George Best took Miss Great Britain to training after leaving team-mate stranded

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Sammy McIlroy is a bona fide Manchester United legend, but he was left gutted when his hero George Best left him stranded for a beauty queen.

McIlroy enjoyed a stellar 13-year career at Old Trafford, playing 419 times and scoring 71 goals. On his debut at 17 he scored in an epic 3-3 derby draw with Manchester City at Maine Road. And alongside some of United’s all-time greats including Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, the Northern Irishman grew into a formidable football force.

He may not have won as many plaudits as playboy Best, especially given his compatriot’s legendary drinking antics, but the talented teenager from East Belfast worked tirelessly to weave himself his own place in the intrinsic fabric of United’s illustrious history. And on the eve of the release of his autobiography ‘The Last Busby Babe’, this week, McIlroy fondly recalled the time his teammate Best left him stranded at a train station ahead of international duty.

His fellow countryman was, unsurprisingly, partying instead. And of course, Miss Great Britain was in tow. “I was making my debut for Northern Ireland in Hull on a Wednesday and I’d seen George out in Manchester on the Saturday night,” revealed McIlroy.

“Bestie said to me, ‘I’ll meet you at 9am on Sunday morning in Manchester. Buy the train tickets and I’ll meet you at the station’. “I said ‘George, that’s brilliant’. I’m travelling to Hull with Bestie, all sorted. I get to the station dead early. 8.30, no Bestie. 8.45 and still no Bestie.

“He didn’t turn up until f***ing Tuesday with Miss Britain, Carolyn Moore, and one of his friends. Some of the lads were not too pleased about it, but that was Bestie.” Despite Best leaving him the lurch at Manchester Piccadilly, the pair became good pals – and it was his fellow countryman who promised, and who duly delivered, a bottle of champagne to him for scoring on his debut. Best even provided the assist and was the first player there to congratulate him.

“When I met the team for the first time, George was the first person to speak to me,” recalled McIlroy, who dazzled on his debut on November 6, 1971. “Bestie said ‘score a goal today and on Monday I’ll bring you a bottle of champagne’. And he did.

“Just meeting Bestie was incredible, but I couldn’t even tell my parents or my girlfriend at the time I was making my debut for Man United because there were no mobile phones back then. It was an unbelievable experience and none of the players like Bestie, Bobby or Kiddo [Brian Kidd] put any pressure on me which was great.

“I ran out on to the pitch, the roar of 63,000 people, I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never known an atmosphere like it. I was thinking ‘oh my God’. I’m just 17, but the stars aligned. I scored, the match finished 3-3 – and it’s one of the best-ever derbies. What a game! City were a cracking side, as well, [Colin] Bell, [Mike] Summerbee and [Francis] Lee. But when we got back I still had to get the bus home on the same day I’d made my debut for Man United.”

McIlroy left Old Trafford when Ron Atkinson took charge, but he enjoyed an impressive career with the club, as well as at international level. He was capped 88 times by Northern Ireland and played in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. He retired in 1993, aged 39, and managed Macclesfield, Stockport and Morecambe, as well as Northern Ireland.

He retired from management aged just 56 but has since joined plenty of his old teammates in the Old Trafford hospitality lounges, regaling supporters with some of his tales, and still works for the club now.

“I’ve made some shocking decisions because of my pride – and the biggest regret of my career is leaving United when I did,” reflected McIlroy. But when I look back my mother and father will be proud of what I achieved. If I’d have asked for some more advice from Sir Alex Ferguson down the years, then I might have made some better decisions. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but I haven’t done bad.”

  • **This interview was done in conjunction with Pitch Publishing. The Last Busby Babe, The Autobiography of Sammy McIlroy, MBE, with Wayne Barton, out on 28th March from Pitch Publishing.
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