Jimmy Greaves might actually be one of the greatest ever…

Matt Stead

The latest ‘Everybody loves…’ focuses on the wonderful Jimmy Greaves. Get well soon, fella.

Who’s this then?
Jimmy Greaves was born in 1940 in Manor Park, London. A 5′ 8″ striker, he was simply the finest that ever graced English football and one of the best in the history of the sport. He’s in the elite of the elite. During his career, no-one was better at putting the ball in the net at the highest level.

He is England’s fourth-highest international scorer with 44 goals, Tottenham Hotspur’s highest-ever scorer with 266, 45 of which came in hat tricks. He remains, by some distance, the highest goalscorer in the history of English top-flight football with 357, 74 ahead of Alan Shearer and 43 clear of second-placed Steve Bloomer.

His career total 422 was in 602 games. He also scored a record six hat-tricks for England and was the First Division’s top scorer a record six times. He was the highest top-flight goalscorer in European history for decades, incredibly only being overtaken by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017.

Playing for Chelsea, AC Milan, Spurs,and latterly West Ham, he scored on his debut for each. His career at the top lasted from 1957 to 1972 before a tragic descent into alcoholism. He was to later make some appearances for Brentwood and Chelmsford City, Barnet and Woodford Town, even though the drink had really got a grip of him for most of this period.

With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous he finally found a way free of his addiction and began a media career initially as an ITV pundit for the 1982 World Cup. It was in 1985 when he struck up one of the great TV double acts with Ian St John with the Saint and Greavsie show on a Saturday lunchtime. It ran for seven years and is fondly remembered by people of a certain age. By this time he was also doing film and TV reviews for TV-am which he treated with the same relaxed, light-heartedness that he’d always brought to his football work.

He continued to work in punditry until the late ’90s and was also involved in several businesses throughout his playing career and beyond which paid off well as his net worth is allegedly $11 million – though I don’t know how such numbers are arrived at.

I highly recommend this documentary about the great man for much further insight into his genius:


Why the love?
To truly appreciate Jim’s career we need to separate it into two distinct eras: as a player and as a pundit.

He played with a carefree ease, often passing the ball past the goalkeeper having put him on his backside. He had a quick brain which often gave him space in which to operate. It shouldn’t be forgotten that he had strength and pace, too, capable of putting on the afterburners to take him clear of a defender. His running style was lovely and smooth and that invested grace and poise into his play.

In an era notorious for its industrial clogging and physical aggression, he was both satin and silk. If you had to pick one player from that time who, if plucked from the peak of his form and placed in today’s top flight, would’ve been hugely successful, it is Greavsie. To watch him in the early ’60s was like watching a modern player now. And he wasn’t interested in the rest of the game. He wouldn’t track back or do the hard yards: ‘Give me the ball and I’ll score the goals’ was his mantra.

In his last year at Chelsea in the 1960/61 season he scored 43 goals in 43 games, including six hat-tricks. He scored over 30 goals in nine of eleven consecutive seasons, 16 in one injury-hit year and 29 in the other. Even a short, unhappy spell at AC Milan (he was disappointed to be restricted to only two cigarettes per day!) saw him score nine in 14, winning Serie A.

It was the effortless way he went about his business that even now is so impressive. Being brilliant at football clearly came easily to him. From 1957 to 1968 he was in a league of his own. And everyone loved Greavsie; he was just so good, you couldn’t take against him for long. And the fact that after playing in the first three games in the 1966 World Cup he lost his place to Geoff Hurst and ended up on the bench for the final, missing out on winning a medal (a travesty put right in 2009) meant he attracted a lot of sympathy. Hurst was good, of course, but Greavsie was the finest forward of his or any other generation. That he was denied his moment in the July sun of 1966 seemed very unfair but Sir Alf Ramsey wasn’t one to make choices out of sympathy and stuck with his winning line-up from the previous rounds.

I saw him playing for the Hammers in his final season and it was almost sad to see him. His light had gone out and his nine goals in 34 reflected his weariness with the club and the game. He was already drinking heavily. This was not the player who glided around the pitch, scoring goals from every angle and distance.

And then he disappeared from most of our lives. When we saw him again on the TV in the early ’80s, to me at least, he looked like an auld fella. It was hard to believe it was the same man that had raced past the best defences on pitches of mud and sand. Here was a more rotund, full-faced chap but, having conquered his drink demons, he had got his twinkle back.

It was his amiable bonhomie which beamed out of the TV at us and what made his gig with The Saint so enjoyable and distinctive. This was before football was A Serious Business, of course. Jimmy would chuckle his way through shows in his own unique way. Scotland was “chillyjockoland”, Doug Ellis was “Deadly Doug”  and all the while The Saint would be laughing with that distinctive dry cackle, playing the straight man.

He was very, very popular and in 1988 was even sent to interview Mike Tyson.

His Spitting Image puppet was a big hit, none more so than the time it sat in for the real thing. Perfectly voiced by the wonderful commentator Peter Brackley. This will make you laugh.

Greavsie was a comfortable presence on television and perhaps more than anything else, genuine. There was nothing contrived or forced about what he did. He appeared modest and unassuming. Maybe battling with addiction strips you of ego and pretence

Funnily enough in recent years, with football media expanding and following a less formal, more chatty style than was once the case, it would’ve suited Jimmy perfectly. He’d have been such a big hit on the radio. I can just imagine him having a joke and a laugh on things like the Monday Night Club. Jimmy was always ahead of his time in so many ways.

I bet he had this fella nailed


What the people love
Most of our readers are probably too young to have seen Jimmy play, some even to have seen Saint and Greavsie, but his legend has touched so many in some way. People who make us feel happy are in such short supply that we cling affectionately to those who do.

‘He was obviously a brilliant footballer but I remember his humour and good nature. “It’s a funny old game, Saint”…indeed it is. And it takes itself far too seriously. At this time, we can see that is ridiculous.’

‘I’ve been an Arsenal fan all my life. My dad was an Everton fan. But anytime the discussion of who was the best of all time came up he always said Greaves should be in there, he never celebrated so was the best in his eyes which meant it was ok for an Arsenal fan to like him.’

‘My earliest football memory is on my granddad’s knee watching Saint and Greavsie. Loved it and didn’t even know why. I suppose that’s what got me into football.’

‘Remember Perryman saying he had just broken into the first team and they drew Bradford in the cup. Greaves and Gilzean said he could come up in their car rather than the coach. They stopped in a pub in the midlands, Greaves had three pints and a roast, kipped the rest of the way then scored in the first minute.’

‘My grandad’s favourite ever player, as you’d expect of an 87-year-old Spurs fan. As recently as a few years ago Jimmy was still doing after-dinner speeches, my grandad went to one and said he was a master raconteur. My grandad has never forgiven Dave Mackay, who he blames for introducing Jimmy to drinking sessions.’

‘I know ex-Forest player John Winfield and he told me about the time he was asked to man-mark Jimmy. He kept him quiet all the match apart from a small opportunity late in the game which Jimmy took and scored the winner. Probably the only thing he did in the game. Pure class.’

‘An endearing thing about Jimmy Greaves is he clearly loves football. Respect to him, too, for handling his alcoholism with resilience and humour. Sadly, despite his brilliance on the pitch, he’s often remembered primarily for a game he didn’t play in.’

‘He was my absolute hero, from the days at Chelsea, the sadness in Milan to his achievements at Spurs, and his twilight at West Ham, then descent into alcoholism and subsequent recovery and media career, a true legend.’

‘Forever linked with The Saint, and jokes about Scottish Goalkeepers and AC/DC. Saturday lunchtimes were never the same once ITV lost the rights.’

‘Possibly the greatest English goalscorer ever, think his European top-flight goals record has only recently been beaten by Messi/Ronaldo. My way into Football on a Saturday lunchtime when Football Focus was stuffy Beeb and St and Greavsie was fun.’

‘Had the honour of meeting him at a football presentation when I was a kid. I was a striker and asked him for advice. He replied: “Don’t smash the ball too hard, it only has to cross the line to count. Get your head up, pass it round the ‘keeper”. Stayed with me ever since.’

‘Too young to see him play, but Saint & Greavsie loomed large in my childhood. His jokes about Scottish Goalkeepers could have worn very thin, but the twinkle in his eye meant you still chuckled even if it was the 100th time! Also a very good double-act with Brian Moore on The Match.’


Three great moments
The first goal on this clip is classic Greavsie, gliding past a defence with power and grace. It could easily be Cristiano Ronaldo.

At 1:52, an athletic, powerfully struck, falling volley.

And in the same clip at 2:01, once he got clear, there was just no stopping him.


What now?
Jimmy hasn’t been at all well in recent years. A stroke left him unable to speak in 2015 and confined to a wheelchair. He is currently in hospital undergoing tests.

Hopefully he knows how well loved he is and how much sheer pleasure he’s given to us all. A special person with a special talent, there’s only one Jimmy Greaves.

John Nicholson