1977 Los Angeles Aztecs Media Guide
North American Soccer League Media Guides
The late Northern Ireland superstar George Best on the cover of this 1977 Los Angeles Aztecs media guide from the old North American Soccer League. Best built his legendary reputation – on and off the pitch – with Manchester United between 1963 and 1974. At his peak, he won the Ballon d’Or as European Footballer of the Year in 1968.
Best retired from Manchester United at the young age of 27 in early 1974. In December 1975, the Aztecs lured him out of retirement with a contract to play in America in 1976. Best would not be the only English celebrity lending star power to the Aztecs. Elton John signed on as a minority investor in the club that same year.
Best was still good enough to dominate in the American league. In 1976, Best scored 15 goals in 23 matches and finished tied for sixth in the NASL in scoring. In 1977, Best handed off the bulk of the goal scoring duties to teammate Steve David, who led the NASL with 26 goals, many courtesy of Best, who tied a league record with 18 assists.
Best was arguably the biggest name signed by the NASL other than the Brazilian superstar Pele, who came to the league a year earlier with the New York Cosmos in 1975. Like Pele, Best came to the NASL after a brief retirement and joined a team in a major media market. Unlike Pele, Best’s presence in Los Angeles didn’t spark a wave of soccer mania. While Pele’s Cosmos averaged 34,000 fans per game at Giants Stadium in 1977 (with some crowds in excess of 70,000), the Aztecs failed to crack 10,000 in average attendance at the massive L.A. Coliseum during either of Best’s full seasons with the team in 1976 and 1977. (The Aztecs went to the well again with Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff in 1979, but that also failed to rouse Southern California sports fans out of their apathy for pro soccer).
Best eventually wore out his welcome in L.A. during his third season in 1978, thanks to his alcoholism and the related lifestyle issues that so frustrated his managers at his previous stops. He was suspended without pay early in the 1978 season for missing practices and player poorly when he did show up. The Aztecs dealt their mercurial 32-year old star to the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers in June 1978. On the day of the trade Strikers coach Ron Newman offered a candid and cautionary assessment of his newly acquired superstar:
“Many people in the game feel that if George Best regains his desire to play, he can once again become one of the top players in the world.”
Whether that ever happened is doubtful. Best split the rest of the 1970’s between summer-time gigs in the NASL with the Strikers and fall-winter engagements with Scottish club Hibernian. His last full season was with the NASL’s Earthquakes in 1981. He subsequently tottered around Hong Kong, Australian and the lower depths of English soccer making guest appearances and brief engagements until his final retirement around 1984. He never beat his alcoholism and required a liver transplant in 2002. But he continued drinking and died from complications related to his transplant in November 2005 at the age of 59.