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George Cohen: My Autobiography by George Cohen with James Lawton

Release date: 31st August, 2005
Publisher: Headline Publishing

List Price: £7.99
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As the dust settles on the early season World Cup qualifiers, it seems quite fitting that the paperback version of George Cohen's much acclaimed autobiography should be published.

Of course Cohen belonged to a different era: he was the very embodiment of a solid, loyal defender who only ever played professionally for one club, unfashionable Fulham, between 1956 and 1968, during which time he won 37 England caps.

It was while away on international duty that he was exposed to a completely different style of play; indeed, his account of the World Cup quarter final match against Argentina, for example, could serve as a starting point with which to highlight the extent of the game's subsequent decline: "They [Argentina] were niggling from the start" he writes. "They made everything difficult, arguing with officials, stalling over free kicks√Ėthey did tug your hair, spit at you, poke you in the eyes and kick you when the ball was miles away√Ė"

If this description sounds like one from a Champions League match, it's because unfortunately, such shenanigans, once a rarity, are now commonplace - and not just in professional football, the amateur game has suffered too.

But Cohen witnessed the continuation of an equally worrying trend off the pitch too when his then manager, the wonderfully-named Bedford Jezzard, resigned after Fulham's board sold an up-and-coming youngster called Alan Mullery to Tottenham without advising him.

George Cohen's place in Britain's sporting pantheon may be forever assured, but winning the World Cup in 1966, for which he and other members of the 22-man squad each received a £1,000 bonus, hardly set him up for life. Yet Cohen is sanguine about what appears a paltry reward and about the colossal salaries enjoyed by today's pampered stars, few of whom will ever come close to winning a World Cup medal. When he was forced to retire, following an injury sustained in a game against Liverpool, Cohen received an insurance payment of £18,000 and Fulham granted him a testimonial from which he was grateful to accept £8,000.

It meant that, after he had finished playing, Cohen had to get on with forging another career, something he eventually did with great success, slowly building a property development company in the south east. Unfortunately for Cohen, as his enterprise was on the cusp of concluding its biggest-ever deal, Kent Council refused planning permission for a development which meant it could not proceed. Cohen, who had invested every penny he had in the project, was forced to sell his house and start again.

If this were not enough, Cohen has twice faced the very real threat of dying from cancer - on one occasion, doctors urged him and his wife Daphne to bring their affairs up to date as there appeared little chance of him pulling through. That he has done so is testament to a man best described as tenacious.

Even so, this is not all of George Cohen's astonishing story. His younger brother Peter was murdered in the late 1990s and his nephew Ben, ensured a remarkable family double when he too won a rugby World Cup medal with England in 2003.

So often, an ex-footballer's tale follows the same tired path, laced with stories of excesses, boyish pranks and dolly birds. Yet George Cohen has faced much greater challenges away from the football pitch than he ever encountered on it; this alone makes his inspirational autobiography worth reading.

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