Holiday flashback: ‛When George Best came on, we just watched him play’
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Bermuda’s famous battling display against European giants Manchester United.
It was on a sunny afternoon in the spring of 1970 at the National Stadium where the hosts held their own against a powerful United squad boasting George Best, the legendary Northern Ireland winger.
Bermuda lost an entertaining affair 4-2 but earned the respect of their opponents after mounting a courageous second-half fightback.
United seized early control and jumped out to a deserved 2-0 lead on tallies from John Fitzpatrick and Willie Morgan.
Forward Fitzpatrick, who recently died on December 21, opened the scoring in the eighteenth minute when he converted Tony Dunne’s cross to finish a fluent counter-attack.
Morgan then pounced in the 34th minute after running on to Fitzpatrick’s pass and slipping the ball past Sam Nusum, the Bermuda goalkeeper, to place the visiting side firmly in the driver’s seat at the half.
However, the match took a dramatic turn when play resumed, as Bermuda struck a double salvo to draw level with their illustrious opponents.
Randy Horton sparked the revival when his shot took a deflection off United defender Francis Burns and left goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer stranded.
George Brangman then slotted in Horton’s pinpoint pass in the area to bring the teams level, the former’s tally arriving shortly after United substitute Best nearly restored the visitors’ two-goal advantage when his snap shot struck the bar.
Despite leaking two goals in quick succession, United were still the better side and their superiority ultimately shone through, as Fitzpatrick and Burns struck in the final 15 minutes to finally see off a battling Bermuda.
Fitzpatrick scored what proved to be the game winner with a low shot that found its intended target through a phalanx of legs.
Burns then put the match farther beyond Bermuda’s reach when he scored from a short corner to atone for his own goal.
“Playing against Manchester United was a big thing for us,” Horton said.
“At the time United, as they still are, were one of the best teams in the world and certainly we were excited to play against them and, of course, to score against them was a big thing, too.
“I think the people that came out would’ve enjoyed the game and for me it was great because I was playing against this giant of a centre half, Ian Ure, and I think I held my own against him.
“They had Ian marking me who was one of the best centre backs in the world at the time.”
Wendell “Joe” Trott, the Bermuda defender, added: “Randy was quite a handful for those guys that day.”
The occasion was particularly special for Trott, who had the pleasure of playing against the English team he supports.
“It was a dream to play against my team,” he said. “I was over the moon.
“I was hoping that everybody would come here. The only person who didn’t come was Bobby Charlton; everybody else came. I was a little disappointed in that, but it was a good game.
“They beat us 4-2, but we gave them a run and it was an honour for me to play against them.”
United winger Best was undoubtedly the main attraction on the pitch.
The 1968 European Footballer of the Year certainly lived up to expectations as he dazzled the crowd and the opposition alike with the phenomenal dribbling skills that made him famous after coming off the bench at the start of the second half.
“When George came on the second half, we just watched him play,” Horton said. “He was so good.”
Lionel “Baldy” Smith, the Bermuda striker, added: “I thought it was a big deal playing against George Best. He was the first player I ever saw turn on a dime.
“It was a nice game and we did well against them. We guys learnt a lot from them.”
Smith continued: “After the game we socialised with them at the home of a United supporter in Smith’s Parish. We mingled with them and George Best and the rest of we guys were playing darts. It was a very nice outing.”
Trott reckons that the United’s margin of victory might have been wider had it not been for Nusum’s superb goalkeeping.
“Sam was really the one that kept the score down, kept us in the game,” he said.
“George Best ran across one, ran across two, turned and slammed the ball and Sam dove and pushed it around the corner. George then went up and shook Sam’s hand.”
This story has been edited to clarify that George Best was Northern Irish.