It is with considerable sadness that I note the passing of football legend Jimmy Greaves today. Condolences to his family and friends.
Greaves was one of the first footballers to make an impact on me as an impressionable youngster. Legend is a term often used as a throwaway line, but I think it is thoroughly merited in Jimmy’s case.
He started his professional career with Chelsea and I saw him in action many times at Stamford Bridge. My dad and I got into a pattern of watching Millwall one week (we lived down the Old Kent Road) and Chelsea the next. This was in a time when teams used to play alternate games home or away every Saturday at 3pm. Sunday matches were unheard of. That day was for the Church.
Greaves’ goal-scoring exploits at Chelsea were the stuff of legend. For example, in the 60-61 season he netted hat-tricks against Wolves, Blackburn and Manchester City; he scored four against Newcastle United and Notts Forest and five in a 7-1 win over West Brom. Imagine those numbers in the modern game.
It’s a source of amazement to me that Chelsea did not win anything during Greaves’ time with the club, but a leaky defence didn’t help matters. I recall being at the match when Chelsea lost 2-1 at home to Fourth Division side Crewe in the FA Cup. The previous season Spurs had beaten Crewe 13-2 in a replay!
Greaves moved on to AC Milan in June 1961 for a fee of 80,000 – a fortune at the time. But, after an unhappy spell in Italy, the Manor Park, London-born player returned to Spurs where he would go on to become their leading goal-scorer with 220 goals. Harry Kane is still some way behind on 166.
It is ironic to note that on the day of his death two of his former clubs Chelsea and Spurs will face each other. I expect both sides to wear black armbands. Of course, Greaves also played for West Ham who are in action soon against Manchester United.
Greaves featured for several non-league clubs after leaving the Hammers – Brentwood, Chelmsford City, Barnet and Woodford Town.
On occasion, he would also run out for The Sun newspaper’s team where he had become a columnist. It was in one of those games I had the great privilege of being ‘marked’ by him when I was playing for the Daily Express. The Sun played him at the back because we would have objected strongly had he played up front.
At the time Jimmy was recovering from alcoholism and we felt fairly sure that he would not accompany us to the pub after the match as was the tradition. But, he came, drank soft drinks and was thoroughly good company. I think that day we had a preview of the affable style of chat that would serve him so well when he went on to a TV career in Saint and Greavsie.
But I haven’t touched on Jimmy’s England career yet. He hit 44 goals for England in 57 appearances and for a season was England’s leading scorer before Bobby Charlton overtook him. To give that some context, current leading scorer Wayne Rooney ended with 53 goals, but needed 120 appearances to get them.
A great disappointment to Greaves was to not feature in England’s 1966 World Cup win. He had played early in the tournament but picked up an injury and was replaced by Geoff Hurst. Manager Alf Ramsey decided not to alter the team for the final even though Jimmy was declared fit to play.
He is quoted as saying: “I missed out on the match of a lifetime, and it hurt.”
Rest in peace James Peter Greaves, who died today at the age of 81.