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Obituary: Jimmy Greaves


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Yesterday's biggest story in the UK, was the passing of Jimmy Greaves at the age of 81. Greaves is considered by many, to be the finest striker ever to come out of the British Isles.

Born in West Ham, London in Feb 1940, he was able to attribute much of his success to playing street football which was very common in those days. His particular advantage he said, was he owned a football (not so common), and at the age of 5 he was playing against many kids up  to 5 or 6 years older than himself who had to let him play, or there would be no kickabout. At the age of 15, he signed apprentice forms for Chelsea in 1955. He started to make a name for himself quite rapidly and in his first season scoring 124 goals for the youth team. He was called up for the England Youth Team (Under 18's) the following year and again made a rapid impression, including scoring 9 goals in one game. He signed full professional forms in 1957.

That year, he made his debut in the old Division 1 (now the Premier League) against Tottenham Hotspur and again was an instant success, scoring the equaliser in a 1-1 draw. Ironically, he later transferred to Tottenham and had the bulk of his success there. Greaves had an amazing record of scoring debut goals on every occasion, whether it be for club, country including Youth, Under-23, Seniors, or a competition he was entering for the first time.

In 1959, he made his debut for the England team on a tour of S. America, playing against Peru, scoring the customary debut goal.

By 1960, several Italian clubs started buying the brightest and best of British football talent. It wasn't too difficult really. This was the era of the Football maximum wage which was then £20 a week, reducing to £17 off-season. But only the elite players got this. It was not uncommon in those days to see Division 1 footballers, stacking shelves in supermarkets during the off-season. Meanwhile, the Italians were offering up to £300 a week at a time when the average industrial wage was £15 per week. By 1961, the Professional Footballers Association were threatening strike action, and this led to the Maximum wage being abolished, and soon after, the English league had their first £100 per week player, the then England captain, Johnny Haynes.

By this time, the Italians had been courting Greaves for several months, and the prospect of being able to earn maybe £100 a week in England dampened down his desire to leave England. However, there were no immediate signs of Chelsea giving him a pay rise. Greaves had got married to his wife Irene at the age of 18. Their first child had died in it's first year but a second was not long in coming, and now Jimmy was anxious to provide for his family. He took the "lure of the lira" when Chelsea sold him for £80k and signed for AC Milan, then managed by Helenio Herrera, the architect of "Cattenacio" in Italy. The principle was simple enough: "If they can't score against us, they can't beat us". Herrera was a strict disciplinarian and demanded of all his players, once the other side got the ball, they were all to become defenders. That simply was not in his DNA. There were frequent falling outs between him and Herrera, and his Italian career lasted 14 games during which he scored goals against the meanest defences on the planet. And did I mention that he scored on his debut?

Next stop was Tottenham, who paid a then record £99,999 pound for him. The unusual price was because the Tottenham Manager, Bill Nicholson, didn't want to saddle him with the pressure of being Britain's first £100k player. From the 58/59 season, Greaves had been club top scorer for three seasons. His return allowed him to carry on that sequence until his final complete season in 1968/9 a remarkable 10 consecutive seasons. In that time, he set club records for Chelsea (41) in 1961 and Spurs (37)  in 1963 which have still to be beaten. His worst season was 1965/6 (16) when he lost half the season to Hepatitis. 

His return to England was not straightforward. The FA became suspicious of two high value transfers for the same player in such a short period, as well as wondering why someone might take a pay cut of £200 a week. The FA allowed him to play in the reserves pending investigation and naturally he scored on his debut for both that team and competition. Reserve games would normally attract 500-1000 spectators. The crowds for his three reserve games, were never less than 17k. After several weeks, he was cleared to play for the full team and instead of his customary debut goal, he got three, a hat trick against Blackpool.

1966 was World Cup year, and after initial fears that he might not make the squad because of the Hepatitis, he played in the first three games and picked up a very bad gash to his shin playing against France. For a while, much of England thought that the loss of Greaves from the comp would be fatal. Step forward, Geoff Hurst who scored in the quarter-final against Argentina. With Jimmy still recovering, Hurst stayed in for the semi-final. On the day of the final, Greaves had recovered from his injury, but England Manager, Ramsey, who was averse to changing a winning side stuck with Hurst. Many thought that Ramsey had got it wrong, but he was vindicated when England beat Germany 4-2 and Hurst scored the only hat-trick to date in a World Cup Final.

In that era, only the players who played in the final were awarded medals. Not playing in the final was believed to have deeply affected him and over the next three years, his personal life began to deteriorate as he drifted towards alcoholism. In between, he left Spurs for West Ham. His record at Spurs was 266 goals in 379 games. However, his time at West Ham apart from scoring twice on debut, was pretty unremarkable, and he retired at the age of 31. By then, he had set a record 366 goals for the Top Five Euro-leagues. This record stood until it was passed by both Ronaldo and Messi, who were both older than Greaves when they beat his record in 2016

The descent to alcoholism led to his wife Irene divorcing him. This was possibly the lowest point in his life with the exception of the loss of his first child. Jimmy "took the cure", and remarried within 18 months, again to Irene. From there, things started to look up. Known for a funny wit, he was invited to join the "After Dinner Speakers" circuit, during which he was spotted by a producer from the now defunct ATV television company. The producer had an idea for a match-day preview of the games and current football events, but was wondering who might front it for. Together with fellow former footballer, Ian St John, the TV Channel launched, "The Saint and Greavesie", and thus the UK had it's first football punditry tv programme. The show was an instant hit and regularly had audiences of 6-7 million, which was remarkable for it's time slot of Saturday Lunchtime when wives would be trying to drag the husband out shopping. The program ran for 7 years until 1992, and was cancelled following the acquisition of Premier League broadcast rights by Sky, with them scheduling a regular fixture at the same time as this programme.

Jimmy continued as an After Dinner Speaker and occasional newspaper columnist, until a devastating stroke in 2016, from which he never recovered, and for those of us who loved the man, it was hard to even watch him struggle to communicate. He died yesterday, and coincidence being what it is, Spurs were to play Chelsea at Spurs. This was where Greaves had started his illustrious career, and these were the two clubs where he had enjoyed his greatest success. Maybe the football gods meant it to happen this way?

A short list of Greaves achievements are as follows: Youngest Player to score 100 first division goals. Joint youngest to 200 goals. Youngest to 300 goals. Most first division goals (357). Most times first Division top scorer (6) Most Div 1 hat tricks (22) Most England hat tricks (6). His total goals tally in England for "Club and Country" was 449, including 44 for England and 48 goals in cup competitions. In addition, there were nine scored in Italy.

He won two FA Cup winners medals and a winners medal for the European Cup Winners Cup. He was awarded an MBE in 2020, leaving me to ask what took them  so long.

And do you remember that World Cup Winners medal he missed out on? In 2009, FIFA changed the rules and awarded medals to all member of the winning team squad. The award was retrospective and all players who were still alive from previous winning squads, who had not received a winners medal got their just desserts.




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Watched him in my first ever First Division 1 match .... Forest vs Spurs at City Ground in 1967.


The great man scored in a 1-1 draw.



35 years later I booked him to speak at Felixstowe Freight Club Lunch........ very entertaining and an absolute gentleman.



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10 minutes ago, Chaimai said:

Watched him in my first ever First Division 1 match .... Forest vs Spurs at City Ground in 1967.

The great man scored in a 1-1 draw.

35 years later I booked him to speak at Felixstowe Freight Club Lunch........ very entertaining and an absolute gentleman.

If I recall correctly, Forest were his most victimised club. I think he scored something like 20+ goals against them. That was also the year Spurs beat Forest in the FA Cup semis 2-1. Trying to recall some of the players from Forest, there was Hennessy who captained Wales. Grummit was GK, and two of the strkers were Barry Wignall, and Ian Storey-Moore, who apart from being a bloody good winger, was at that time, the only player I knew of with a double barrelled name.

I met him when I was 15. I lived nearby to him when he lived in Shenfield, Essex. I'd been given a Charles Buchan Football Annual (now defunct) for Xmas which he signed for me.

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