GEORGE COHEN’s passing is another reminder that time is getting on, leaving us with just Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton from the triumphant 11 and five from the England squad of 22 from that glorious summer of 1966.
Cohen’s football career is well documented, his cheery disposition very notable in all media discussions about England’s World Cup victory. Fulham was his only club, Cohen may have been one of the less celebrated figures at the time of England’s success, but at Craven Cottage, he remained a club icon. Full backs are rarely in the spotlight, but his name rolled off the tongue in every attempt to name the “boys of 66”- Banks, Cohen, Wilson… and so on.
Cohen was a one club man, not unusual in 1966, but nevertheless, a stable, reliable and determined footballer. In that 1966 squad, there were other similarly loyal figures: Bobby and Jack Charlton, Roger Hunt, Ian Callaghan, Terry Paine, Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles, Norman Hunter, Ron Flowers and Peter Bonetti. Not all were one-club men by the time their playing days ended, but most spent peak career with a single employer. Sadly, his later career was plagued with injury and he had to retire before he was 30. The only medal was the World Cup winners’ medal of 1966. At club level, he won nothing. He was not alone in the England squad – Ron Springett, Jimmy Armfield and Terry Paine all ended their careers without a medal from domestic football, but only Cohen played in the final.
The most decorated player in Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad of 1966 didn’t line-up in the final against West Germany. Ian Callaghan of Liverpool won 11 major prizes, including five league titles and four European trophies. Between them, the winning side of 1966 won 28 top prizes with their clubs, but because some played for relatively unfashionable clubs, their trophy haul was modest. This underlines how football has changed in the years since 1966 – top players are supposed to win prizes, as evidenced by the medal cabinets of the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, among others.
Only five of the England team that lifted the Jules Rimet trophy won the Football League title: Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, Bobby Charlton, Alan Ball and Roger Hunt. Legendary players like Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, Gordon Banks and Geoff Hurst won surprisingly little in their club careers. Furthermore, few members of the 22-man squad – Jack Charlton, Jimmy Armfield and Alan Ball – made a mark in management.
In recent years, time has caught up with the boys of 1966 and 10 have died in four years. Their opponents at Wembley in July 1966 have fared much better. While there are five members of the squad still with us, there are 14 West Germans still enjoying their autumn years, including seven of the starting 11. Perhaps this is due to lifestyle or the difference in social conditions in Germany. Possibly it has something to do with the way elder statesmen are treated after their playing time is over. According to some professionals from the 1960s and 1970s, they were kept playing by dozens of pain-killing injections and as a result, they become riddled with arthritis or rheumatism in old age. Was that any different in West Germany? Perhaps they simply lead healthier lives? Cohen battled illness after his career finished, eventually being given the all-clear on bowel cancer in 1990.
He remains one of only 11 Englishmen to play in the World Cup final, a feat that has eluded countless groups of England hopefuls. He was also an outstanding footballer, rated England’s finest right back with an attacking style that proved to be very influential. His name will live on. He may have won just one medal, but what a medal that was.
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