Ian Wood recalls the Hibernian debut of football legend George Best

26 November 1979ST MIRREN 2, HIBERNIAN 1

IT takes a touch of class to show itself now and then to make you realise how little of it there is about these days.

At Paisley on Saturday, George Best drove home the message almost cruelly by producing a controlled, perfectly-paced performance which made tatty old Love Street a wonderful place to be on that wet, squally afternoon.

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This was the Irish internationalist's first game for Hibs, and 13,670 people went to watch it – roughly double the number who might have been expected to attend under normal circumstances – and he used the occasion to the best possible effect. Having arrived in the wake of advance billing which claimed he was a "great", he proceeded to play like one.

It was the second game of football Best had played in six months, his first time out "live" with his new colleagues he has barely had time to get to know, and he had an awful lot of expense and faith to justify. He delivered beautifully, and the contented look on the faces of Tom Hart, the Hibs chairman, and manager Eddie Turnbull, as they watched their acquisition disappear under a wave of panting Pressmen after the match almost made you forget that their team had just been beaten again and were now anchored more securely than ever to the foot of the Premier Division.

However, sufficient unto the day, etc. George Best had arrived, played and shown the talent which lies at the root of all the fuss and glamour and ballyhoo is still intact. Any doubts about the ability of Best at the age of 33 steadily vanished as he eased his way into the game on Saturday, gradually finding a beat between wing and midfield. He must have been about the most closely marked man in Britain, and yet often he walked alone, calling for the ball in clear, usable space and flicking away passes of breathtaking accuracy. So much for Best the prompter, Best the striker was reserved until the last minutes. With a minute to go, Callaghan stroked a free-kick on the left of the St Mirren box back along the ground to Best, whose left-foot shot was in the back of the net before young Billy Thomson, the Love Street goalkeeper, could begin to react.

This was followed by what was inches away from being the equaliser to end all equalisers. With the referee poised to end the game, Best twisted past three men on the edge of the box and lashed in another shot which ripped wickedly past Thomson's right-hand upright. That was vintage Best and it sent him in at the finish to a resounding ovation.

While looking more comfortable around the middle than he used to, there's nothing wrong with Best's fitness that sheer skill can't take care of. It hadn't been the greatest game he'd ever played, he said afterwards, but he'd get better. He was ready to come and go with Hibs on their training schedules, and would be willing to come north earlier in the week, if and when Eddie Turnbull deemed it advisable.

Best – who, incidentally, might stay with Hibs right through to the end of the season – would appear to be the least of Hibs' worries right now. The rest of the team played hard and furiously, but with the lack of conviction and thought which has brought them to the state they're in today.

Arthur Duncan put in a heroic stint at left-back, and Bobby Hutchinson livened up the attack when he came on for Joe Ward, who was helped off after jarring himself in the third minute of the second half.

Elsewhere, there was little to enthuse about.

Callaghan could have won the game for the Easter Road side in the first half when he was inexplicably indecisive in front of goal on two occasions. Ally MacLeod gave away ball after ball and was ably supported in this by Ally Brazil. Despite all, Hibs continue to create good scoring chances – perhaps as many as any other side in the league – but the confidence has now gone absolutely and it'll need Best at his most inspired to bring back sufficient poise and bite to retrieve a situation which grows blacker by the game.

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St Mirren did well on a trying day for them. Doug Somner netted first from close range after Mike McDonald had parried a powerful shot from Jimmy Bone in the 42nd minute, and then in the 88th minute when he finished off a smooth attack instigated by Bone and Billy Stark.

Inevitably, the Love Street side were cast in something of a secondary role on this occasion, but they took it all and, as their manager Jim Clunie wryly put it: "I don't mind them having the star man if my boys get the points."

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