England World Cup winner George Cohen recalls the spirit of 1966

By Andy Stevens

Alphabet W World Cup-winning England football legend George Cohen is spearheading a nationwide campaign to recapture the spirit of 1966 and rekindle fans' memories of English football's greatest triumph

The former Fulham full-back won 37 caps for England and was vice-captain of the side which so famously beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley in July '66 to win the World Cup for the first, and so far only, time.

Thinking back to '66, George, now 70, recalls the build-up to the tournament. "We'd all had a long season, playing something like 55 games. It had been a hard slog before we started preparing for the World Cup," George remembers. "Sir Alf Ramsey had us all at Lilleshall for ten days' training, and it's worth recalling that in the lead up to the World Cup we'd beaten West Germany twice, plus Portugal and Spain.

"We were very confident. Sir Alf instilled that into us. There was such a sense of togetherness in the dressing room. And I was very lucky to be playing alongside genuine world class players, the likes of Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks and Bobby Charlton. Although the greatest player I ever played with in my club days was my Fulham team-mate Johnny Haynes."

But perhaps George is being too modest. After all, his then England manager described him as "England's greatest right back." George's forward runs gave Ramsey's side width, and he set up England's decisive goal against Portugal in the semi-finals. His major contribution in the final was blocking the last minute free-kick from West Germany's Lothar Emmerich.

Yes, the unforgettable final. "When the final came you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. It was fantastic," George said, adding how he vividly recalled being kissed by ebullient team-mate Nobby Stiles after the final whistle. Not something he'd be keen to repeat, he laughed. "He jumped on me and gave me a big toothless kiss. Now I know what it's liked to be kissed by Mick Jagger!"

The legendary full-back also relived the tense moments before the famous Wembley final. "When I walked into the tunnel and stood next to the German players the first thing I noticed was that I couldn't hear anything. Then as you got closer to the pitch I heard this buzzing like a bee. The buzzing became a roar. When I got to the pitch all I could see was movement and colour. That was the only time I felt nervous.

"The final was a long hard slog against a very good team. The pitch was very spongy, which made you move a yard or so slower. The ball was moving around very fast off the surface. We had the advantage. As we were preparing for extra-time, Sir Alf said to us that the Germans were finished. We emerged as the stronger side but to be fair, German manager Helmut Schoen was very gracious at the end and congratulated us, saying we were worthy winners."

Recalling West Germany's equaliser at the end of normal time, Cohen believes that the goal shouldn't have stood because a German player handled in the penalty area after a free-kick: "I think we set the wall up too deep, Gordon's (Banks') reactions were excellent but we might have impeded his view. The ball hit my knee and went across the box, I'm pretty sure it stopped in the middle because it struck a German hand. They scored and I can't repeat what I said! We just felt numb. We had to do it all over again."

But do it they did, with Geoff Hurst's hat-trick heroics etched forever in the English consciousness. Asked how he thought Fabio Capello's class of 2010 would fair in South Africa, George said: "If England can't get out of their group they should take up Subbuteo! Put it this way, they'd better take a long time getting home. Seriously though, we have a very good chance of doing well. We've got some very good players, although there is a problem these days in that we're not producing enough good young players."

Now 192.com is endeavouring to find some of the fans of '66 and reunite them under one roof to watch England compete in this year’s World Cup. The idea is that the '66 reunion group will meet up for a pub meal and - hopefully - roar England to victory.

Loads of great stories from that amazing July day 44 years ago have been flooding in to the World Cup memories pages since George's campaign began.

One reader, 'Steve' said: "I was there in '66 - I remember walking out of the stadium and being greeted by a throng of people who were massed at the end of Wembley way and they were actually applauding us - the spectators! What an atmosphere! I walked the four miles home and for the entire journey cars were honking their horns in unison to the England supporters' chants. There was something surreal about the journey as if we were being carried along in a wave of euphoria...everything seemed to be covered with red, white and blue."

Another reader, 'Katherine', recalled: "In 1966 I was ten years old. My family and I had been holidaying in a caravan in Cornwall and were driving back on the actual day of the match. Coming through London seemed wonderful to me as a child - everyone who had watched the match in public places were smiling, singing and obviously very happy! The camaraderie was brilliant!"

And 'Stuart' added: "I watched it on black & white TV. After the match, six of us headed up west in an A35 van; congas up Shaftesbury Avenue, dancing on bar tops in Soho then down to the Royal Garden Hotel to completely block off the road when the team came out to wave the trophy to the fans! More of that please...it's been a lifetime."

Interview by Andy Stevens. Remember 1966 and reunite with friends and family at www.192worldcup.com/


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