Not many former foxes can say they actually played with George Best, but both Paul Culpin and Willie Gibson did. Do you remember Paul Culpin and Willie Gibson, probably a difficult one, but they are both very much former foxes.
Culpin, never made a first team appearance for Leicester City, but he is and will for always be a player known by many at the club, spending a number of years in the youth teams, in the early 80’s.
Willie Gibson was a 1980 summer camp surprise, impressing Jock Wallace heavily and found him suddenly in the line-up for the first game of the season. Leicester had just clinched promotion and Gibson was for all of us a name few or no one could believe were in the starting line-up.
Culpin left Leicester and signed for Nuneaton Borough in English non-league. This was early 1982, and as Culpin himself described it, he would never believe he would team up with George Best, but he certainly did.
Nuneaton Borough had financially difficulties and had a number of bills to pay, and a drastic plan was initiated trying to convince George Best to come and play. Best, 37 at the time, came and the opponent in this “fairy fixture” was Coventry City.
You had a former fox in the Coventry City team as well, Jim Melrose. Strangely two team mates lining up in the fantastic 2-0 home win v. Liverpool in August 1980, was now on opposite sides in a fixture with George Best on the field.
Gibson joined Nuneaton Borough in 1982 after being released by Leicester City. The player that in a way vanished from the first team after this first season, never played in League football again, but surprisingly being in a team together with George Best.
Culpin made the most of his great relationship on the field with George Best and must have been spotted by Coventry City on the day, since he later signed for The Sky Blues.
A friend of a friend who knew Best, managed to get the plan through, and Nuneaton fielded the two former foxes and Best in the team. George Best turned up for the game and was place in midfield.
Coventry played the likes of Steve Hunt, Mark Hateley, Danny Thomas and Jim Melrose who, due to a stunt, playing in the Coventry defence. Melrose pulled down Culpin, and Best converted the penalty, scoring on the late Les Sealey who was in goal for Coventry that evening.
The match raised a much needed £ 7000 for Nuneaton Borough and might have been a push to survival as the club still are running and today playing in the 6th tier of English football.
Gibson moved to Weymouth in 1987 and was a well respected player at the lower league levels being involved in the game for many years after this fantastic happening. Paul Culpin played at Nuneaton until 1985, when he had scored 131 goals in 150 league games. The move to Coventry cannot be described as great, 9 league appearances and 2 goals, but it made it possible for Culpin to get a chance with Northampton Town and later Peterborough United, moving a bit around after that before again making a new great run of games for Nuneaton Borough, with another 102 and 72 more goals.
George Best made his contribution to the save of Nuneaton Borough, playing alongside Gibson and Culpin, while Jim Melrose was on the opposite side giving everyone a special “Best Experience”, some better, some worse.
After Best left Manchester United he moved around in football, playing for a great number of clubs. He became a hit in the NASL, playing seven seasons over the pond with Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and San Jose Earthquakes, keeping it going as you could see, almost in to his 40’s.
Former foxes who also played alongside George Best or being at the clubs Best represented were Derek Dawkins and David Webb both at Bournemouth. Billy Hughes, playing at San Jose Earthquakes, in the same season as Best. Peter Welsh was at Hibernian during the days of Best. Gordon Banks and John Ridley are two others who both teamed up with Best at Fort Lauderdale Strikers. To our notice we have not found any other foxes at club level. but with Best’s twist and turns we could have missed some, sorry if that is the case, to play alongside George Best is something you surely would remember.
Derek Dougan played in the N Ireland team when George Best was representing his country, that is the only one at the international arena as far as we know.
George Best, Nuneaton Borough, Coventry Live
Nuneaton Borough, Official Site
Nuneaton Borough, Wikipedia
Paul Culpin, Wikipedia
George Best, Wikipedia