Northern Ireland

Sir Matt Busby's letter says sorry for Belfast 'misunderstanding'

George Best 1968 Image copyright PA
Image caption George Best pictured in his Manchester Utd strip in 1968

A previously unpublished letter from Sir Matt Busby explains why George Best's Manchester United turned down an invitation to play in Belfast in 1971.

The letter, signed by Sir Matt, was sent in December 1970 to the then lord mayor of Belfast, Joe Cairns.

Sir Matt apologised for the "misunderstanding" over the planned game against Glentoran.

It would have seen George Best returning to his native city for the glamour friendly.

Image copyright other

Glentoran thought the match had already been given the go-ahead and wrote to Sir Matt, a director at the club at the time, offering United a large fee for agreeing to come to Belfast - £3,500, the equivalent today to almost £50,000.

But Sir Matt wrote back saying: "I am very sorry about the misunderstanding regarding the possibility of Manchester United coming to play in Belfast but, really, this is no fault of ours.

"When the agent of Glentoran FC, Mr Charles Mitten, telephoned me enquiring about a match, I distinctly told him that I would have to discuss the matter with Mr Wilf McGuinness, our team manager.

"I even said myself that I very much doubted the possibility of such a match at this time and did not agree to a game."

Glentoran were taken aback. They had been so certain that a match had been agreed that they had written to Sir Matt the previous month outlining the contractual arrangements for the game.

Image caption Sir Matt wrote that he was "indeed very sorry about the misunderstanding"

The club secretary wrote: "A contract would be drawn up that you would field your full league team including, of course, George Best (the idol of Belfast).

"It would be most important that George would definitely play in this game."

In the end, Best did not come, and neither did his Man Utd team-mates. Leeds United came instead, and lost 3-1 to Glentoran.

The 45-year-old letters were uncovered in the Public Records Office by researcher Gavin McMahon.

Image caption George Best in an interview for the BBC in 2001

He said that Manchester United had been invited to Belfast to promote the Ulster '71 festival which was organised to promote Northern Ireland on the 50th anniversary of its foundation.

"Manchester United were offered £3,500. Leeds United were eventually paid £4,000 for the match that took place on 5 May 1971."

So how did Mr McMahon stumble across the letters?

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Media captionThe letter, signed by Sir Matt, was sent in December 1970, as Mark Simpson reports

A combination of good research skills and the fact that he is a lifelong Man Utd supporter.

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