Tears and rain mingle as Belfast's beloved son makes his final journey
Sean O'Hagan joins a nation in mourning at a sombre, respectful and heartfelt tribute
Sunday December 4, 2005
It rained. And then, it rained some more. Belfast rain, drizzly and relentless, falling down over the city and its countless steeples, and the hills beyond. And yet they came in their tens of thousands, lining the streets of Cregagh in east Belfast, the Knockbreda dual carriageway, the rainswept roads around Stormont Castle, and the long sweep that is Prince of Wales' Avenue from the ornate gates to the steps of the parliament building.
They came from Belfast, and Northern Ireland, and from over the border, and across the sea. And though they applauded as the cortege passed, and threw flowers, and turned several sites in the city into impromptu shrines, the event that many had thought would teeter into showbiz artifice, and a collective outpouring of grief, somehow not quite real, was, in fact, the opposite: sombre, respectful, heartfelt. Even in death, then, George Best surprised us.
I think the only parallel in American sport would be the funeral of baseball legend Babe Ruth:
At 8:01 P.M., on August 16, 1948, the Babe passed away. He was fifty-three years old. He lay in state in "the House That Ruth Built" for 2 days as more than 200,000 paid last respects. Grieving fathers held up their sons and daughters for one final look.
Three days later the funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral. There were tens of thousands in the streets outside and tens of thousands more lined the funeral cortege route. At the funeral, Ruth's old teammates were pallbearer. Claire Ruth, Babe's widow, lived on at their apartment at 100 Riverside Drive for another 28 years until her death.
In contrast, Joe DiMaggio's funeral had been quiet, but he is well loved at Lefty O'Doul's on Geary and -- in my opinion -- we should rename the local corporate poker chip that is our ballpark after him.
A bit more on George Best:
Eriksson sheds a tear for Best
England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson wept for George Best in Belfast.
As thousands stood in the pouring rain outside Parliament buildings during the football legend's funeral service, the England coach admitted afterwards the heavy emotion of it all had become a little too much.
He said: "I have never been to a funeral like that before. It was beautiful and George and his family got the respect he deserved. It was fantastic... Yes, I shed a few tears myself."
International Football Hall of Fame