The Enigmatic Mr Greaves

The Best of Jimmy Greaves | Helps Spurs to secure an incredible 5:1 victory over Man Utd

R.I.P. Jimmy Greaves… the greatest.

Sad news that legendary goal scorer for Spurs and England, amongst others, Jimmy Greaves, has died aged 81.

The greatest. The greatest scorer for Tottenham. The greatest scorer in English football. The greatest in Europe. A lot of it is the numbers with Greavsie, 50 years after hung up his boots, he’s still the highest scorer in the English top flight. Still the highest scorer for Spurs. Not the highest total for England but the best goals per game ratio of those at the top of the chart. And in Europe’s top 5 leagues, he might now be behind Messi and Ronaldo but they’ve played far more games in easier conditions.

But it’s not all numbers because Greaves was the most natural, fluent and instinctive goal scorer England has ever produced. Yes there was some thunderbolts but as those that played with him, against him or say him from the stands will tell you so many of those record number of goals were passed into the net, with a casual ease.

A casual ease that led to a programme like the one above, in which those same people – well not the fans – talk about it being too easy for Jimmy to score. That he wasn’t really fond of the other stuff in the game, just scoring. But why would you want Jimmy Greave defending?

The man who kept Chelsea in the top flight with his goals, which saw him score 41 in 40 games in his final season before he moved to Italy. Seen as a failure because of his quick return, he still scored 9 in 12 in the land where defence is king, queen, god and the holy ghost. Not getting on with his coach, who had replace the man who signed him, because of that dislike of training he was soon back in England.

How can you make the first double winning side of the modern era better? Well, you could buy the best goal scorer England will produce. You just knock a quid off so he isn’t carrying the tag of the first £100,000 player. He scored on his debut, as he did at every club and with England, getting hat-trick against Blackpool.

Nine seasons, 266 goals, two FA Cups, on Cup Winners’ Cup followed, in partnership with Bobby Smith, whose Spurs record he took, then Alan Gilzean. What didn’t follow was a World Cup winners medal, at the time. Sir Alf’s spearhead played in the three group games but hadn’t scored when he was ruled out with a huge gash on the shin that required 14 stitches. Geoff Hurst, who had only got into the squad at the beginning of the year came in for the quarter final, against Argentina, where he grabbed his chance and got the winning goal, only his second international goal. Greave wasn’t fit for the semi-final against Portugal, but was for the final. And while many expected his return, Alf stuck with Hurst, Alf again being one of those a little wary or a free spirit like Greaves.

Sir Alf later after the World Cup picked him but after 44 goals in 57 games Greaves asked the manager not to bother picking him if he was just going to be a bit part player. A few years later seemingly disillusioned, he was a make-weight in the deal that brought Martin Peters to Spurs. Jimmy didn’t want to leave and regretted moving to West Ham, instead of taking up Brian Clough’s offer at Derby, where he say his old team mate Dave Mackay resurrect his career.

There was also the drinking culture at his new club and Greavsie had already started on the path to alcoholism that would blight the next decade for him and saw him end up in a psychiatric hospital. During this period, in an attempt to overcome his alcoholism he turned out for Brentwood, Chelmsford and Barnet in non league football and was still scoring goals.

You never stop being an alcoholic but Greavsie won his struggle and didn’t touch a drop for decades until it was announced he had been awarded the MBE in this year’s New Year honours list, which was celebrated with a glass of wine. His first drink since 1978. In reality it’s a nothing reward for England’s greatest scorer, as his wife thought.

During which time he got into TV. From being down the line as a game reporter, a pundit at the World Cup to “Saint & Greavsie”, cracking a joke, wearing some jumpers through the 80s, before ITV lost football with the Premier League. The football “Tiswas” to the “Swap Shop” of “Football Focus”.

Suffering a serious stroke in 2015, confined to a wheelchair, with failing memory and trouble talking, it was an awful end for someone who lit up a football pitch and a TV programme.

Ronaldo and Messi may have surpassed his total for the top 5 leagues in Europe but just imaging Greavsie playing today. Watch the video above, he wouldn’t probably be lighting up a ciggie today, or drinking. He wouldn’t have been playing on the beach that White Hart Lane was in one of the games, or the ploughed fields so many of the grounds were in those days. A lighter ball, lighter boots, lighter defenders. Not the clogging centre-backs he faced, though he’d have to put up with more hands these days. I mean, a grab or a push that’s waved on today would be a foul back then.

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