EDITOR’S NOTE: In the video above, Steve Nicol joins ESPN FC colleagues Sebastian Salazar, Stewart Robson and Kasey Keller in discussing soccer legend George Best.
Growing up in Scotland, Steve Nicol was enamored with George Best, arguably the United Kingdom’s greatest footballer. But, by the time Nicol played in a match against his soccer idol during the 1979-1980 Scottish Football season, their careers were headed in opposite directions.
Then 18, Nicol was beginning his professional football career with Scottish First Division side Ayr United FC. Best, in the twilight of his career, was in his only season with Hibernian FC in the Scottish Premier League.
Nicol moved on to become a Liverpool FC legend – winning five league titles, three FA Cup winners medals and the 1984 European Cup in 14 years at the club. Playing against Best remains one of Nicol’s best memories in football.
How would you describe George Best?
I wanted to be him. I guess that says it all. As a kid when you play football, you always want to score goals. In Scotland at that time, people like to dribble. There was nobody better at that in that time than George Best.
How did you model your game to emulate George Best?
I tried to copy everything that he did. I don’t think there was anybody better dribbling past three or four defenders, making the goalkeeper look like a morgue, and just rolling it into an empty net.
What stood out in your only match against him?
He never gave the ball away. It’s one of the things that I would say is the difference between your proper professional and your “also ran.” You don’t give the ball to the opposition. That’s the starting point. Georgie was, I believe [in his 30s] at the time. Obviously, his legs weren’t there. He made up for that with what was between his ears.