Phil Hughes surrounded by George Best memorabilia
Phil Hughes surrounded by George Best memorabilia

Running Cwmbran Life for the last 12 years has brought up all sorts of surprises but a phone call a few weeks ago gave me the biggest one of them all.

I’ve had calls from people asking me everything thing from ‘we fancy a Chinese takeaway, what’s the best one in Cwmbran?’ to ‘a neighbour keeps rabbits in a hutch that I think is legally too small, who should I tell?’ As usual I was helpful and suggested the rabbit caller should try the RSPCA and tipped off the takeaway caller to order from ********** (sorry, it’s a secret).

A call I had a couple of weeks ago took me by unusual and intriguing. I was told George Best’s former agent and friend of almost 20 years was going to be in Cwmbran and did I want to meet him for a chat?

It was an easy ‘yes please’.

A day or two later I had a text saying ‘come on over’ and soon found myself holding a bottle of ice cold Birra Moretti and a plate of lovely BBQ food talking to Phil Hughes.

He had popped into Andrew Bowen’s house in Pontrhydyrun. I won’t got into detail here but Andrew is (I’m always careful with superlatives) the ‘world’s biggest George Best fan. There is a story in the pipeline that I need to sit down and write about how Andrew has found himself with this label.

Scroll down to see a summary of Phil and his relationship with the former Manchester United and Northern Ireland footballer from a book he co-wrote 12 years ago.

After food and a drink, I asked Phil to sit in Andrew’s living room for a chat. It’s not just any living room. The walls, shelves and sideboards are filled with George Best memorabilia.

‘I just love George fans’

I asked him about his reaction to seeing this shrine to George for the first time.

“Absolutely amazing. Beautiful to see you know. I know there are lots of people like Andrew around the world who collect pictures, but Andrew’s seems to be one of the bigger collectors, fanatics. He’s going to rival a pub in Manchester, the Nag’s Head, which is just full of George Best [memorabilia].

“Andrew and I are going to go down there and visit that place.

“He got in touch with me and I just love George fans.

“That’s what endears me to someone like Andrew, his dedication. He’s not out to make any money out of George, he’s not faking autographs of George which there are so many out there now.

“He’s just a genuine George fan. He goes and stays in his [George’s childhood home in Belfast] house, he’s met all the family. He makes it his business to meet anyone who is connected with George.”

Nineteen years after George died, Phil’s loyalty and love for George is still strong.

‘The nicest guy you’d ever meet’

He said: “I loved the man, absolutely hero-worshipped him. Just a solid, the nicest guy you’d ever meet.

“All the negative things about him, they come from people who didn’t know him, never met him and haven’t got a clue.

“And as George said, ‘if you don’t like me, just remember my football’ which you can’t beat George at. You could knock him down with his faults, and everyone has the right to I suppose, but if you didn’t meet him, nobody who met George, none of my friends, our friends I still keep in touch with, who knocked around with us, have ever said a bad word about George.

“They might have a little joke now and again about him not turning up for something but no, what a beautiful man. Generous, thoughtful, he put a lot of people in front of himself.

“Never ever did he not do anything for charity. Most of my collection, I send to charities for auctions because I knew George would want that.”

George Best’s ‘aura’

George Best played his last competitive football match in 1984 and passed away in 2005. I was curious how he could still have an impact among fans like Andrew Bowen and across the world after all this time.

Phil said it was because of George’s “aura” and how he felt it the first time they met. He would always get to meetings with George first, and described how he could feel it when the footballer walked in the room.

“I knew when George came in the bar because there was an aura. There was something about George, I’m not just talking about a silence or little whisper you know ‘George Best is in the bar’, the place would go silent for that nanosecond and I’d be like ‘George has arrived’.”

He first met George at Blondes, a bar in Soho, London that the footballer owned. The bar was closed when Phil arrived, but the barman allowed him in to sit at a table where he started doing a newspaper crossword.

“All of a sudden I thought, ‘f**king hell, George has just walked in.’ I swear on my life. I didn’t turn around and then George stood next to me and said ‘you struggling with the crossword?’

“I wasn’t actually, I was flying through, but I said, ‘I am actually’ and passed it to him. He said, ‘can I get you a drink? Where are you from?’ I said ‘North Wales’ and I don’t know what it was, we just got on so well.

“He said, ‘you working around here?’ and I told him I was working locally. He said, ‘I’ll be here tomorrow I think if you fancy popping down?’

“I said, ‘oh, I might do’. F**cking hell, I was there like a shot.”

A 19-year friendship

It led to the start of a long 19-year friendship that saw Phil act as George’s agent.

Phil said: “The times we had, the memories, unbelievable, unbelievable times. The best times of my life.

“George was a beautiful man and he deserves all of the accolades he’s still getting.”

I was conscious that Phil had a long trip back to North Wales to make that evening, so we headed back outside to enjoy a bit more BBQ food before he left for home.

This story has been filed in the, ‘Why I started Cwmbran Life’ file. When my phone rings, I have no idea what I’ll be told so please keep them calls and tip offs coming, 07728 685389.


Remember Me For My Football: The Complete Playing Career of George Best 

In 2012, Phil co-wrote a book with Paul Collier: Remember Me For My Football: The Complete Playing Career of George Best. This is the summary on Amazon.

The number of words written about George Best since he burst onto the football scene in 1963 until his sad passing in 2005 would cram a small library. The stories of his drinking, gambling and womanising are as well known as his footballing exploits. This, though, was not the Irishman’s choice, George was ultimately only interested in football

Phil Hughes was George’s best friend and agent for almost two decades. On numerous occasions George told Phil that, ultimately, he would like to be remembered for his football. Phil decided that George’s wish should be committed to print and contacted Paul Collier for his assistance. Collier had followed George’s career with considerable interest for 35 year and his fascination with the Manchester United star had seen him become friends with and work for both George and Phil.

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