A Boro shirt worn by George Best in Jim Platt’s testimonial game has been added to the Back from the Brink exhibition at Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum.
The unique number seven shirt, which has also been signed by the late legend, has been loaned to the Heritage Lottery Fund-backed exhibition by Paul Barry, owner of the town’s famous Jack Hatfield Sports store.
The shirt is a nostalgic reminder of the night in September 1981 when Best, one of the game’s greatest ever players, turned out for Boro against Sunderland at Ayresome Park in a testimonial match for his Northern Ireland team-mate Platt, the club’s long-serving goalkeeper.
Celebrating the ups and downs of Boro’s history, Back from the Brink has already been hailed as one the Dorman Museum’s most popular exhibitions in many years, having attracted 13,000 visitors so far.
Now the shirt is expected to increase visitor numbers as the countdown begins to the exhibition’s closure in mid-April.
Paul Barry was given the collectors’ item shirt by then Boro physio Lew Clayton just days after Platt’s testimonial more than 30 years ago and it has remained his cherished possession ever since.
“The shirt is a complete one-off, never to be repeated,” said Paul. “As a lifelong Manchester United fan, as well as Boro, I loved George Best for the wonderful way he played football.
“I used to display it in the store window of Jack Hatfield’s, but I decided it was best kept under lock and key when George died a few years ago as it became such a collector’s item since he died.”
Jim Platt, who has himself loaned to the exhibition a plaque he received when Boro won the Division Two title under Jack Charlton in 1974, said former Northern Echo journalist Ray Robertson helped him track down Best, who had quit Manchester United seven years earlier at the age of just 27.
“George wasn’t the easiest to get hold of at the time and I had doubts that he would even turn up but I can’t speak too highly of him. Everyone who played in or watched my testimonial game respected him and appreciated him being there.
“At his peak, George was the best player I’ve ever seen. He was the Maradona or Messi of his era. He could do anything – score goals, dribble, whatever – and he was hard as well as being skilful. By the time of my testimonial, he had lost some of his pace but he could still pass the ball better than most.”
Fans have been flocking to see the Back from the Brink displays, with Boro manager Tony Mowbray, former stars Gary Pallister, Bernie Slaven, Alan Peacock, Gordon Jones and Steve Vickers plus Boro fan and rock star Paul Smith all taking trips down Memory Lane.
Visitors from as far afield as Aberdeen, Brighton and London have taken a tour of the ‘memborobilia’, which features rare and unique Boro items, many loaned by fans, former players and Middlesbrough FC.
Middlesbrough 86 Project coordinator Alan Spence said: “People’s passion for all things Boro has encouraged so many to contribute to Back from the Brink in so many different ways, helping to make it one of the most successful locally-based exhibition the Dorman has ever had.”
Along with an England international cap awarded to the world’s first £1,000 footballer Alf Common, the display also includes Juninho’s match-worn boots, a Papal blessing for the great Wilf Mannion and an Ayresome Park turnstile.
Bernie Slaven’s seven match balls with which he scored Boro hat-tricks and Steve Vickers’ three cup final runners-up medals and a 1995 Football League championship medal also feature alongside artefacts dating back to the 19th Century.
The exhibition is part of Middlesbrough 86, an exciting heritage, theatre and education project that is supported by a £42,900 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with additional backing from MFC and Middlesbrough Council.
The project is collecting fans’ Boro memories and volunteers will be at the museum to ask visitors to recollect tales from the club’s past, while supporters are encouraged to send their memories to the Middlesbrough 86 website at www.m86.org.uk.
Back from the Brink is open six days a week, 9.30am-5pm, closed Mondays, through to mid-April. Entry is free.
A series of activities has previously been held as part of the Middlesbrough 86 project, including the current Up the Boro exhibition at mima, exploring artists’ representations of the beautiful game. Other events taking place include the Middlesbrough 86 Roadshow paying visits to schools, youth clubs and community centres, plus author events, family activity days and a celebration football match.
Key supporters for the project include Middlesbrough FC, Middlesbrough Council, Teesside University, Fly Me to the Moon, the Co-operative Membership and Brian Debnam Associates.
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, the HLF invests in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported more than 30,000 projects allocating £4.7billion across the UK including £223million in the North East. Website: www.hlf.org.uk