George Cohen

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George Cohen
MBE
George Cohen.jpg
Personal information
Full name George Reginald Cohen
Date of birth (1939-10-22) 22 October 1939 (age 74)
Place of birth Kensington, London, United Kingdom
Playing position Right back
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1956–1969 Fulham 459 (6)
National team
1964–1967 England 37 (0)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

George Reginald Cohen MBE (born 22 October 1939, Kensington, London) is an English former professional football player. He was the right full back for England in the side which won the 1966 World Cup.

He is a Football Hall of Famer and is the uncle of rugby union World Cup winner, Ben Cohen.

Football career[edit]

Cohen spent his entire 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.

1966 World Cup[edit]

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.[1]

Cohen was an immaculate performer in Ramsey's revolutionary team which played without conventional wide men, allowing 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.[2]

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 as vice-captain 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 equaliser which forced extra-time. England ultimately won 4–2.[3]

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 22 November 1967. He did not score for his country, though this was not unexpected for a man in his position. He was the first of England's 1966 XI to cease playing for his country.

Later life[edit]

Cohen served Fulham until March 1969, not winning any major trophies, before retiring from playing at the age of 29 due to injury.[4]

Fulham had been relegated to the Second Division the season before he retired as a player and did not return to the top flight for 33 years. He ended his career with 459 appearances for the club, a figure surpassed by only four other players in Fulham's history. It would have been more but for the injury which forced his retirement before his 30th birthday. Cohen coached the Fulham youth team and the England under-23 team for a time, and also managed non-league Tonbridge.

Manchester United's legendary winger George Best described Cohen as "the best full back I ever played against". Alf Ramsay called Cohen "England's greatest right back". Cohen also bears the distinction of being the only Fulham player to have won a World Cup winner's medal while at the Cottagers.

Along with his full back partner Ray Wilson, Cohen was not a player ever in the limelight, though was 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 bowel cancer, which lasted 14 years.[5]

Financial hardships in later life forced Cohen to sell his winner's medal from the World Cup final, though his old club Fulham made sure it stayed close to his heart by paying £80,000 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.

Public exposure and popularity[edit]

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

Cohen published his autobiography in 2003, titled George Cohen: My Autobiography. (ISBN 9780755313976). He lives in quiet retirement, though he is frequently a guest at functions around the country as well as at Craven Cottage raising money for cancer charities.

In 2010, Cohen criticized changes to the design of footballs following the intense criticism of the Adidas Jabulani used at the 2010 World Cup. Cohen was quoted: "Designers have constantly tried to create more goals by using lighter and lighter balls. It was thought they would fly further and everyone loves to see a 30-yard screamer bend into the top corner. But things have gone too far."[6]

Personal life[edit]

Despite his surname, Cohen is not Jewish, and neither were either of his parents. The surname was inherited from a Jewish great-grandfather. George was raised in the Church of England.[7] He has been married to his wife Daphne since 1962;[8] they have two sons, Anthony and Andrew, as well as five grandchildren.[9] George's nephew Ben Cohen is an English rugby player.[10]

Honours[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "1966 FIFA World Cup". FIFA. Retrieved 5 February 2010. 
  2. ^ "George Cohen Statistics". FIFA. Retrieved 5 February 2010. 
  3. ^ "1966 FIFA World Cup Final". FIFA. Retrieved 5 February 2010. 
  4. ^ "England Player Profile: George Cohen". englandfc.com. 2014. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  5. ^ Cunningham, Tessa (16 September 2008). "George Cohen: I managed to kick bowel cancer. If only my friend Bobby Moore had been so lucky". Mail Online. Retrieved 28 July 2011. 
  6. ^ Moore, Matthew; Evans, Martin (18 June 2010). "World Cup 2010: British university in firing line over Jabulani ball goal drought". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  7. ^ Clavane, Anthony (2012). Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here?: The Story of English Football's Forgotten Tribe. London: Quercus. p. link. ISBN 978-0-85738-812-4. "George Cohen ... was lauded by the Jewish, national and international press. ... [H]e rang up the editor to explain that he was not actually 'of the faith'. 'I have a Jewish great-grandfather,' he said, 'but that's it, really. Neither my father nor my mother was a Jew. I have always been Church of England." 
  8. ^ "Search general register office (GRO)marriage records 1796–2005 | Fully indexed marriage records". Findmypast.co.uk. Retrieved 28 July 2011. 
  9. ^ "Footballers' wives of 1966 relive the memories". Dailymail.co.uk. 8 June 2006. Retrieved 28 July 2011. 
  10. ^ The Big Book of Jewish Sports Heroes .... Retrieved 28 July 2011.