Category Archives: Pride of Belfast

Alex Higgins – The People’s Champion

Alex Higgins

18 March 1949 – 24 July 2010

Like many Belfast and Northern Ireland people Alex Higgins was a hero of mine and as a teenager I remember watching the Hurricane win the world championship in 1982 and becoming the pride of Ulster and a national treasure.

I was lucky to meet him on a few occasions, my dad and his brothers use to hang about with him in the Jampot in Sandy Row and when my grandmother died he came to the wake and drank us all under the table.

Sadly his antics away from the table made uncomfortable viewing and I watch with a heavy heart as he stumbled from one calamity to another and eventually he  faded away from the game and spent his later life drinking and gambling and was a common sight in The Crown Bar and betting shops in Belfast City Centre. 

Cancer finally took him off this mortal coil and the Hurricane  run out of steam. But he was and remains The Pride  of Belfast

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Alexander Gordon “Alex” Higgins (18 March 1949 – 24 July 2010)[6] was a Northern Irish professional snooker player, who is remembered as one of the most iconic figures in the game. Nicknamed Hurricane Higgins because of his fast play,[7] he was World Champion in 1972 and 1982, and runner-up in 1976 and 1980. He won the UK Championship in 1983 and the Masters in 1978 and 1981, making him one of ten players to have completed snooker’s Triple Crown. He was also World Doubles champion with Jimmy White in 1984, and won the World Cup three times with the All Ireland team.

Higgins came to be known as the “People’s Champion” because of his popularity,[8] and is often credited with having brought the game of snooker to a wider audience, contributing to its peak in popularity in the 1980s.[9] He had a reputation as an unpredictable and difficult character.[10] He was a heavy smoker,[11] struggled with drinking and gambling,[9][12] and admitted to using cocaine and marijuana.[7] First diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998,[13] Higgins died of multiple causes in his Belfast home on 24 July 2010.

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Alex Higgins BBC Documentary – The People’s Champion

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Life and career

Early life

Higgins (right) with David Taylor at an exhibition at Queen’s University Belfast, 1968

Alex Higgins was born in Belfast[14] and had three sisters.[13] He started playing snooker at the age of 11,[15] often in the Jampot club in his native Sandy Row area of south Belfast and later in the YMCA in the nearby city centre. At age 14 and weighing seven and a half stone (47.6 kg), he left for England and a career as a jockey.[16] However, he never made the grade because, in his youth, he drank a lot of Guinness and ate a lot of chocolate, making him too heavy to ride competitively.[17] He returned to Belfast and by 1965, aged 16, he had compiled his first maximum break.[15] In 1968 he won the All-Ireland and Northern Ireland Amateur Snooker Championships.[14]

World titles

Higgins turned professional at the age of 22, winning the World Championship at his first attempt in 1972, against John Spencer winning 37–32.[18] Higgins was then the youngest ever winner of the title, a record retained until Stephen Hendry‘s 1990 victory at the age of 21.[19] In April 1976, Higgins reached the final again and faced Ray Reardon. Higgins led 11–9, but Reardon made four centuries and seven breaks over 60 to pull away and win the title for the fifth time with the score of 27–16. Higgins was also the runner-up to Cliff Thorburn in 1980, losing 18–16, after being 9–5 up. Higgins won the world title for a second time in 1982 after beating Reardon 18–15 (with a 135 total clearance in the final frame); it was an emotional as well as professional victory for him. Higgins would have been ranked No. 1 in the world rankings for the 1982/83 season had he not forfeited ranking points following disciplinary action.[20][21]

Other victories

Throughout his career, Higgins won 20 other titles, one of the most notable being the 1983 UK Championship. In the final he trailed Steve Davis 0–7 before producing a famous comeback to win 16–15.[22] He also won the Masters twice, in 1978 and in 1981, beating Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths in the finals respectively.[23] Another notable victory was his final professional triumph in the 1989 Irish Masters at the age of 40 when he defeated a young Stephen Hendry.

Post-retiremen

After his retirement from the professional game, Higgins spent time playing for small sums of money in and around Northern Ireland. He made appearances in the 2005 and 2006 Irish Professional Championship, these comebacks ending in first-round defeats by Garry Hardiman and Joe Delaney respectively.

On 12 June 2007, it was reported that Higgins had assaulted a referee at a charity match in the north-east of England.[24] Higgins returned to competitive action in September 2007 at the Irish Professional Championship in Dublin but was whitewashed 0–5 by former British Open champion Fergal O’Brien in the first round at the Spawell Club, Templelogue.[25]

Higgins continued to play fairly regularly, and enjoyed “hustling” all comers for small-time stakes in clubs in Northern Ireland and beyond; in May 2009 he entered the Northern Ireland Amateur Championship, “to give it a crack”,[26] but failed to appear for his match.

On 8 April 2010, Higgins was part of the debut Snooker Legends Tour event in Sheffield, at the Crucible, checking himself out of hospital two days before the event, after having been admitted with pneumonia and breathing problems.[27] Appearing alongside other retired or close-to-retiring professionals, including John Parrott, Jimmy White, John Virgo and Cliff Thorburn, he faced Thorburn in his match, but lost 2–0.[28]

It is estimated that Higgins earned and spent £3–4 million in his career as a snooker player.[29][30]

Playing style

 

Higgins’s speed around the table, his ability to pot balls at a rapid rate and flamboyant style earned him the nickname “Hurricane Higgins” and made him a very high-profile player. His highly unusual cueing technique sometimes included a body swerve and movement, as well as a stance that was noticeably higher than that of most professionals.

The unorthodox play of Higgins was encapsulated in his break of 69, made under unusual pressure, against Jimmy White in the penultimate frame of their World Professional Snooker Championship semi-final in 1982. Higgins was 0–59 down in that frame, but managed to compile an extremely challenging clearance during which he was scarcely in position until the colours. In particular, former world champion Dennis Taylor considers a three-quarter-ball pot on a blue into the green pocket especially memorable, not only for its extreme degree of difficulty but for enabling Higgins to continue the break and keep White off the table and unable to clinch victory at that moment. In potting the blue, Higgins screwed the cue-ball on to the side cushion to bring it back towards the black/pink area with extreme left-hand sidespin, a shot Taylor believes could be played 100 times without coming close to the position Higgins reached with cue-ball. He went a little too far for ideal position on his next red but the match-saving break was still alive.[31][citation needed]

Higgins drank alcohol and smoked during tournaments, as did many of his contemporaries. A volatile personality got him into frequent fights and arguments, both on and off the snooker table. One of the most serious of these clashes was when he head-butted a referee at the UK championship in 1986. This led to his being fined £12,000 and banned from five tournaments.[32] He was convicted of assault and criminal damage, and fined £250 by a court.[33] Another came at the 1990 World Championship; after losing his first-round match to Steve James, he punched tournament official Colin Randle in the abdomen, before the start of a press conference at which he announced his retirement. This, added to his having threatened to have fellow player and compatriot Dennis Taylor shot, led to a ban for the whole of the following season.[34]

Outside snooker

At the time of his 1972 triumph at the World Championship, Higgins had no permanent home and by his own account had recently lived in a row of abandoned houses in Blackburn which were awaiting demolition. In one week he had moved into five different houses on the same street, moving down one every time his current dwelling was demolished.[35]

In 1975, Higgins’ son Chris Delahunty was born.[17] Higgins’s first marriage was to Australian[17] Cara Hasler in April 1975 in Sydney. They had a daughter Christel[12] and divorced. His second marriage was to Lynn Avison in 1980 at a United Reformed Church.[16] They had a daughter Lauren (born late 1980)[36] and son Jordan (born March 1983).[13][37][38][39] They split in 1985[33] and divorced. In the same year, Higgins began a relationship with Siobhan Kidd, which ended in 1989 after he allegedly hit her with a hairdryer.[40]

He had a long and enduring friendship with Oliver Reed and was a good friend of John Sykes, with whom he often played exhibition matches.[41]

While not normally noted for his philanthropy, in 1983 Higgins helped a young boy from the Manchester area, a fan of his who had been in a coma for two months. His parents were growing desperate and wrote to Higgins. He recorded his voice on a tape and sent it to the boy with his best wishes. He later visited the boy in hospital, unannounced, and promised that if the boy recovered they would play snooker together. True to his word, once the boy was out, the match was held.[42]

In 1996, Higgins was convicted of assaulting a 14-year-old boy,[30] while in 1997 then-girlfriend Holly Haise stabbed him three times during a domestic argument.[33] He published his autobiography, From the Eye of the Hurricane: My Story, in 2007.[43] Higgins appeared in the Sporting Stars edition of the British television quiz The Weakest Link on 25 July 2009.[44]

Illness and death

For many years, Higgins smoked 60 cigarettes a day.[17] He had cancerous growths removed from his mouth in 1994 and 1996.[45] In June 1998, he was found to have throat cancer;[13] on 13 October of that year, he had major surgery.[46]

By 2009, Higgins lived alone in a caravan.[30] In spring 2010, he contracted pneumonia.[39] In April 2010 Higgins’s friends announced that they had set up a campaign to help raise the £20,000 he needed for teeth implants, to enable him to eat properly again and put on weight. Higgins had lost his teeth after intensive radiotherapy used to treat his throat cancer. It was reported that since losing them he had been living on liquid food, and had become increasingly depressed, even contemplating suicide.[47] He was too ill to have the implants fitted.[48] Despite his illness he continued to smoke cigarettes and drink heavily until the end of his life.[49]

At the end of his life, Higgins’ weight fell to 6 stone (38 kilograms).[30] He lived in sheltered housing on the Donegall Road, Belfast.[39] Despite having once been worth £4 million, he was bankrupt and survived on a £200-a-week disability allowance.[47] He was found dead in bed in his flat on 24 July 2010.[6][14][38] The cause of death was a combination of malnutrition, pneumonia, a bronchial condition and throat cancer.[50] His children survive him.[51]

Higgins’ funeral service was held in Belfast on 2 August 2010. He was cremated, and his ashes were interred in Carnmoney Cemetery in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.

Legacy

Higgins was inducted into the Snooker Hall of Fame in 2011.

Alex Higgins was an inspiration to many subsequent professional snooker players, including Ken Doherty, Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan, who in an interview stated “Alex was an inspiration to players like Jimmy White and thousands of snooker players all over the country, including me. The way he played at his best is the way I believe the game should be played. It was on the edge, keeping the crowd entertained and glued to the action.”[52]

In Clive Everton‘s TV documentary The Story of Snooker (2002), Steve Davis described Higgins as the “one true genius that snooker has produced”,[53] despite the autobiography of a contemporary leading professional Willie Thorne characterising Higgins as “not a great player”.[54] Higgins arguably fulfilled his potential only intermittently during his career peak in the 1970s and ’80s; Everton puts this down to Davis and Ray Reardon generally being too consistent for him.[55]

Regardless, Higgins’ exciting style and explosive persona helped make snooker a growing television sport in the 1970s and 1980s. Higgins also made the first 16-red clearance (in a challenge match in 1976); it was a break of 146 (with the brown as the first “red”, and sixteen colours: 1 green, 5 pinks and 10 blacks).[56]

Performance timeline

Tournament 1971/
72
1972/
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UK Championship NH NH NH NH NH NH SF SF QF F QF F W F 2R SF 2R 1R 1R A LQ LQ LQ 2R LQ LQ LQ
The Masters NH NH NH QF QF SF W F F W SF 1R QF QF 1R F QF A WR A LQ LQ LQ A LQ A A
World Championship W SF QF SF F 1R 1R QF F 2R W SF 1R 2R 2R 2R 1R LQ 1R A LQ LQ 1R LQ LQ LQ A
Performance Table Legend
LQ lost in qualifying draw #R lost in the early rounds of the tournament
(WR = Wildcard round)
QF advanced to but not past the quarterfinals SF advanced to but not past the semi-finals
F advanced to the final, tournament runner-up W won the tournament
NH event was not held A did not participate in the tournament

Career finals[edit]

Ranking event finals: 6 (1 title, 5 runner-ups)[edit]

Legend
World Championship (1–2)
UK Championship (0–1)
Other (0–2)
Outcome No. Year Championship Opponent in the final Score
Runner-up 1. 1976 World Championship Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 16–27
Runner-up 2. 1980 World Championship Canada Thorburn, CliffCliff Thorburn 16–18
Winner 1. 1982 World Championship Wales Reardon, RayRay Reardon 18–15
Runner-up 3. 1984 UK Championship England Davis, SteveSteve Davis 8–16
Runner-up 4. 1988 Grand Prix England Davis, SteveSteve Davis 6–10
Runner-up 5. 1990 British Open Canada Chaperon, BobBob Chaperon 8–10

Tournament wins

Ranking wins:(1)

Non-ranking wins: (23)[edit]

Team wins

Pro-Am wins

  • Pontin’s Spring Open[60]

Amateur wins

  • All Ireland Amateur Championship – 1968[61]
  • Northern Ireland Amateur Championship – 1968[58]

 

 

George Best – 22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005

George Best

22 May 1946 –  25 November 2005

PicMonkey Collage

George Best (22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005) was a Northern Irish footballer who played as a winger for Manchester United and the Northern Ireland national team. In 1968 he won the European Cup with United, and was named the European Footballer of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year. He is described by the Irish Football Association as the

“greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland”

George Best: Top 10 Goals

Born and brought up in Belfast, Best began his club career in England with Manchester United, with the scout who had spotted his talent at the age of 15 sending a telegram to manager Matt Busby which read: “I think I’ve found you a genius.” He went on to see success with United, scoring 179 goals from 470 appearances over 11 years, and was the club’s top goalscorer in the league for five consecutive seasons.

One of the greatest dribblers of all time, his playing style combined pace, skill, balance, feints, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to beat defenders.

Best unexpectedly quit United relatively early in 1974 at age 27, but returned to football for a number of clubs around the world in short spells, until finally retiring in 1983, age 37. In international football, he was an automatic choice when fit, being capped 37 times and scoring nine goals from 1964 to 1977, although a combination of the team’s performance and his lack of fitness in 1982 never allowed his talent to be displayed in the finals of a European Championship or World Cup.

Such was Best’s talent and charisma that he became one of the first celebrity footballers, earning the nickname “El Beatle“, but his subsequent extravagant lifestyle led to various problems, most notably alcoholism, which he suffered from for the rest of his life. These problems affected him on and off the field throughout his career, at times causing controversy.

Image result for "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars – the rest I just squandered".

He often said of his career that:

“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars – the rest I just squandered”.

After football he spent some time as a pundit, but his financial and health problems continued into his retirement. He died in 2005, age 59, due to complications from the immunosuppressive drugs he needed to take after being controversially granted an NHS liver transplant in 2002.

Best was married twice, to two former models, Angie Best and then Alex Best. His son Calum Best was born in 1981 from his first marriage.

Image result for Calum Best.

 

 

Before he died, Best was voted 16th in the IFFHS World Player of the Century election in 1999 and was one of the inaugural 22 inductees into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002; in 2004 he was also voted 19th in the public UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll and was named in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players. Former Brazilian footballer Pelé, considered by many as the world’s greatest, admired Best, stating,

“George Best was the greatest player in the world”, later adding that Best was “an unbelievable player.”

 

Best was once quoted as saying, “Pelé called me the greatest footballer in the world. That is the ultimate salute to my life.” After his death, on what would have been his 60th birthday, Belfast City Airport was renamed the George Best Belfast City Airport. According to the BBC, Best was remembered by mourners at his public funeral held in Belfast as “the beautiful boy” [with a] “beautiful game”.

Early years and family

Football George Best Early Life

 

George Best was the first child of Dickie Best (1919–2008) and Anne Best (née Withers; 1922–1978). He grew up in Cregagh, east Belfast. Best was brought up in the Free Presbyterian faith. His father was a member of the Orange Order and as a boy George carried the strings of the banner in his local Cregagh lodge. In his autobiography, Best mentioned how important the order was to his family.

Best had four sisters, Carol, Barbara, Julie and Grace, and one brother, Ian (Ian Busby Best). Best’s father died on 16 April 2008, at the age of 88, in the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Northern Ireland.

Best’s mother Anne died from alcoholism-related cardiovascular disease  in 1978, at the age of 55.

 

In 1957, at the age of 11, the academically gifted Best passed the 11 plus and went to Grosvenor High School, but he soon played truant as the school specialised in rugby. Best then moved to Lisnasharragh Secondary School, reuniting him with friends from primary school and allowing him to focus on football. He grew up supporting Glentoran and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Club career

Manchester United

There’s Only One George Best

At the age of 15, Best was discovered in Belfast by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop, whose telegram to United manager Matt Busby read:

 

Image result for Matt Busby and george best

 “I think I’ve found you a genius.”

His local club Glentoran had previously rejected him for being “too small and light”.

Best was subsequently given a trial and signed up by United’s chief scout Joe Armstrong. His first time moving to the club, Best quickly became homesick and stayed for only two days before going back home to Northern Ireland.

He returned to Manchester and spent two years as an amateur, as English clubs were not allowed to take Northern Irish players on as apprentices. He was given a job as an errand boy on the Manchester Ship Canal, allowing him to train with the club twice a week.

Best made his First Division debut, aged 17, on 14 September 1963 against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford in a 1–0 victory. He then dropped back into the reserves, before scoring his first goal for the first team in his second appearance in a 5–1 win over Burnley on 28 December.

Manager Matt Busby then kept Best in the team, and by the end of the 1963–64 season, he had made 26 appearances, scoring six goals. Manchester United finished second, four points behind Liverpool. They also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, where a defeat to West Ham United cost Best the chance to break a record; in the final Preston North End‘s Howard Kendall became the youngest ever player in a FA Cup Final – he shared the same birthday as Best.

That same season, Best was a part of the Manchester United side that won the 1964 FA Youth Cup, the sixth FA Youth Cup won under the management of Jimmy Murphy, and the first since the 1958 Munich air disaster.

The United Trinity statue of Best (left), Denis Law (centre) and Bobby Charlton (right) outside Old Trafford

 

Though opponents would often use rough play to try to stifle his technical ability, Busby ensured that “fierce, sometimes brutal” training sessions left Best well used to coping with tough challenges.  In the 1964–65 season, his first full season as a first team regular, Best helped Manchester United to claim the league title.

A 1–0 victory at Elland Road proved decisive as the title race came down to goal average between the “Red Devils” and bitter rivals Leeds United; Leeds did manage to gain some measure of revenge though by knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage. Over the course of the campaign Best contributed 14 goals in 59 competitive games.

Image result for george best

He scored the opening goal of the 1965 FA Charity Shield at Old Trafford, which ended in a 2–2 draw with Liverpool.

The rising star of English football, Best was catapulted to superstar status at the age of 19 when he scored two goals in a European Cup quarter-final match against Benfica at the Estádio da Luz on 9 March 1966.The Portuguese media dubbed him “O Quinto Beatle“, “the fifth Beatle” in English, and on the team’s return to England Best was photographed in his new sombrero with the headline, “El Beatle”.

His talent and showmanship made him a crowd and media favourite, and he went from being headline news in the back pages to the front pages. Other nicknames included the “Belfast Boy”, and he was often referred to as Georgie, or Geordie in his native Belfast. However United failed to win any major honours in the 1965–66 season, and Best was injured from 26 March onwards with a twisted knee following a bad tackle from a Preston North End player.

However United staff claimed it was light ligament damage so as to keep Best on the field for the rest of the campaign . He had little faith in the United medical staff, and so he secretly saw Glentoran’s physiotherapist, who readjusted his ligaments in a painful procedure.

His last game of the season, his knee strapped-up, came on 13 April, and ended in a 2–0 defeat to Partizan Belgrade at Partizan Stadium.

The 1966–67 season was again successful, as Manchester United claimed the league title by four points. Best stated that:

“if the championship was decided on home games we would win it every season. This time our away games made the difference. We got into the right frame of mind.”

An ever-present all season long, he scored ten goals in 45 games. He then helped the “Red Devils” to share the Charity Shield with a 3–3 draw with FA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur; it was the first game to be broadcast in colour on British television.

Best scored twice against rivals Liverpool in a 2–0 win at Anfield, and also claimed a hat-trick over Newcastle United in a 6–0 home win on the penultimate league game of the season. However a home defeat to hated local rivals Manchester City proved costly, as City claimed the league title with a two-point lead over United. Yet the 1967–68 season would be remembered by United fans for the European Cup win.

After disposing of Maltese Hibernians, United advanced past Yugoslavian Sarajevo with a 2–1 home win – Best assisted John Aston for the first and scored the second himself, and was described as Geoffrey Green of The Times as “the centrepiece of the chessboard … a player full of fantasy; a player who lent magic to what might have been whimsy”.

In the quarter-finals United advanced past Polish club Górnik Zabrze 2–1 on aggregate, having held on to their aggregate lead in freezing temperatures in front of 105,000 at Silesian Stadium; despite losing the away tie 1–0, Best described the defeat as:

“one of our best-ever performances, given all the unwelcome circumstances”

Facing six times champions Real Madrid in the semi-finals, Best scored the only goal of the home fixture with a 15-yard strike that Alex Stepney described as one of Best’s finest goals.  In the tie at the Bernabéu, Best was marked effectively by Manuel Sanchís Martínez, but on the one time Best got the better of him he made a telling cross to Bill Foulkes, who calmly found the net to level the game at 3–3 and to win the aggregate tie 4–3.

Image result for george best FWA Footballer of the Year

Days after returning to England, as the First Division’s joint top-scorer (level on 28 goals with Southampton‘s Ron Davies) Best was presented with the FWA Footballer of the Year award, becoming the youngest ever recipient of the award.  Facing United in the European Cup Final at Wembley were Benfica; whilst his teammates rested, Best found “a novel way to relax” before the big game by sleeping with “a particular young lady called Sue”

The game went into extra-time, and just three minutes into extra-time Best went on a mazy run and beat goalkeeper José Henrique with a dummy, before rolling the ball into the net; two further goals from Brian Kidd and Bobby Charlton settled the tie at 4–1.

The victory was not only the pinnacle of Best’s career, but arguably Manchester United’s greatest achievement, considering the Munich air disaster had wiped out most of the Busby Babes just ten years previously.

Best also won the Ballon d’Or in 1968 after receiving more votes than Bobby Charlton, Dragan Džajić and Franz Beckenbauer. This meant that he had won the three major honours in club football at the age of just 22 (the league title, European Cup, and European Player of the Year award). After this, his steady decline began.

“It seems impossible to hurt him. All manner of men have tried to intimidate him. Best merely glides along, riding tackles and brushing giants aside like leaves.”

 

Image result for Joe Mercer
Joe Mercer, Manchester City manager, 1969.

The ‘holy trinity‘ of Best, Law and Charlton remained effective as ever in the 1968–69 campaign. However the club’s new recruits were not up to scratch, as United dropped to 11th in the league before Busby announced his retirement. Best later said that:

“I increasingly had the feeling that I was carrying the team at times on the pitch.”

He scored 22 goals in 55 games, though only he and Denis Law scored more than six league goals. In the Intercontinental Cup, fans and players alike looked forward to seeing United take on Argentine opposition Estudiantes de La Plata over the course of two legs. However Best said “no one tackled harder or dirtier than this Argentinian team” as a 1–0 defeat at the Estadio Camilo Cichero was followed by a 1–1 draw at Old Trafford.

In the home tie, Best was kicked and spat on by José Hugo Medina, and both players were sent off after Best reacted with a punch.

Despite their poor league form, United managed to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup (they had a relatively easy run in getting past Ireland‘s Waterford United, Belgium‘s Anderlecht, and Austria‘s Rapid Wien) where they were knocked out 2–1 on aggregate by A.C. Milan following a 2–0 defeat at the San Siro; Milan goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini was the hero after keeping United to only one goal at Old Trafford.

“It’s been a joke on the circuit ever since. You know, I’m on one side of the street, George Best is on the other. He nods to me and I dive under a bus.”

 

— Northampton goalkeeper Kim Book laughs about the jibes he has faced since being fooled by Best’s feint in the 1970 FA Cup game against Manchester United.

United improved slightly under new boss Wilf McGuinness, but still only managed an eighth-place finish in the 1969–70 season. Best hit 23 goals, including an FA Cup record six goals in an 8–2 win over Northampton Town in a mud-bath at the County Ground on 7 February 1970.

Best’s sixth goal saw him go one on one with Northampton goalkeeper Kim Book. Best made a feint to go right which put Book on his backside, before he went left and walked the ball into the net.

Of the goal Book said:

“I remember thinking George was going to go one way, but he dropped his shoulder and went the other, and by then I was already on the deck. He was just too good for me.”

Best’s six goal performance earned him an invitation to No 10 Downing Street from UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had also regularly written fan letters to him.[47] In 2002 the British public voted Best’s record breaking performance #26 in the list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.

Image result for george best scoring at half time

Busby returned as manager in December 1970, though the 1970–71 season also ended without a trophy. Best began to get into trouble with his discipline: he was fined by the Football Association for receiving three yellow cards for misconduct, and he was suspended by United for two weeks after missing his train to Stamford Bridge so as to spend a weekend with actress Sinéad Cusack.

New manager Frank O’Farrell led United to an eighth-place finish in 1971–72. Highlights for Best included hat-tricks against West Ham United and Southampton, as well as a goal against Sheffield United that came after he beat four defenders in a mazy run.

However he was also sent off against Chelsea, was the subject of death threats, and failed to turn up for training for a whole week in January as he instead spent his time with Miss Great Britain 1971, Carolyn Moore.

this is your life.JPG

Click here to watch

 

On 17 November, he was the subject of Eamonn Andrews‘s This Is Your Life when he was surprised at a central London restaurant. He would be the subject for a second time in 2003 when Michael Aspel surprised him at Teddington Studios. With 27 goals in 54 appearances, Best finished as the club’s top-scorer for the sixth – and final – consecutive season. Best then announced his retirement from football, but nevertheless turned up for pre-season training, and continued to play.

United’s decline continued in the 1972–73 season, as Best was part of the ‘old guard clique’ that barely talked to the newer, less talented players. Frustrated with the club’s decline, Best went missing in December to party at the London nightclubs.

He was suspended, and transfer-listed at a value of £300,000. After O’Farrell was replaced as manager by Tommy Docherty, Best announced his retirement for a second time.

He resumed training on 27 April.

Image result for george best queens park rangers

Best’s last competitive game for the club was on 1 January 1974 against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, which United lost 3–0.

He failed to turn up for training three days later and was dropped by Docherty, though he claimed Docherty was deceitful with him.

Best was arrested and charged with stealing a fur coat, passport, and cheque book from Marjorie Wallace, but was later cleared of all charges. United went on to suffer relegation into the Second Division in 1973–74.

Best played at United when shirt numbers were assigned to positions, and not the player. When Best played at right wing, as he famously did during the later stages of the 1966 and 1968 European Cups, he donned the number 7. As a left winger, where he played exclusively in his debut season and nearly all of the 1971–72 campaign, he wore the number 11. Best wore the number 8 shirt at inside right on occasion throughout the 1960s, but for more than half of his matches during 1970–71.

He was playing at inside left (wearing the number 10) in 1972 when he famously walked out on United the first time but was back in the number 11 for the autumn of 1973 before leaving for good. Best even wore the number 9 jersey once for United, with Bobby Charlton injured, on 22 March 1969 at Old Trafford, scoring the only goal in a 1–0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.

In total Best made 470 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions from 1963 to 1974, and scored 179 goals. Over the next decade he went into an increasingly rapid decline, drifting between several clubs, including spells in South Africa, Ireland, the United States, Scotland, and Australia.

Later years

Best in 1976.

 

Playing only five competitive matches for Jewish Guild in South Africa, Best endured criticism for missing several training sessions. During his short time there, he was the main draw attracting thousands of spectators to the matches.

Best had a brief spell at Cork Celtic in December 1975 and January 1976. He made his League of Ireland debut against Drogheda United at Flower Lodge on 28 December. He played only three league games, the others against Bohemians and Shelbourne, but despite attracting big crowds he failed to score or impress. Being on a rolling contract with Cork his failure to show for a game saw him being dropped and subsequently leaving the club.

He had a brief resurgence in form with Second Division club Fulham in 1976–77, showing that, although he had lost some of his pace, he retained his skills. His time with the “Cottagers” is particularly remembered for a match against Hereford United on 25 September 1976 in which he tackled his own teammate, and old drinking mate, Rodney Marsh. Best stated later in life that he enjoyed his time most while at Craven Cottage, despite not winning any honours.

Best played for three clubs in the United States: Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and later San Jose Earthquakes; he also played for the Detroit Express on a European tour. Best revelled in the anonymity the United States afforded him after England and was a success on the field, scoring 15 goals in 24 games in his first season with the Aztecs and named as the NASL’s best midfielder in his second.

He and manager Ken Adam opened “Bestie’s Beach Club” (now called “The Underground” after the London subway system) in Hermosa Beach, California in the 1970s, and continued to operate it until the 1990s.

Best caused a stir when he returned to the UK to play for the Scottish club Hibernian.

The club was suffering a decline in fortunes and was heading for relegation from the Premier Division, before Best was signed on a “pay per play” basis after the club chairman, Tom Hart, received a tip-off from an Edinburgh Evening News reporter that he was available.

Even though Best failed to save Hibs from relegation, gates increased dramatically, and the attendance quadrupled for his first match at Easter Road.

One infamous incident saw Best initially sacked by Hibs after he went on a massive drinking session with the French rugby team, who were in Edinburgh to play Scotland.

He was brought back a week later. In August 1982, he played 20 minutes for Scone Thistle against Scone Amateurs; the appearance fee he received helped to pay off an income tax bill.

Best in 1982.

 

He returned to the USA to play for the San Jose Earthquakes in what was officially described as a “loan”, though he only managed a handful of appearances for Hibs in the First Division in the following season.

Image result for Jackie McNamara, Sr.

He returned one last time to Easter Road in 1984, for Jackie McNamara’s testimonial match against Newcastle United.

In his third season in the States, Best scored once in 12 appearances. His moves to Fort Lauderdale and San Jose were also unhappy, as his off-field demons began to take control of his life again. After failing to agree terms with Bolton Wanderers in 1981, he was invited as a guest player and played three matches for two Hong Kong First Division teams (Sea Bee and Rangers) in 1982.

In late 1982, Bournemouth manager Don Megson signed the 36-year-old Best for the Third Division side, and he remained there until the end of the 1982–83 season, when he retired from football at the age of 37.

Best played in a friendly for Newry Town against Shamrock Rovers in August 1983,  before ending his professional career exactly 20 years after joining Manchester United with a brief four-match stint playing for the Brisbane Lions in the Australian National Soccer League during the 1983 season.

He also was a guest player for an exhibition match between Dee Why Football Club and Manly Warringah held on 27 July 1983; Dee Why won the match 2–1, with Best having scored the winning goal.

On 8 August 1988, a testimonial match was held for Best at Windsor Park. Among the crowd were Sir Matt Busby, Jimmy Murphy, and Bob Bishop, the scout who discovered Best, while those playing included Osvaldo Ardiles, Pat Jennings and Liam Brady. Best scored twice, one goal from outside the box, the other from the penalty spot.

International career

14-01-10-tbh-013.jpg

“George Best was one of the most talented players of all time and probably the best footballer who never made it to a major world final.”

 

— 1974 World Cup winning West Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer.

He was capped 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals. Of his nine international goals four were scored against Cyprus and one each against Albania, England, Scotland, Switzerland and Turkey.

On 15 May 1971, Best scored possibly the most famous “goal” of his career at Windsor Park in Belfast against England. As Gordon Banks, the English goalkeeper, released the ball in the air in order to kick the ball downfield, Best managed to kick the ball first, which sent the ball high over their heads and heading towards the open goal.

Best outpaced Banks and headed the ball into the empty goal, but, although legal, the goal was disallowed by referee Alistair Mackenzie.

Best continued to be selected for Northern Ireland throughout the 1970s, despite his fluctuating form and off pitch problems. Dutch captain Johan Cruyff commented:

“What he [Best] had was unique, you can’t coach it”.

Best was considered briefly by manager Billy Bingham for the 1982 World Cup but, at the age of 36, with his football skills dulled by age and drink (and five years having passed since his last cap), he was not selected for the Northern Ireland squad.

A proponent of a United Ireland football team, in 2005 Best stated:

“I’ve always thought that at any given time both the Republic and Northern Ireland have had some great world-class players. I still hope that in my lifetime it happens.”

Personal life

Image result for george best teenager

During his early years at Old Trafford, Best was a shy teenager who passed his free time in snooker halls.

However he later became known for his long hair, good looks and extravagant celebrity lifestyle, and appeared on Top of the Pops in 1965.

He opened a nightclub called Slack Alice on Bootle Street in Manchester in 1973 and owned restaurants in the city including Oscars, on the site of the old Waldorf Hotel.

He also owned fashion boutiques, in partnership with Mike Summerbee. Best’s cousin Gary Reid, a member of the Ulster Defence Association, was killed in 1974 during an episode of serious rioting in east Belfast.

“In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol – it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.”

— Best quips on his lifestyle.

Best married Angela MacDonald-Janes on 24 January 1978 at Candlelight Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, having met in the United States when Best was playing for the Los Angeles Aztecs. Their son, Calum, was born in 1981, but they separated the following year and divorced in 1986.

His niece by marriage is actress Samantha Janus, who is the daughter of Angie MacDonald-Janes’ brother.

He married Alex Pursey in 1995 in Kensington and Chelsea, London.  They divorced in 2004; they had no children. In 2004 she alleged that Best was violent towards her during their marriage, an issue that was, in fact, covered in Best’s authorised 1998 biographyBestie” in which Alex claimed that Best punched her in the face on more than one occasion.

Earlier in the book it is revealed that he struck another of his girlfriends at least once and was arrested and charged with assault on a waitress, Stevie Sloniecka, in November 1972, when he fractured her nose in Reuben’s nightclub, Manchester.

He was successfully defended when the case reached court in January 1973 by barrister George Carman QC, a close drinking companion of Best, as acknowledged in his book, Scoring at Half Time.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, while at the peak of his career, Best advertised Cookstown Sausages on television with the phrase “the Best family sausages”. In 2007 a memorial plaque was placed outside the pork factory in the County Tyrone town.

Best had a cameo as himself in the 1971 British comedy film Percy. In 1984 he made a fitness album with Mary Stävin called Shape Up and Dance. A warts-and-all biographical film simply entitled Best was released in May 2000, with John Lynch as George Best. Indie rock band The Wedding Present named their first album George Best, and featured Best on the cover wearing his red Manchester United kit. After his death, Brian Kennedy and Peter Corry released a single entitled George Best – A Tribute.

Image result for george best GQ magazine

In 2007, GQ magazine named him as one of the 50 most stylish men of the past 50 years.

Best had at least six autobiographies and authorised biographies:

  • Bestie (co-written with Joe Lovejoy),
  • The Good, The Bad and The Bubbly (with Ross Benson)
  • Blessed: The Autobiography (with Roy Collins)
  • George Best: A Celebration (Bernie Smith and Maureen Hunt)
  • Scoring at Half Time (with Martin Knight).
  • Hard Tackles and Dirty Baths (with Harry Harris)

When Best played football, salaries were a fraction of what top players earn today but, with his pop star image and celebrity status, Best still earned a tidy fortune. He lost almost all of it. When asked what happened to the money he had earned, Best quipped:

‘I spent a lot of money on booze, birds (women) and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.’

Alcoholism

“I was born with a great gift, and sometimes with that comes a destructive streak. Just as I wanted to outdo everyone when I played, I had to outdo everyone when we were out on the town.”

— Best on his excesses off the field.

Best suffered from alcoholism for most of his adult life, leading to numerous controversies and, eventually, his death. In 1981, while playing in the United States, Best stole money from the handbag of a woman he did not know in order to fund a drinking session.

“We were sitting in a bar on the beach, and when she got up to go to the toilet I leaned over and took all the money she had in her bag.”

 

In 1984, Best received a three-month prison sentence for drunk driving, assaulting a police officer and failing to answer bail. He spent Christmas of 1984 behind bars at Ford Open Prison. Contrary to popular belief and urban legend he never played football for the prison team.

In September 1990, Best appeared on the primetime BBC chat show Wogan in which he was heavily drunk and swore, at one point saying to the host, “Terry, I like screwing”.

He later apologised and said this was one of the worst episodes of his alcoholism.

Best was diagnosed with severe liver damage in March 2000.

Related image

In 2001, he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia.  In August 2002, he had a successful liver transplant at King’s College Hospital in London. The transplant was performed at public expense on the NHS, a decision which was controversial due to Best’s alcoholism.  The controversy was reignited in 2003 when he was spotted openly drinking white wine spritzers.

On 2 February 2004, Best was convicted of another drink-driving offence and banned from driving for 20 months.

Death

Gates of Belfast City Hall soon after Best’s death, Another view.

 

Graffiti honouring Best like this one in the New Lodge area appeared all over Belfast after his death.

 

Best continued to drink, and was sometimes seen at his local pub in Surbiton, Southwest London. On 3 October 2005, Best was admitted to intensive care at the private Cromwell Hospital in London, suffering from a kidney infection caused by the side effects of immuno-suppressive drugs used to prevent his body from rejecting his transplanted liver.

On 27 October, newspapers stated that Best was close to death and had sent a farewell message to his loved ones. Close friends in the game visited his bedside to make their farewells, including Rodney Marsh, and the two other members of the “United Trinity”, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law.

On 20 November the British tabloid News of the World published a picture of Best at his own request, showing him in his hospital bed, along with a warning about the dangers of alcohol with his message:

“Don’t die like me”.

In the early hours of 25 November 2005, treatment was stopped; later that day he died, aged 59, as a result of a lung infection and multiple organ failure.

Maradona at 2012 GCC Champions League final.JPG

Tributes were paid to Best from around the world, including from arguably the three greatest football players ever, Pelé, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff. Maradona commented:

“George inspired me when I was young. He was flamboyant and exciting and able to inspire his team-mates. I actually think we were very similar players – dribblers who were able to create moments of magic.”

Famous for his quotations, fellow Manchester United legend Eric Cantona gave a eulogy to Best:

Eric Cantona à Namur pour "UBU ENCHAINE".jpg

“I would love him to save me a place in his team, George Best that is, not God.”

 

The Premier League announced that a minute’s silence would be observed before all Premier League games to be held over the weekend of his death; however at many grounds a minute’s applause broke out in his honour.

The first match at Old Trafford after Best’s death was a League Cup tie against West Bromwich Albion, the club against which he made his début for Manchester United in 1963.

The match, which United won, was preceded by tributes from former team-mate Sir Bobby Charlton. Best’s son Calum and former team-mates, surviving members from the West Brom team which he played against in his début, all joined the current United squad on the pitch for a minute’s silence, during which fans in every seat held aloft pictures of Best, which were given out before the match.

Funeral

His body left the family home at Cregagh Road, East Belfast, shortly after 10:00 UTC on Saturday, 3 December 2005. The cortege then travelled the short distance to Stormont. The route was lined with around 100,000 mourners. Former Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham, international team-mates Derek Dougan, Peter McParland, Harry Gregg, Gerry Armstrong and Denis Law were the first to carry the coffin to the base of the Stormont steps.

There was an 11 am service in the Grand Hall attended by 300 invited guests relayed to around 25,000 mourners inside the grounds of Stormont. Best’s brother Ian, agent Phil Hughes, Dr Akeel Alisa, who treated Best, and his brothers-in-law Norman McNarry and Alan McPherson, were also pallbearers.

As the cortege left Stormont, the Gilnahirk pipe band played. The funeral was live on several television stations including BBC One. Afterward, Best was cremated, and his ashes were interred beside his mother Annie Elizabeth Kelly in a private ceremony at the hill-top Roselawn Cemetery, overlooking east Belfast.

Memorials

Following his death, the George Best Belfast City Airport was named after him.

 

Belfast City Airport was renamed George Best Belfast City Airport as a tribute to Best. The official new name and signage was unveiled to a gathering of the Best family and friends at the airport on 22 May 2006, which would have been his 60th birthday.

Public opinion in Northern Ireland about the renaming of the airport was divided, with one poll showing 52% in favour and 48% against.[105] Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader and East Belfast Member of Parliament Peter Robinson, in whose constituency Belfast City airport is situated, stated that his preference was a sports stadium be named after Best.

“With feet as sensitive as a pickpocket’s hands, his control of the ball under the most violent pressure was astonishing. The bewildering repertoire of feints and swerves… and balance that would have made Isaac Newton decide he might as well have eaten the apple.”

Image result for Sports writer Hugh McIlvanney.
— Sports writer Hugh McIlvanney.

In March 2006, the airline Flybe named a Dash 8 (Q400) plane The George Best. The aircraft was later used to carry Best’s family across to the Manchester memorial service for Best.

Image result for George Best Egg,

In June 2006, Sarah Fabergé, great-granddaughter of Russian Imperial Jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé, was commissioned to create the George Best Egg, in tribute. A strictly limited edition of 68 eggs were produced, with all profits from the sale of the eggs going to the George Best Foundation, which promotes health through sport and supports people with alcohol and drug problems.

The first egg is on display at the George Best Airport.

Image result for george best banknote

For the first anniversary of his death, Ulster Bank issued one million commemorative five pound notes.  The notes sold out in five days. The notes sold on the online auction site eBay for up to £30.

In December 2006 the George Best Memorial Trust launched a fund-raising drive to raise £200,000 in subscriptions to pay for a life-size bronze sculpture of George Best. By 2008 the money had still not been raised until a local developer, Doug Elliott, announced on 29 January 2008, that he would put up the rest of the money and would manage delivery of the project.

Career statistics

 

Club Season League Cup League Cup Continental Other[nb 1] Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Manchester United 1963–64 17 4 7 2 2 0 0 0 26 6
1964–65 41 10 7 2 11 2 0 0 59 14
1965–66 31 9 5 3 6 4 1 1 43 17
1966–67 42 10 2 0 1 0 0 0 45 10
1967–68 41 28 2 1 9 3 1 0 53 32
1968–69 41 19 6 1 6 2 2 0 55 22
1969–70 37 15 8 6 8 2 0 0 53 23
1970–71 40 18 2 1 6 2 3 1 51 22
1971–72 40 18 7 5 6 3 1 1 54 27
1972–73 19 4 0 0 4 2 0 0 23 6
1973–74 12 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 12 2
Total 361 137 46 21 25 9 34 11 8 3 474 181
Stockport County 1975–76 3 2 0 0 0 0 3 2
Cork Celtic 1975–76 3 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Los Angeles Aztecs 1976 23 15 1 0 24 15
Fulham 1976–77 32 6 2 0 3 2 37 8
1977–78 10 2 0 0 0 0 10 2
Total 42 8 2 0 3 2 47 10
Los Angeles Aztecs 1977 20 11 5 2 25 13
1978 12 1 12 1
Total 32 12 5 2 37 14
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1978 9 4 5 1 14 5
1979 19 2 19 2
Total 28 6 5 1 33 7
Hibernian 1979–80 13 3 3 0 0 0 16 3
1980–81 4 0 0 0 2 0 6 0
Total 17 3 3 0 2 0 22 3
San Jose Earthquakes 1980 26 8 26 8
1981 30 13 30 13
Total 56 21 56 21
Bournemouth 1982–83 5 0 0 0 0 0 5 0
Brisbane Lions 1983 4 0 0 0 4 0
Tobermore United 1983–84 0 0 1 0 1 0
Career total 574 204 52 21 30 11 34 11 19 6 709 253

[120]

Northern Ireland national team
Year Apps Goals
1964 6 2
1965 6 1
1966 1 0
1967 1 0
1968 1 1
1969 4 0
1970 4 1
1971 6 4
1972 2 0
1973 1 0
1974 0 0
1975 0 0
1976 2 0
1977 3 0
Total 37 9

Honours

Club

Manchester United

Individual[edit]

Visit the website:  http://www.georgebest.com/

Carl Frampton – The Pride of Belfast , Northern Ireland & Ulster

Carl Frampton – The Pride of Belfast , Northern Ireland & Ulster

Carl Frampton retains IBF Super Bantamweight world title with battling display

Carl Frampton knocks out Kiko Martinez Belfast 2013

Carl Frampton (born 21 February 1987) is a Northern Irish professional boxer from Tiger’s Bay, Belfast, Northern Ireland. He fights in the Super Bantamweight division [1] and is the current IBF World Super Bantamweight champion. He is managed by former WBA Featherweight champion and Boxing Hall Of Fame inductee, Barry McGuigan.[2]

Amateur career

Amateur boxing in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is governed by the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. As an amateur, Frampton fought out of the Midland Boxing Club in Tiger’s Bay and won the Irish senior flyweight title in 2005 and added the Irish featherweight title in 2009, beating David Oliver Joyce in the final.[3]

He also claimed a silver medal at the 2007 European Union Amateur Boxing Championships in Dublin, losing to France’s Khedafi Djelkhir in the final.[4] Frampton is one of Ireland’s most successful amateur boxers of recent years, winning over 100 of his fights and losing only 8 times.

Later commenting on his decision to box for the Irish team, Frampton, who grew up in a Unionist area of Belfast, said “I get asked all the time, ‘would you have liked to have boxed for Great Britain?’ And the answer is ‘no’. I was looked after by Irish boxing from pretty much 11 years old and was very proud to box for Ireland.”[5]

Professional career

Early career

Frampton turned professional after his victory in the 2009 Irish featherweight finals. In June 2009, fought his first professional fight at the Olympia, Liverpool, in England and beat Sandor Szinavel with a second-round knock-out on a card that included Grzegorz Proksa and Ajose Olusegan. In January 2010, he was named Ireland’s Prospect of the Year at the Irish National Boxing Awards. In September 2010 he recorded an “electrifying” win over the Ukrainian Yuri Voronin in front of an Ulster Hall crowd which included Daniel Day-Lewis. The win led the Belfast Telegraph to liken him to a “reincarnation” of Barry McGuigan.[6]

In December 2010, Frampton won his first professional title, the BBBofC Celtic Super Bantamweight title, with a second-round TKO win over Scottish boxer Gavin Reid in the Ulster Hall.[7][8] Following his victory, Frampton described the Super Bantamweight division as being “super-hot” and named Scott Quigg and Rendall Munroe as potential opponents. He then went on to get a fourth-round TKO win over Venezuelan Oscar Chacin, and later fought his first defence of his BBBofC Celtic title against Welshman Robbie Turley in June 2011, winning by a unanimous decision after ten rounds.

Commonwealth and Inter-Continental champion

Carl fought Australian Mark Quon as a replacement for Kiko Martinez on 10 September for the Commonwealth Super Bantamweight title at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast winning by a fourth-round TKO stoppage.[9] On 28 January 2012, he successfully defended his Commonwealth title against Kris Hughes in the York Hall, with the fight having to be stopped in the seventh round. According to the BBC, Frampton controlled the contest from the start and was never threatened by his opponent.[10] On 17 March 2012, Frampton once again defended his title against Ghana‘s Prosper Ankrah and won by a second-round TKO stoppage. After his victory Frampton challenged the British Champion Scott Quigg saying that “I don’t know if he wants it but, if he does, he should tell his promoter”.[11]

Frampton then beat fellow unbeaten contender Raúl Hirales, Jr. (previously 16-0, 8 KO’s) of Mexico by a unanimous decision and won the vacant IBF Inter-continental Super Bantamweight title on the undercard of Carl Froch vs. Lucian Bute in Nottingham, UK. The fight took place on 26 May 2012. On 22 September 2012, Frampton took on former two-time world champion Steve Molitor. The fight took place in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast on a card that included Martin Lindsay and Paul McCloskey. Frampton scored an impressive sixth-round TKO and had the former champion on the canvas three times during the bout. After the fight, Frampton announced that he was willing to “fight anyone” and that he was “ready for a world title fight”.[12]

European champion

On 9 February 2013, Carl Frampton faced hard-punching Spaniard Kiko Martinez in front of 8,000 of his home fans in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. Martinez, the European Champion, had previously knocked out Bernard Dunne in 86 seconds[13] to win the title and had never been knocked down. Frampton won by TKO in Round 9, winning the European Super Bantamweight title and retaining the IBF Inter-Continental Super Bantamweight title. After the fight Frampton said “I just want the people of Belfast to be proud of me,” and described his beaten opponent as “hard as nails”.[14] In August 2014, Martinez won the IBF title with a sixth-round stoppage of the previously unbeaten Colombian Jonatan Romero.

On 19 October 2013, Frampton defended his EBU and IBF Inter-Continental titles in an IBF World Title Eliminator against IBF #4 ranked Jeremy Parodi. The fight took place in front of a maximum capacity 9,000 fans at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast. Frampton knocked Parodi out with a body shot at the end of the sixth round.[15] On 4 April 2014 Frampton faced the Mexican Hugo Cazares at the Odyssey Arena in a final eliminator for Leo Santa Cruz‘s WBC Super Bantamweight World Championship. In front of a sold-out crowd of 9,000 Frampton knocked out Cazares in the 2nd Round, with a left hook to the head.[16]

World champion

Frampton challenged for his first world title on 6 September 2014 in a rematch against Kiko Martinez. Martinez’s IBF Super Bantamweight title was at stake and the bout took place in an outdoor arena at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast.[17] In the build-up to the fight, Frampton said of Martinez: “He’s very emotional and that’s what makes him dangerous… he’s a hot-head, he can be very easily agitated but he’s coming to win”.[18] Fighting in front of a crowd of 16,000 Frampton knocked Martinez down in the fifth round and won by unanimous decision, with two scores of 119-108 and one score of 118-111, winning his first world title. Interviewed after the fight Frampton said “I’ve got the world title. I feel a bit emotional – it has been a long time coming, it has been a hard road. I intend to hang on to it for a very long time.”[19] He went on to call for a unification fight with the WBA champion Scott Quigg, saying “I’ll fight him in Manchester, I’ll fight him anywhere”.[20] After the fight, Barry McGuigan said of his protege “This kid could end up as the best Irish fighter there has ever been.”[21] As result of his performances Frampton was nominated for the 2014 RTE Sports Person of the Year. In 2015 he was named Britain’s Coolest Man by ZOO Magazine beating the likes of David Beckham, Tom Hardy and Ed Sheeran to get the award. Frampton said after receiving the award, “I couldn’t believe it when they told me, I thought it was a wind-up! But it’s great, especially as it’s ZOO readers and the people of Britain who have voted for me. It’s also great for the sport of boxing.”[22]

Professional boxing record

21 Wins (14 knockouts, 7 decisions), 0 Losses, 0 Draws[23]
Res. Record Opponent Type Rd., Time Date Location Notes
Win 21–0 Mexico Alejandro González, Jr. UD 12 2015-07-18 United States Don Haskins Center, El Paso, Texas Retained IBF Super Bantamweight title.
Win 20–0 United States Chris Avalos TKO 5 (12), 1:33 2015-02-28 United Kingdom Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland Retained IBF Super Bantamweight title.
Win 19–0 Spain Kiko Martínez UD 12 2014-09-06 United Kingdom Titanic Quarter, Belfast, Northern Ireland Won IBF Super Bantamweight title.
Win 18–0 Mexico Hugo Cázares KO 2 (12), 1:38 2014-04-04 United Kingdom Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland WBC Super Bantamweight title final eliminator.
Win 17–0 France Jeremy Parodi KO 6 (12), 2:59 2013-10-19 United Kingdom Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland Retained EBU European and IBF Inter-Continental Super Bantamweight titles.
Win 16–0 Spain Kiko Martínez TKO 9 (12), 2:46 2013-02-09 United Kingdom Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland Won EBU European Super Bantamweight title.
Retained
IBF Inter-Continental Super Bantamweight title.
Win 15–0 Canada Steve Molitor TKO 6 (12), 2:21 2012-09-22 United Kingdom Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland Retained Commonwealth and IBF Inter-Continental Super Bantamweight titles.
Win 14–0 Mexico Raúl Hirales, Jr. UD 12 2012-05-26 United Kingdom Nottingham Arena, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England Won vacant IBF Inter-Continental Super Bantamweight title.
Win 13–0 Ghana Prosper Ankrah KO 2 (12), 2:45 2012-03-27 United Kingdom Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England Retained Commonwealth Super Bantamweight title.
Win 12–0 United Kingdom Kris Hughes TKO 7 (12), 0:48 2012-01-28 United Kingdom York Hall, Bethnal Green, London, England Retained Commonwealth Super Bantamweight title.
Win 11–0 Australia Mark Quon TKO 4 (12), 1:11 2011-09-10 United Kingdom Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland Won vacant Commonwealth Super Bantamweight title.
Win 10–0 United Kingdom Robbie Turley UD 10 2011-06-04 United Kingdom Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff, Wales Retained BBBofC Celtic Super Bantamweight title.
Win 9–0 Venezuela Oscar Chacin TKO 4 (6), 2:20 2011-03-05 United Kingdom Leisure Centre, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England
Win 8–0 United Kingdom Gavin Reid TKO 2 (10), 2:29 2010-12-03 United Kingdom Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland Won vacant BBBofC Celtic Super Bantamweight title.
Win 7–0 Ukraine Yuriy Voronin TKO 3 (8), 2:43 2010-09-18 United Kingdom Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Win 6–0 United Kingdom Ian Bailey UD 6 2010-06-11 United Kingdom King’s Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Win 5–0 Hungary Istvan Szabo TKO 1 (6), 0:48 2010-03-05 United Kingdom Leisure Centre, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England
Win 4–0 France Yoan Boyeaux UD 4 2010-02-12 United Kingdom York Hall, Bethnal Green, London, England
Win 3–0 Hungary Ignac Kassai TKO 3 (4), 1:26 2009-11-06 United Kingdom Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt, Northern Ireland
Win 2–0 France Yannis Lakrout UD 4 2009-09-04 United Kingdom Eston Sports Academy, Teesville, Middlesbrough, England
Win 1–0 Hungary Sandor Szinavel TKO 2 (4), 2:03 2009-06-12 United Kingdom Olympia, Liverpool, Merseyside, England Professional debut.

Titles in boxing

World Titles:

  • IBF World Super Bantamweight title

Regional / Continental Titles:

  • EBU European Super Bantamweight title
  • IBF Inter-Continental Super Bantamweight title
  • BBBofC Celtic Super Bantamweight title

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Wayne McCullough – The Pride of Belfast , Northern Ireland & beloved son of Ulster

Wayne McCullough – The Pride of Belfast

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Wayne Pocket Rocket McCullough (born Wayne William McCullough, 7 July 1970) is a retired professional boxer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is a former WBC Bantamweight champion.[1]

In addition to McCullough’s dogged, relentless attacking style,[2] he was renowned for his cast-iron chin, having taken on two of boxing’s biggest punchers in Naseem Hamed and Erik Morales, and going the full distance with both of them. During his bout with Morales in 1999, HBO commentator Larry Merchant joked, “If you look in the dictionary, under ‘Tough Irishman’, you’ll find a picture of Wayne McCullough”. McCullough was never once knocked down or stopped by a fighter in his whole professional career.[3]

Amateur career

McCullough had a very successful amateur career, amassing a record of 319 wins and 11 defeats, with over 100 wins coming by way of knockout. As an amateur living in the staunchly loyalist Shankill Road area of Belfast, McCullough was selected by the island-wide Irish Amateur Boxing Association to participate in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, and was asked to carry the Irish flag because he was the youngest member of the team at 18 years old. He went on to win a silver medal for Ireland at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Representing Northern Ireland at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, he won a gold medal and carried the Northern Ireland flag in the closing ceremony.[4] The medal ceremony for his Commonwealth title was marked by an unusual incident. A technical problem with the public address system made it impossible to play the recording of the song “Danny Boy“, used instead of an anthem for medalists from Northern Ireland. The New Zealand official in charge of the sound, Bob Gibson, promptly took the microphone and sang the song unaccompanied.[5] In 1990, McCullough also won Bronze for Ireland at the Boxing World Cup in Mumbai, India.

1988 | Olympic Game

1990 | Commonwealth Games

  • Representing Northern Ireland at Flyweight and winning Gold, in the Aukland Commonwealth Games. Results were:
    • Defeated Benjamin Mwangata Tanzania – Points
    • Defeated Maurice Maina Kenya – Points
    • Defeated Nokuthula Tshabangu Zimbabwe – Points

1990 | World Cup

  • Representing Ireland at Flyweight and winning Bronze, in the Mumbai World Cup. Results were:
    • Defeated M. Pingle India – Points
    • Defeated D.K. Park South Korea – Points
    • Lost to Serafim Todorov Bulgaria – Points
    • Defeated Fred Mutuweta Uganda – Points

1991 | World Championships

1992 | Olympic Games

Professional career

In 1993 McCullough moved to Las Vegas to train under Eddie Futch, who agreed to train him after seeing him at the Olympics. McCullough always fought in neutral colours and did not have national anthems played at his fights; his supporters in Northern Ireland included Protestants and Catholics. Within a year of turning pro, he had won the North American Boxing Federation title. On 30 July 1995, less than 2½ years since his pro debut, he won the WBC championship by beating the champion Yasuei Yakushiji in Nagoya, Japan to become Ireland’s first ever WBC world champion. He was the first (and to date the only) fighter from Ireland or the UK to travel to Japan and win a belt.

McCullough defended his title twice before vacating the belt and moving up in weight to challenge WBC super bantamweight champion Daniel Zaragoza, but lost via a split decision in the WBC “Fight of the Year”. After this fight, his wife Cheryl and Stuart Campbell began to manage his career when his original manager, Mat Tinley, became a boxing promoter.

McCullough unsuccessfully challenged champions Naseem Hamed in 1998, and Erik Morales in 1999. In each of those exciting “Fight of the Year” contenders, he broke his opponent’s lengthy run of KO wins while taking them the distance. Hamed had knocked out 18 opponents straight before McCullough, and was 30-0 at the time with 28 knockouts to his credit. Morales had knocked out 9 of his previous 9 opponents and was 34-0 at the time, also with 28 knockouts. Morales stated that McCullough gave him one of the top three fights of his career and almost quit on his stool after the 9th round (according to Ring magazine).

In October 2000, McCullough was to return to his native Belfast for a homecoming fight. Two days before the fight was scheduled to take place, he was told that he had a cyst on his brain, he couldn’t fight again and that one more blow to the head could kill him. McCullough flew back to Las Vegas and was advised by the Nevada Commission to visit the neurosurgery department at UCLA for a more thorough investigation. Within a few weeks the doctor at UCLA, Neil Martin, called to say he had consulted with some of the top neurosurgeons in the USA and they had come to the conclusion that the cyst was not on his brain, but in a space between the brain and the skull – called the arachnoid mater – and that he saw no reason for him to give up his boxing career.

Nevertheless, the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) continued to deny him a license. He was relicensed in Nevada and fought again in January 2002. After a very public battle, the BBBC could no longer deny him a license and later that same year McCullough stepped back into a British ring under the Frank Warren Promotions banner.[6] Thereafter he had mixed success, winning five fights but losing to Scott Harrison and Mexican world champion Óscar Larios on two occasions. The result of his first fight with Larios is widely disputed.[7][8]

On 17 August 2005 McCullough was appointed the first WBC World Ambassador for Peace and Goodwill in Sports.

In September 2005, McCullough became a United States citizen.[9] In November 2005, McCullough released his autobiography, Pocket Rocket: Don’t Quit, in the UK and Ireland. He went on a publicity tour to promote the book, which reached Number 2 on the best sellers list.

In 2007, Wayne McCullough joined the Ultimate Fighting Championship organisation as a PR associate, to promote Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

He currently trains fighters both in boxing and MMA and is setting up his own charity – IHOW.

The Martínez challenge

In 2007 McCullough signed to fight Spain’s Kiko Martínez who had just defeated Bernard Dunne at the Point Depot, Dublin for the European super bantamweight title. The fight between McCullough and Martínez was due to take place at Belfast‘s Kings Hall on 1 December 2007.[10]

McCullough had not fought for over two years and the Kings Hall venue was sold out for the fight. It was agreed that the non-title fight would take place at 8 st 12 lb mark. However, on the day before the fight there was uproar during the weigh-in and the fight was cancelled by the BBBC amid chaotic scenes.[11]

McCullough had already contracted to fight at 2 lb over the 8 st 10 lb championship weight and he weighed in at 8 st 9 lb. However, Martínez failed to make the agreed weight and was 1.75 lb over the agreed weight.[11][11]

Martínez was given a couple of hours to shed the excess weight, but did not return to weigh in again and the scales were closed by a BBBC official. A furious McCullough stated “I couldn’t believe it. He comes in over the weight and then after being asked to take it off he just sits there and does nothing. I just can’t believe what has happened. I was ready to fight and ready to win and he comes in that much over the weight.”[11][12]

Retirement

On 20 June 2008, McCullough fought Juan Ruiz in the Cayman Islands, his first fight in three years. He lost in six rounds, retiring on his stool. Despite being ahead on two of three judges’ scorecards after six rounds, he told his corner he could not go on due to an injury he had sustained in training.

The Belfast boxer took the microphone and revealed this might be his swansong. He said: “I think this could be my last fight and I want to thank you all for coming. I am disappointed with the way things went but I just felt I could not go on.”

Personal life

In May 2004, McCullough changed his name by deed poll to “Wayne Pocket Rocket McCullough”.[13] Today he resides in Las Vegas, Nevada and coaches around the LA area.

Professional boxing record

27 Wins (18 Knockouts), 7 Losses, 0 Draws[14]
Res. Record Opponent Type Rd Date Location Notes
Loss 27-7 United States Juan Ruiz RTD 6 (10) 2008-06-20 Cayman Islands Royal Watler Cruise Terminal, George Town, Cayman Islands For NABF Featherweight title
Loss 27-6 Mexico Oscar Larios TKO 10 (12) 2005-07-16 United States MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States For WBC Super Bantamweight title
Loss 27-5 Mexico Oscar Larios UD 12 (12) 2005-02-10 United States Palace Indian Gaming Center, Lemoore, California, United States For WBC Super Bantamweight title
Win 27-4 United States Mike Juarez TKO 2 (8) 2004-09-23 United States Pechanga Resort & Casino, Temecula, California, United States
Loss 26-4 United Kingdom Scott Harrison UD 12 (12) 2003-03-22 United Kingdom Braehead Arena, Glasgow, Scotland For WBO Featherweight title
Win 26-3 Russia Nikolay Emereev TKO 4 (10) 2002-11-02 United Kingdom Maysfield Leisure Centre, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Win 25-3 South Africa Johannes Maisa TKO 4 (10) 2002-09-14 United Kingdom York Hall, Bethnal Green, London, England
Win 24-3 United States Alvin Brown KO 2 (10) 2002-01-12 United States Cox Pavilion, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Loss 23-3 Mexico Erik Morales UD 12 (12) 1999-10-22 United States Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan, United States For WBC Super Bantamweight title
Win 23-2 United States Len Martinez UD 10 (10) 1999-08-30 United States Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Loss 22-2 United Kingdom Naseem Hamed UD 12 (12) 1998-10-31 United States Convention Center, Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States For WBO Featherweight title
Win 22-1 Colombia Juan Polo Perez SD 10 (10) 1998-05-19 United States Memorial Coliseum, Corpus Christi, Texas, United States
Win 21-1 Mexico Antonio Oscar Salas UD 10 (10) 1998-04-07 United States Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, Connecticut, United States
Loss 20-1 Mexico Daniel Zaragoza SD 12 (12) 1997-01-11 United States Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts, United States For WBC Super Bantamweight title / WBC fight of the year
Win 20-0 Mexico Julio Cesar Cardona UD 10(10) 1996-07-13 United States Mammoth Events Center, Denver, Colorado, United States
Win 19-0 Mexico Jose Luis Bueno SD 12 (12) 1996-03-30 Republic of Ireland Point Depot, Dublin, Republic of Ireland Retained WBC Bantamweight title
Win 18-0 Denmark Johnny Bredahl TKO 8 (12) 1995-12-02 United Kingdom King’s Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland Retained WBC Bantamweight title
Win 17-0 Japan Yasuei Yakushiji SD 12 (12) 1995-07-30 Japan Aichi Prefectural Gym, Nagoya, Aichi, Japan Won WBC Bantamweight title
Win 16-0 Mexico Geronimo Cardoz RTD 7 (10) 1995-03-14 United States Pontchartrain Center, Kenner, Louisiana, United States
Win 15-0 France Fabrice Benichou PTS 10 (10) 1994-11-12 Republic of Ireland Point Depot, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Win 14-0 Mexico Andres Cazares KO 3 (10) 1994-09-15 United States Silver Nugget, North Las Vegas, United States
Win 13-0 Mexico Victor Rabanales UD 12 (12) 1994-06-17 United States Taj Mahal Mark G Etess Arena, Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States Retained NABF Bantamweight title
Win 12-0 United Kingdom Mark Hargreaves KO 3 (6) 1994-03-19 United Kingdom Millwall Football Stadium, Millwall, London, England
Win 11-0 Puerto Rico Javier Medina KO 7 (12) 1994-01-18 United States Civic Auditorium, Omaha, Nebraska, United States Won NABF Bantamweight title
Win 10-0 United States Jerome Coffee RTD 5 (10) 1993-11-30 United States Civic Center, Pensacola, Florida, United States
Win 9-0 United States Andres Gonzalez KO 2 1993-11-09 United States Fargodome, Fargo, North Dakota, United States
Win 8-0 Algeria Boualem Belkif TKO 5 (10) 1993-09-24 Republic of Ireland National Boxing Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Win 7-0 United Kingdom Conn McMullenn KO 3 (6) 1993-06-18 United Kingdom Maysfield Leisure Centre, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Win 6-0 Puerto Rico Luis Rosario TKO 6(6) 1993-06-01 United States Blue Horizon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Win 5-0 United States Manuel Ramirez TKO 5 (6) 1993-05-04 United States McNichols Sports Arena, Denver, Colorado, United States
Win 4-0 Mexico Oscar Lopez KO 5 1993-04-16 United States Cyclorama Building, Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Win 3-0 Mexico Oscar Zamora UD 4 (4) 1993-03-26 United States Country Club, Reseda, California, United States
Win 2-0 Mexico Sergio Ramirez KO 3 (4) 1993-03-18 United States Paramount Theatre, New York, United States
Win 1-0 Mexico Alfonso Zamora TKO 4 (4) 1993-02-23 United States Country Club, Reseda, California, United States Professional debut
Preceded by
Yasuei Yakushiji
WBC Bantamweight Champion
30 July 1995 – 11 January 1997 (vacated)
Succeeded by
Sirimongkol Singwangcha

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