More Than 100000 Mourners Expected to Attend Saturday's Funeral of Soccer Legend George Best
BELFAST Northern Ireland (AP) - Soccer great George Best will be buried Saturday in his native Belfast in a ceremony expected to attract more than 100000 mourners.
The former Manchester United and Northern Ireland star died Friday in a London hospital after decades of alcohol abuse. He was 59.
The British government granted permission for the funeral service to take place in the Grand Hall of Stormont Parliamentary Building. Crowds outside will be able to follow the ceremony relayed by loudspeakers.
Best's agent Phil Hughes hoped to accompany the body on a flight from London to Belfast on Wednesday. But he said that plan could change because of police fears of crowd-control problems.
''Police are very concerned we will close Belfast down if we arrive on Wednesday'' Hughes said.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it was making plans for more than 100000 mourners to converge on east Belfast.
Best will be buried alongside his mother Annie at Roselawn Cemetery.
Manchester United said manager Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill would attend the funeral even though the club will be playing an English Premier League match at home later Saturday.
Politicians from both the British Protestant and Irish Catholic sides of the community called for a new sports stadium in Northern Ireland to be named for Best. The proposed 42500-seat stadium west of Belfast is supposed to be built within the next seven years.
The province's political minister David Hanson was noncommittal on the idea but praised Best's legacy.
''The people of Northern Ireland and people throughout the United Kingdom want to celebrate George's life in a positive way'' Hanson said. ''He has been one of the greatest footballers that ever lived.''
In downtown Belfast a makeshift shrine of floral bouquets and messages praising Best has grown steadily near the Christmas tree outside City Hall.
And an art gallery displayed in its front window a new portrait of Best produced by local artist Paul Wilson.
''I always thought he was like Jesus with the long hair and beard'' Wilson said of Best.
There were tributes throughout Britain over the weekend but a group of fans of Leeds United refused to join in a moment of silence. The club apologized Monday.
Leeds played at Millwall in the League Championship on Saturday. Before the match fans were asked to observe a moment of silence for Best. But many Leeds fans refused to stay quiet.
''Leeds United are disappointed at the reaction of a minority of fans who failed to observe the period of silence'' the club said in a statement. ''We certainly do not condone this kind of response and feel those responsible have let the club down.''