfast, the airport was renamed George Best Belfast City Airport in his honour.