'Today's lot are not fit to wipe his boots'

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The Independent Football

The face of Wayne Rooney grinned out from an advertising hoarding on Sir Matt Busby Way at Old Trafford yesterday but for many he will never hold a candle to the Irishman who stopped off at the nearby chippy and always had time for the autograph-hunters there.

"He'd smile at every fan who stopped him, too," said Angelo Agathaggelos, whose father ran that chip shop and who now has a souvenir shop near the ground. "That lot this day are not fit to wipe his boots," he said, nodding towards the stadium.

Mr Agathaggelos was never far from tears as he told of meeting Best in Manchester in the 1990s, to ask him to sign replica 1968 European Cup Final shirts that he wanted to sell in his shop. The answer was yes and Mr Agathaggelos still has some, along with a drawing of Best signed 'To Angelo, Kind Regards, George Best'.

"See that," said Mr Agathaggelos. "Not 'Best Wishes' or anything cold like that. It was 'Kind Regards', because it meant something whenever he met United people."

On the wall of his back office is a signed drawing of the "Five Beatles" - John, Paul, George, Ringo and Best - on the Abbey Road zebra crossing, Best juggling a ball.

In Belfast, his home town, the mood was sombre as people prepared for the death of its greatest sporting hero, who brought it such glory then such heartache. Local radio issued bulletins all day and messages of condolence poured in.

One e-mail to The Belfast Telegraph from a Channel Island exile, said: "Maybe the next time I come home to Belfast, I may see a 10ft-high statue of George, up in front of the the city hall to remind us all of the great man. God bless you."