A RETIRED football coach has paid tribute to soccer legend George Best who he befriended while both worked in the States.
Ivan Smith, of Hollins Lane, Accrington, this week told the Observer how he played darts with the ace, "a lovely lad'', when they were both at San Jose Earthquakes in 1979.
As the duo missed British cooking, they would go to an English bar called Bob's and have a drink, a bite to eat and a game of darts every night.
But it wasn't the first time Ivan had met Best - they both featured in a match between Manches-ter United and Manchester City in a 1969 League Cup semi final tie - Best as a player, Ivan as a linesman.
Ivan, 76, himself a fervent Manchester United supporter, said: "It was an honour to be officiating with such legends as Brian Kidd, Bobby Charlton and of course Best. After the match, the players would mix with the referee and the linesmen. That was the first time I met George. It was a memorable occasion for me."
He added: "I was working in the winter as a PE teacher at Accrington College and then I got invited to become a coach over in America in the summer.
"I would go over in June and come home in September. I did it for eight years and there was one summer when George was there.
"Bob's bar was popular and lots of people went in there. All the lads from the team would play darts. I would be there with my wife Margaret. George would play me - he was a great bloke. We would have a chat and share a joke while we played. I would beat him as much as he beat me."
Though Best suffered in his later years from alcoholism, Ivan said he did not overdo it while in the States.
"We would be in Bob's in the early evening and then Angie, George's first wife, would come in around 8.30pm every night with their baby son Callum and they would all go home," said Ivan.
The friends lost touch when Best left America and returned to play football in England.
Ivan said: "It was terribly sad to hear the news of George's death, though I think deep down everyone knew it was coming. The tributes at Saturday's games were very emotional."
Ivan was due to pay his respects by joining in a minute's applause at Old Trafford on Wednesday night when United played West Bromwich Albion - the team who Best made his debut against in 1963.