The England World Cup winning team of 1966 has sadly lost another of its heroes after right-back George Cohen passed away at the age of 83. He played every single minute of the six matches of the famous tournament success and was in actual fact, Sir Bobby Moore’s vice-captain for the iconic 4-2 victory over West Germany in that historic final at Wembley Stadium. Following a media campaign, he and four teammates were belatedly honoured with an MBE in 2000 to recognise their wonderful achievement, 36 years after the event.
He won 37 caps for his country, all as a Fulham player with whom he spent his entire 13-year playing career, between 1956 and 1969 making 459 appearances, before a knee injury forced him to retire still short of his 30th birthday. Such was the esteem he was held in at the London club, a statue was erected outside their Craven Cottage ground in 2016. Inscribed below the structure are the words: “Fulham player, World Cup Winner, Gentleman.”
His pace, strength and stamina made him one of the best attacking full-backs of his generation. Probably the finest winger and arguably the greatest player around the English game at that time, George Best, described Cohen as his most difficult opponent… praise indeed. Soon after retiring, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, aged just 36, but he bravely fought the disease, and despite it returning after initially seemingly ridding himself of it, he finally got the all-clear in 1990. He actively campaigned for more research into firstly cancer and later – after several colleagues succumbed to the condition – dementia.
His death means that there are now just two surviving members of the famous team of ’66. Geoff Hurst, now aged 79 – whose hat-trick in that game has only just been matched in a final by Kylian Mbappe, 56 years later, during France’s defeat to Argentina just last week – is still in good health. Bobby Charlton, who is now 85-years-old, was diagnosed with dementia in 2020; news which intensified George Cohen’s campaigning against the condition.
Fulham make the sad announcement
His passing was announced by Fulham Football Club declaring their sadness and calling him one of their greatest ever players, but also making the point to also call him a gentleman. “All of our thoughts are with Daphne, his beloved wife of more than 60 years, sons Anthony and Andrew, his grandchildren and extended family, as well as George’s many, many friends.”
Tributes to a teammate for club and country
His former Fulham team-mate and good friend Alan Mullery spoke of “receiving a kick in the teeth” when hearing the news. Current manager Marco Silva said: “It is a huge loss for Fulham, and for English football”, before sending his condolences to the family.
Sir Geoff Hurst reiterated what many were saying when remembering his good friend by saying: “George was such a lovely man.” He continued: “He will be sadly missed, my heartfelt thoughts are with George’s wife Daphne and his family.”
Statue to mark anniversary
The statue which was unveiled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the World Cup win, was accompanied with him receiving the Freedom of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. There is a section of the ground named after him and after he ran into some financial difficulties, the club purchased his World Cup Winners Medal in 1998 for £80,000 and it remains on permanent display at the stadium to this day.
Speaking at the time of the statue’s unveiling, Cohen said: “I find it absolutely wonderful that they even thought I was worthy of it, especially as it was alongside Johnny Haynes, the greatest name in Fulham’s history, it is rather unbelievable.”
Better late than never to receive a deserved honour
George Cohen was one of five members of the England side who had been rather harshly ignored, with regards to honouring their achievement in helping the country win the much coveted World Cup, so there was great joy and satisfaction when along with: Alan Ball, Roger Hunt, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson, he received a much deserved MBE in 2000.
Always destined to play for Fulham
He was born in Kensington, in West London in 1939, and joined Fulham initially as a member of the ground staff, before signing a professional contract in 1956 and made his debut against Liverpool as a 17-year-old in March 1957.
He was a father of two who was married to his wife, Daphne, for more than 60 years.
Tragic incidents bring heartache
His life was also impacted by heartbreak. In 1971, his mother was killed when she was tragically run over by a truck and, in 2000, his brother Peter died aged 58 after he was attacked while trying to break up a fight outside a Northampton nightclub.
His nephew, Ben Cohen, son of his brother Peter, won the Rugby World Cup with England in 2003.
Nine of the heroes sadly have passed
Cohen’s death means that now nine members of that 1966 team are no longer with us; the other eight who have sadly died are:
- Gordon Banks – in 2019, aged 81.
- Ray Wilson – in May 2018, aged 83.
- Nobby Stiles – in October 2020, aged 78.
- Jack Charlton – in 2020, aged 85.
- Bobby Moore – in 1993, aged 51.
- Alan Ball – in April 2007, aged 61.
- Martin Peters – in December 2019, aged 76.
- Roger Hunt – in September 2021, aged 83.