Let’s be clear. This is NOT an obituary. I’m pleased to report Jimmy Greaves is very much alive. Is that clear? OK. Onwards.
To the generation below mine, Jimmy Greaves was that funny fella who appeared on TV as one half of the ‘Saint & Greavsie’ double act.
To my generation he was one of the foremost entertaining players of his time.
While George Best was the undoubted greatest player performing in England between 1963 and 1974; Jimmy Greaves had an illustrious career himself and now, just a few days after his 74th birthday, I want to remind my generation, and educate the younger ones, about just how good a player he was.
Amazingly, his career began the year before I was born. His first professional club was Chelsea. He made an immediate impact and scored 124 goals in all for the Blues, and in only 157 games.
Now take time out to study that goal per game ration once more. 124 goals in 157 games. What certain strikers would give for a record half that good these days.
And, as his close friend Norman Giller reminded me recently, Jimmy was all the time being kicked up in the air by some of the toughest defenders to ever play the game.
‘This One’s On Me’ is an excellent read. Brutal in its honesty, Jimmy talks about how players in his time travelled to the game on the underground, or by bus. He goes into detail about the drinking sessions he and fellow Tottenham and West Ham players enjoyed.
But Jimmy Greaves became an alcoholic. A footballer who had been the idol of England fans, he found himself going through dustbins trying to find a drop to drink.
His battle with booze remains one of the best told accounts of the illness.
But as a child of the 60’s, I was only interested in his skills on the pitch. He was a favourite player of mine.
I was lucky. I have my three older brothers and my late father to thank for taking me to top flight games in London. So when Manchester United came to, for example, White Hart Lane; my cup runneth over. I got to see George Best and Jimmy Greaves play in the same match. I was spellbound.
While Best is famed the world over, I have long thought the skills and strike rate of Jimmy Greaves have never fully received the plaudits they deserve. He was a mesmerising footballer. He would jink past defenders and leave them looking like statues. He would dribble as though the ball was attached to his feet by a wire.
Jimmy Greaves was a footballer who was worth the entrance fee alone. And you cannot say that very often.
People forget that his exploits for Chelsea drew the attention of A C Milan. Along with Denis Law, he was one of the first players to try and impress in Europe.
Times were very different then. If you went to play abroad there would likely not be anyone speaking English to look after your every need. And flying home wasn’t as easy as it is now.
To ask a 21 year old to settle in a foreign country in the year 1961 was, to use current parlance, “a big ask.”
Greaves returned quickly to his native London. Tottenham signed him for the unique fee of £99.999. He would spend the next nine years with Spurs and would play his best football there, appearing in over 300 matches.
In the video below, Norman Giller recalls the genius that was Greaves and his goalscoring record for clubs and country.Of course, Greaves is often remembered as the man who missed out on the 1966 World Cup final. The player who watched the match from the sidelines and while wearing a suit. He was not even the substitute.
Geoff Hurst took his place and went on to become the hat trick hero of the 4-2 win over West Germany.
But the reason why Greaves was not chosen by Sir Alf Ramsey is often misunderstood. Norman clarifies the reasoning in the video below.
I wish we didn’t wait for a former player to die before we pay tribute to them. So this is my small effort to hail Greavsie while he is still alive.
Watch my short interview with Norman Giller. Few men know Jimmy Greaves better.