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Rob Bishop

Old Trafford in the early sixties was a far cry from the magnificent theatre of dreams which now dominates the skyline around the Salford area of Manchester. But it was still a pretty awesome place.

I first visited Manchester United’s ground as a 13-year-old in 1963 – and witnessed a significant event in United’s history.

It was a glorious sunny day and, having arrived early with my dad and his mate, I enjoyed a bag of fish and chips standing on the pavement of the main road in to the city centre while they went for a quick pint.

There was no segregation at football matches in those days, so we were spoiled for choice when it came to deciding where to stand (United’s only seats back then were in the main stand and at the top of the Stretford End).

With plenty of time on our hands, we wandered past the open terrace at the other end of the ground, before paying our admission money to what was known as The Paddock, a vast terrace which ran the full length of the pitch. From there, you could enjoy a “sideways” view of the action, but I was used to watching from behind the goal so we turned right and took up a position just behind the left hand post at the Stretford End.

Initially, there was plenty of room but by around 2.45pm the place was heaving with a near-capacity crowd of over 50,000.

Then we heard the announcement which heralded the career of the greatest footballer I’ve seen.

“Ladies and gentlemen, here are the changes to the teams in your programme. At number seven for United, in place of Moir........Best.”

A United fan of maybe 17 or 18 turned to me and asked: “Who?” I couldn’t help him.

There was nothing to suggest, that afternoon, that I would ever hear the name George Best again. I wish I could paint a romantic picture of a fabulous debut by the boy who had emerged from nowhere, but it simply wouldn’t be true.

It was widely reported at the time, and has subsequently been reiterated on countless occasions, that the 17-year-old Best was given a good kicking by Albion’s left-back Graham Williams in the first half before being switched to the other wing for his own protection.

In view of the fame (and infamy) Best achieved over the next few years, I’ve long wished that some sort of film footage were available from that afternoon as a souvenir of a match which heralded the arrival of a true genius.

It’s fair to assume, though, that no such footage exists. If it did, the BBC would surely have used it in one of their numerous programmes about Best’s career, rather than cheating by referring to his debut against West Brom and then showing a clip of him ‘nutmegging’ a Baggies player.

The match they always show was actually played at The Hawthorns more than three years later and the defender having the ball flicked through his legs by the impish Best was Ian Collard rather than Graham Williams.

Still, I was delighted to have a video of that particular game (which United won 4-3) in my possession for a short while, loaned to me by a colleague at Villa Park. Unfortunately my mate John Monkton borrowed it – and taped Coronation Street over it.

I must confess my admiration for George Best was not simply because of his incredible talent. Not long after his breakthrough, I learned that he had been discovered by an Irish scout called Bob Bishop, and I was quite taken with the thought that someone who discovered a superstar should have the same name as me.

Over the years, in fact, I frequently toyed with the idea of contacting George, just to tell him I was there the day he made his debut for Manchester United. Sadly, I never did.

Rob Bishop

Rob is the Aston Villa matchday programme editor and the author of Perfect 10 and Road to Rotterdam - Aston Villa FC Champions of Europe 1982.

Follow Rob on Twitter @robbishopavfc

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