03 December 2005

Best cortege leaves for Stormont

BBC

**Video and other links onsite


The cortege is escorted through east Belfast

Tens of thousands of people have converged on east Belfast to say a final farewell to Northern Ireland football legend George Best.

A private blessing was held at the family home in Cregagh, before a public funeral at the Parliament at Stormont.

Some of the biggest names in football are among the mourners, including Best's lifelong friend Denis Law and England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

As the cortege left the family home, the gathered crowds began applauding.

It is now making its way to the Stormont estate.

Best, 59, will be buried beside his mother Ann at Roselawn Cemetery.

He died last Friday in London's Cromwell Hospital, several weeks after being admitted with flu-like symptoms on 1 October.

His footballing exploits for Manchester United in the 1960s earned him worldwide adulation, but his post-football life was marked by alcoholism and health problems.

It is one of the biggest funerals ever seen in Northern Ireland.

Tens of thousands are lining the streets to the Stormont Estate and will later line the route to the cemetery in the hills above east Belfast.

Three hundred invited guests will attend a special service in the Great Hall at Stormont, to be led by TV presenter and Manchester United supporter Eamonn Holmes.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and former Northern Ireland internationals Pat Jennings, Gerry Armstrong and Martin O'Neill are among the mourners.

Manchester United and Northern Ireland footballing greats, including Harry Gregg, who played with Best, will carry the coffin.

Best's brother Ian, agent Phil Hughes, Dr Akeel Alisa, who treated Best, and his brothers-in-law Norman McNarry and Alan McPherson will also be pallbearers.

It is understood Best's son Calum will read a poem during the service which will also feature school choirs, readings and performances from Belfast singers Brian Kennedy and Peter Corry.

Best's former wives Angie and Alex, along with his last partner, Ros Hollidge, are also expected to attend.

The gates of Stormont Estate opened to the public at 0850 GMT and closed after the capacity for the grounds of 32,000 was reached.

There is no parking within two miles of the estate, but park-and-ride facilities are available.

Scheduled bus services are running as normal.

Chief Inspector Mark Purdon urged people to plan their journeys carefully.

The coffin is being transported to Stormont by a police escort via Cregagh Road, the Knock dual carriageway, and the Upper Newtownards Road.

The hearse will enter the main gate at Stormont, then travel along the Prince of Wales Avenue to the Parliament Building.

The service in the Great Hall will be relayed via big screen and loudspeakers to the crowd outside.

Later, the procession will return down Prince of Wales Avenue to the cemetery via the Upper Newtownards Road, Knock dual carriageway and the Ballygowan Road.

The Best family has asked that members of the public stay behind barriers, do not follow the cortege and respect their privacy at Roselawn Cemetery and the family home.

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