George Cohen MBE
George 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, Jimmy won his 41st cap in an embarrassing defeat against Scotland at Hampden Park. England coach Alf Ramsey duly tried out George for his international debut a month later in a 2–1 win over Uruguay. With Jimmy Armfield unfortunately suffering an injury – timed appallingly with the World Cup imminent – George 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 George was Ramsey’s first choice by the time the competition, which England was hosting, got underway.
George 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 George proved their extra worth.
As England got through a group containing Uruguay, Mexico and France, George’s unfussy performances were rightly seen as just as vital as the attention-grabbing displays from the likes of Bobby Charlton. George 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 George in order to prevent him swapping shirts with one of his opponents.
Three days later, one of George’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, George 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.
George 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. George’s 37th and final England appearance came in a 2–0 win over Northern Ireland at Wembley on 22 November 1967. He didn’t 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.
George 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. It would have been more but for the injury which forced his retirement before his 30th birthday. George coached the Fulham youth team and the England under 23 team for a time, and also managed non-league outfit Tonbridge.
Manchester United’s legendary winger George Best described George as “the best full back I ever played against”. Alf Ramsay called George: “England’s greatest right back”. George 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, George was not a player ever in the limelight, though was always ready to talk about the World Cup success whenever requested to do so.
George 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 Alan Ball, Ray Wilson, Nobby Stiles and Roger Hunt.
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