George Best childhood pitch Cregagh Green protected

Image caption,
A mural of Gorge Best overlooks the pitch in east Belfast's Cregagh estate

The football pitch that helped make George Best a football legend is to be "protected forever".

Cregagh Green is where Best, renowned as one of the greatest ever footballers, first flashed his meteoric talent as a schoolboy in the 1950s.

It is situated in the east Belfast housing estate where he grew up.

It is the first project in the UK to be given funding as part of the Active Spaces Forever programme, which promotes outdoor activity.

Organisers at the Green have been awarded £5,000 by the London Marathon Charitable Trust (LMCT) to help promote physical activity and community participation.

The open space will now be protected "in perpetuity" through a legal deed of dedication between Belfast City Council and the Fields in Trust organisation.

Best was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1968 as he helped Man Utd win the European Cup, scoring twice in the 5-1 thrashing of Benefica.

Image caption,
Best's talent and good looks led to him being nicknamed the fifth Beatle

He was nicknamed El Beatle afterwards, at the height of Beatlemania.

Brazilian star Pele also reputedly described him as the greatest footballer in the world.

However, Best's career was marred by his problems with alcoholism. He died in 2005, aged 59.

'Geordie ate the ball'

Robin McCabe, a childhood friend of Best, remembers playing against him on Cregagh Green.

"All we did was play football from morning to night," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"There was 10-a-side, 12-a-side, 15-a-side, everybody played, we were lucky we had a ball sometimes.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Best was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1968

"Everybody played together - North Bank, which was the part George lived in, I lived at South Bank.

"We played challenge matches between North Bank and South Bank, maybe 20-a-side after teatime at night, you know, it just went on and on.

"We always thought that he needed a ball for himself and the rest of us needed a ball.

"Geordie, as he was called in them days, he ate the ball - he didn't pass too much, but he was a great dribbler and everybody kicked him and he kicked everybody else and that's just the way it was."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Belfast City councillor Adam Newton on Cregagh Green with Terry Housden of Fields in Trust

Belfast City councillor Tommy Sandford said that Fields in Trust had visited the area on Saturday and had "a marvellous day".

"They actually want to preserve this field so that in future years we might find another George Best," he said

A mural of the football legend overlooks the pitch.

"He's actually looking over, watching the kids play," Mr Sandford said.

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