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George Cohen MBE

 

George Cohen MBE (born Kensington, London, 22nd October 1939) was the right back for England in the side which won the 1966 World Cup.

Cohen spent his whole playing career at Fulham where he proved his worth as a committed and strong full back, especially adept at supporting wingers with overlapping runs.

He joined Fulham professionally in 1956 and remained a dependable performer for 13 years thereafter, though his chances at international level seemed to be restricted to a handful of caps at under 23 level, mainly due to the presence of Blackpool's Jimmy Armfield, who was the regular incumbent at No.2 and played in the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

In April 1964, however, Armfield won his 41st cap in an embarrassing defeat against Scotland at Hampden Park. England coach Alf Ramsey duly tried out Cohen for his international debut a month later in a 2-1 win over Uruguay. With Armfield unfortunately suffering an injury - timed appallingly with the World Cup imminent - Cohen went on to play in 21 of the next 23 internationals. Armfield managed two more caps in preparation for the 1966 tournament after regaining his fitness, but Cohen was Ramsey's first choice by the time the competition, which England was hosting, got underway.

Cohen was an immaculate performer in Ramsey's revolutionary team which played without conventional wide men, allowing for extra strength in midfield and relying on young, stamina-based players like Martin Peters and Alan Ball to drift from centre to flank and back again as required. When these players were occupied in more central positions or chasing high up the flank and needing support, this was where attacking full backs like Cohen proved their extra worth. As England got through a group containing Uruguay, Mexico and France, Cohen's unfussy performances were rightly seen as just as vital as the attention-grabbing displays from the likes of Bobby Charlton. Cohen maintained his form as England got past a thuggish Argentina in the last eight, and was unwittingly featured in one of the more memorable photographs of the tournament in the immediate aftermath of the game - Ramsey, livid at the Argentinians' violent approach (he later memorably called them "animals" in a post-match interview), ran to Cohen in order to prevent him swapping shirts with one of his opponents.

Three days later, one of Cohen's overlapping runs and clever near-post passes contributed to Charlton's clincher as the hosts edged past the splendid, if rather enigmatic Portugal in the semi finals. In the final against West Germany, Cohen won his 30th cap and was his usual immaculate self, though in a game full of incident and iconic individual contributions, his only notable moment of the match was managing to block the vicious last minute free kick from Lothar Emmerich which subsequently found its way across the England six-yard box for Wolfgang Weber to stroke home the late, late equaliser which forced extra-time. England ultimately won 4-2.

Cohen played seven of the next eight internationals before Ramsey decided to utilise some younger full backs in England's campaign for the 1968 European Championships. Cohen's 37th and final England appearance came in a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland at Wembley on November 22, 1967. He didn't score for his country, though this was not unexpected for a man in his position.

Cohen served Fulham until 1969, not winning any honours though he did suffer the ignominy of relegation in 1968. He ended his career with 459 appearances for the club, a figure surpassed by only four other players in Fulham's history. Manchester United's legendary winger George Best described Cohen as "the best full back I ever played against".

Along with his full back partner Ray Wilson, Cohen was not a player ever in the limelight, though was always ready to talk about the World Cup success whenever requested to do so. His main return to the public eye came in the 1980s when he fought and won his battle with cancer.

Financial hardships in later life forced Cohen to sell his winners' medal from the World Cup final, though his old club Fulham made sure it stayed close to his heart by paying 80,000 pounds for it and putting it on display at Craven Cottage. The club also named a plush section of their hospitality facilities The George Cohen Suite. In 2000, Cohen suffered personal heartbreak when his brother Peter, a nightclub owner and father of England rugby union player Ben Cohen, was killed. Three men were acquitted of murder and manslaughter but jailed for violent disorder. Ben later was part of the side that won the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup.

Cohen was awarded the MBE in 2000, along with four team-mates from 1966 after a campaign from sections of the media who were surprised that the quintet had never been officially recognised for their part in England's success. The others were Ball, Wilson, Nobby Stiles and Roger Hunt.

In a documentary on Channel 4 to find the Greatest England XI, Cohen was given the right back spot by the public, ahead of the likes of Phil Neal and Gary Neville. He was one of four veterans of the 1966 team to make it.

In 2003, Cohen released his autobiography (ISBN 1903267110). He lives in quiet retirement though is frequently a guest at functions around the country raising money for cancer charities.

Collectables Signed By George Cohen MBE