Just a month shy of her 105th birthday, the wonderful lady would’ve marvelled at the sight of the fledgling superstar – 85 years her junior – smashing home Manchester City’s fourth goal at Anfield last Sunday.
Vera Cohen would’ve been thrilled as Phil Foden cut inside from the right wing, shredding the last remnants of Liverpool’s ragged and demoralised defence, before unleashing an unstoppable strike past Alisson – cold feet and all – to seal the historic 4-1 humbling of the champions.
Vera, at an astonishing 104 years and 11 months ‘young’ and a season ticket holder for nigh on nine decades, had witnessed the bulk of City’s ‘history’ – the history we’re not supposed to have, if you believe the club’s detractors – but she missed Foden’s spectacular goal.
On an occasion which will live long in the memory of every City supporter, one special fan was missing. Vera had passed away 24 hours earlier.
The sheer exuberance of City’s triumph was tinged with grief and sorrow that Vera had died – quite literally out of the blue – just 15 minutes after saying she was feeling unwell on the Saturday lunchtime.
Tears of sadness at her death turned to tears of joy, as City recorded a long awaited and extremely rare win on the red half of Merseyside. Vera wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
In speaking with her family this week, I learned that this truly remarkable lady possessed a myriad of personal qualities; resilience, loyalty, commitment, positivity, love of family, life and all things Manchester City. She wouldn’t have wanted her departure to cast a shadow over such a momentous victory.
Vera was the epitome of a ‘true blue’. With four children; Jennifer, Erica, Shelley and Danny, seven grandchildren and 16 great grandkids, she would joke that one of her greatest achievements was having 25 family members support City, with just two opting for United – and who could argue?
She and her younger sister, Olga Halon, now 99-years of age, achieved national and international fame in 2018, when City went with an ‘experienced line up’ for the match day mascots against Fulham. The dynamic duo, accompanied by City skipper David Silva and Fernandinho, led the team out onto the Etihad turf.
Vera was chuffed to have a cheeky kiss from El Mago, but even more so when Merlin scored in the 3-0 win. In her post match interview Vera said; “I told David he was one of my favourite players, which was true, and he gave me a kiss. I asked him to score a goal for me – and he did – so that was lovely.
“Later on I saw Pep Guardiola and I said ‘thank you very much for all you’ve done for this team.’ There’s something about him that brings the best out of these players. He’s fantastic. I hope he stays forever.”
Up until last Saturday, it was Vera who seemed like she’d been with City forever. Born on March 7th 1916 in Didsbury, Manchester – the place she lived her entire life – she was the fifth of seven children born to Elie and Farida Betesh, Syrian Jewish immigrants, who moved from Aleppo at the turn of the 20th century.
She started attending games in 1932 with her brother Ivan, standing on the Popular Side – later renamed the Kippax – at Maine Road. Vera would pay her match day admission – an old six pence piece – before buying her first ever season ticket during World War Two. She renewed it every year up until this season, when City didn’t issue season cards, due to the Covid19 pandemic.
Not only did she love football, Vera herself was a mad keen sportswoman. She was ‘Games Captain’ at Withington Girls School. Cricket was another passion and she was a season ticket holder at what she called ‘the proper Old Trafford’ – the home of Lancashire County Cricket Club – up until she turned 95. She loved watching Freddie Flintoff and Jimmy Anderson bowl for her native county, as well as for England.
It was another ball game – tennis – which brought Vera and her future husband, Joe, together, playing at the country club (now the Manchester Bridge Club on Palatine Road, Withington) in the 1930s. They married on New Year’s Day, 1940 just before Joe went off to serve in North Africa during the 2nd World War. Vera contributed to the war effort, working at the Hans Renold Swiss Munition Factory. She was proud to ‘play her part’ in helping defeat the evils of the Nazis and Imperial Japan.
She held Winston Churchill in high esteem, describing him as, “…a deeply inspiring man who galvanized the nation.” Vera’s future family would be enthralled by her wartime recollections. It was a family which began in 1946 when Vera and Joe first became parents.
Three years later Vera had no qualms when her beloved City signed a 26-year old goalkeeper – a former German paratrooper who had been awarded the Iron Cross during the war. The signing of a certain Bert Trautmann sparked huge protests with 20,000 people attending a demonstration against the move. Always one to seek the best in people, Vera loved to watch Trautmann thwart opposition forwards in a career spanning 545 City appearances.
His performance – playing on with a broken neck – in City’s FA Cup Final win over Birmingham City in 1956, became legendary. She always spoke fondly of, ‘a fantastic goalkeeper’, but also of Bert’s role in breaking down post-war prejudices.
Vera, like everybody living in Manchester in the late 1950s, could not fail but be ‘deeply affected’ by the Munich Air Disaster on February 6th 1958. Her grandson, David Goldsmith, said: “Grandma always said that no matter any rivalry in sport, nothing should ever come above the preciousness of life.”
How poignant it was that Vera herself should pass away on the 63rd anniversary of the tragedy.
She always observed a minute’s silence to mark the anniversary of the plane crash in which 23 people died, including many of Manchester United’s legendary ‘Busby Babes’, as well as former City goalkeeper, Frank Swift, then working as a sports journalist. Big Frank played for City for 16 years from 1933 up until his retirement in 1949, making way for a certain German called Bert. When asked which was the better keeper, Vera never made a judgement call, describing both as ‘great’.
Unlike the countless tens of thousands of fans who claim to have been among a crowd of just 8,015 – City’s lowest ever attendance when losing 2-1 to Swindon Town on January 16th, 1965 – Vera and her son Danny WERE THERE!
It was yet another City badge of honour. Never ever let it be said that Vera Cohen was a glory hunter.
She was hardcore, as was demonstrated when she Olga, Danny and a family friend went to see City play at Blackburn Rovers in a 5th round FA Cup tie in February 1969. Terrible traffic congestion meant they only arrived at half time, but there was never any question of heading back to Didsbury. Vera was adamant: “We’re going to watch the boys, and that’s that!”
It was the season City would go onto win the FA Cup, beating Leicester City 1-0 at Wembley. Under Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison they’d been crowned Champions of England in 1968 and Vera had loved every minute. In 1970 City would pick up the League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup. They were heady times, with Vera and Olga ever present at Maine Road.
But times changed. The1980s and 1990s saw the phrase ‘Typical City’ coined, as the Boys In Blue contrived, more often than not, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Vera’s grandson David, recalled the days when City suffered several relegations and the ignominy of third tier football.
He said: “I’ll never forget one game when City were losing in injury time (an all too common occurrence in those days) and I wanted to leave early. Grandma looked at me and said, ‘We don’t leave until the final whistle is blown. We’re not these fair weather fans who come and go. We stay to the end.’ It summed up her unswerving support.”
When she lost her daughter, Jennifer, to cancer in 2001, Vera’s verve for life and indomitable spirit helped her through the darkest of days. Rather than succumb to her grief, she sought something positive. At the age of 85, she embarked on marathon baking sessions, raising more than £23,000 for The Christie – the leading cancer care, research and education centre, based in Manchester.
In her twilight years – of which there were many – Vera reaped so much reward in the joy of her growing family and the amazing success of her other love, City!
After Sergio Aguero’s 93:20 last gasp, title winner against QPR, she professed to nearly having a heart attack – no joking matter when you’re 96 years old. The champagne corks popped as Vera celebrated with her own big blue family. Sergio – rather like David Silva – was one of her City favourites, hence the family’s beautiful Labrador Retriever is called Kuno.
She also had a soft spot for the man who skippered City to four Premier League titles, so you can imagine her delight when Vincent Kompany turned up on her doorstep in May 2017. It was part of a City initiative, ‘Nothing Without You’, where players paid surprise visits to deserving fans. Vera and Olga served tea and cakes while chatting with City’s Captain Marvel about their families and the place they all called home – Manchester. With Olga, son Danny, son-in-law Roger and numerous grandkids and great grandchildren by her side in the Colin Bell Stand, Vera would live to see City’s skipper lift the Premier League trophy on two more occasions, in 2018 and 2019.
As Guardiola’s men continue their winning, record-breaking ways in 2021, City are odds on favourites to win the Premier League again, for what would be the third time in the past four seasons.
Vera stated she wanted Pep to stay at City forever, but there is an adage which reads: ‘Nothing lasts forever. Forever is a lie. All we have is what’s between hello and goodbye.’
If you apply it to Vera’s first ‘hello’ and last ‘goodbye’ you’ll find a life so rich in both thought and deed sandwiched in-between. The City Family is so much the poorer for her passing, but so thankful she was with us for so long.
RIP Vera you will be missed.
By David Walker (with thanks to Danny Cohen and David Goldsmith for their invaluable contributions)
On a personal note, I knew Vera for the last four years of her life. We sat on the same row on CB Level 2 at the Etihad. I had to pass her as I made my way to my seat. She always had a twinkle in her eye as she pretended to trip me with her walking stick – it was a nailed on yellow card every time. I used to joke with her about her 20 zillion City loyalty points – she’d been a fan for so long. I’ll admit to shedding a few tears when I heard news of her passing. It was a joy to share some gloriously rich, warm and sunny days throughout Pep’s reign and, when we do eventually return to the Etihad, it will be tinged with sadness at Vera’s absence.
Sleep well sweet lovely lady.
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