On this day in 1981, Sunderland’s players were waking up after a friendly win over a Middlesbrough side starring none other than George Best.
The mercurial Irishman was 35 by this point, and was guesting for Boro in Northern Ireland teammate Jim Platt’s testimonial game at Ayresome Park – amid rumours he was about to join the club permanently.
After spending the summer playing for San Jose Earthquakes in the US, Best – looking thicker in the thighs but not in the waistline, according to the match report – still had it, controlling play from deep and showing touch after touch of class.
Despite Best’s presence and the celebratory nature of the game, a strong Sunderland team – featuring McCoist, Rowell, Pickering, Siddall and Elliott – triumphed 2-1. Pickering and Joe Hinnigan netting twice past Platt in five minutes late in the second half, after Dave Hodgson, who of course went on to play for Sunderland, netted Boro’s opener.
The transfer to Boro never materialised and, unsurprisingly, it was Best’s last appearance against Sunderland – 15 games for Manchester United and a single game for Fulham brought eight goals.
Following a spell in Hong Kong, Best returned to English football in 1982, playing five games for Third Division Bournemouth.