Jimmy Greaves obituary | Soccer


Jimmy Greaves, who has died aged 81, has scored 44 goals in his 57 appearances for England and has had a prolific career as a club football scorer for Chelsea, Milan, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham. He also played two World Cups, the first in Chile in 1962, when he appeared in every game, and the second in 1966, when an injury prevented him from sharing England’s victory in the final.

An exceptionally naturally talented center forward, Greaves was one of the greatest forwards of all time. He had good ball control, acceleration, a remarkable left foot, and perhaps above all the exceptional flair to find time and space inside the penalty area, as crowded as it may be. appear: make yourself almost invisible to opposing defenders until the ball arrives and the time has come to strike.

As defenses tightened later in his career, he therefore changed his game to score many such goals in the box, rather than, as before, using his pace for devastating and sustained runs, even. from the center line. In doing so, he has become – and remains – comfortably the top scorer in the history of top-level English football, scoring 357 league goals.

Yet for England, he never quite reached the heights he wanted. In the World Cup final in Chile, where so much was expected of him, his usual exuberant opportunism wore off, and although he scored England’s third goal in a 3-1 victory on Argentina, we have hardly seen anything else.

Jimmy Greaves played for Tottenham Hotspur during the 1967-68 season. Photography: Action images

In the final in 1966, he played indifferent matches against Uruguay, Mexico and France, and was injured in the last of these; and for the quarter-final against Argentina, he was replaced by West Ham’s Geoff Hurst, who headed the game-winning goal. Thereafter, there was no real chance of toppling Hurst, who had another excellent semi-final game against Portugal, but a prospect of taking the place of Roger Hunt of Liverpool. Yet on the final day at Wembley his name did not appear in the starting XI.

The angst of missing out on the best moment in English football seemed to haunt him for many years thereafter, and – although he denied it – may have contributed to a long battle later in his life against the ‘alcoholism. “I danced on the pitch with everyone, but even in this moment of triumph and great happiness, deep inside I felt sadness,” Greaves said later.

Son of London Underground Driver James Greaves and his wife Mary, Jimmy was born during World War II in Manor Park, Newham, and raised in Dagenham, with his sister Marion and brother. , Paul. One would have expected that as an East Londoner he would join West Ham United. But Chelsea had an active scouting system at the time, and it was at Stamford Bridge that he went.

Having previously played successfully for England at youth level, he made a spectacular debut for Chelsea, at 17, in the 1957-58 Premier League season opener against Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Playing in baggy white shorts, he repeatedly ran in Tottenham’s defense and scored a goal in Chelsea’s victory, initiating a remarkable goal streak in his debut for all of his big clubs. He finished this season with 22 league goals in 35 games.

The following season, 1958-59, he would do even better, scoring 32 goals in 42 games, without missing a game, followed by 29 goals in 40 games and, most phenomenally of all, 41 goals in 40 games in the 1960s. 1961. season. In a memorable game against Wolves at Stamford Bridge, he exploited the slowness of famed Billy Wright by scoring five times.

Jimmy Greaves in Chelsea circa 1960.
Jimmy Greaves in Chelsea circa 1960. Photograph: Hulton Archives / Getty Images

The first of his England caps was won in Lima against Peru in 1959, when England were beaten 4-1 and Greaves scored the England goal. But his international career really took off in the 1960-61 season, when in eight matches he scored 13 goals.

Now the Italian clubs have settled on him. There was a long battle in London between agents in Milan and Rome when it was learned that Chelsea might be ready to sell. Finally, shortly before England began their 1961 summer European tour with Greaves, Chelsea accepted an offer from Milan of £ 80,000.

Quickly, the London club admitted their mistake in trying to buy Greaves for £ 95,000. Milan refused. Greaves was then reluctant to travel to Italy and the air, as he flew with the English squad to Vienna for a game against Austria, gave an impromptu press conference in which he announced he was staying with Chelsea. Apparently asleep in his seat like a former turtle, Sir Stanley Rous, the all-powerful secretary of the Football Association, muttered: “I don’t know how he thinks he can.

He had to leave for Milan. The disciplined atmosphere in Italian football thwarted Greaves’ free spirit, and he was even more enraged when Milan refused him permission to play a game for England, as they were allowed to do at the time. .

The wonder of it all was that Greaves scored nine goals in the 10 Serie A games he played for Milan. In December 1961, Milan allowed him to return to London: not to Chelsea, but to Tottenham Hotspur, for £ 99,000. Once again he scored on his debut – at White Hart Lane – earning a regular spot on a squad which, the previous season, had become the first of the century to win both the FA Cup and the Championship double.

Jimmy Greaves, left, playing for England against France at Wembley Stadium in the 1966 World Cup.
Jimmy Greaves, left, playing for England against France at Wembley Stadium in the 1966 World Cup. Photograph: AFP / Getty Images

In May 1962 he scored the first of Spurs’ three goals when they retained the FA Cup by beating Leicester City in the final at Wembley, and his opportunism was as remarkable as ever; in 22 league games he has scored 21 goals.

He scored twice in Spurs ‘final 5-1 European Cup Winners’ Cup victory over Atlético Madrid in 1963, and won another FA Cup winner’s medal in 1967 after a 2-1 victory. against Chelsea.

Feeling at home in North London, he continued on his surprisingly prolific path. The following seven seasons brought him respectively 37, 35, 29, 15, 23, 23 and 27 goals. The fact that the 1965-66 season should have brought him only 15 goals is explained by the fact that he contracted jaundice and that even when he returned he was clearly in a state of weakness.

He continued to score profusely for Spurs until the 1969-70 season, when he managed just eight goals in 28 league games. In March 1970, becoming Spurs’ all-time top scorer with 220 league goals, he moved to West Ham as part of a swap deal against Martin Peters that valued Greaves at £ 75,000. Later that year, after being excluded from the England World Cup squad that traveled to Mexico, he traveled to that country not as a footballer but as a driver. rally of fortune, finishing sixth out of nearly 100 starters worldwide from London to Mexico. Rally Cup.

Now, having lost much of his motivation to play and regretting moving to Upton Park, Greaves had started drinking heavily. He only played 40 games for West Ham and, after retiring from top football at the age of 31 in 1971, he was almost completely out of football for two years. Although he returned to play non-league football for Brentwood, Chelmsford City, Barnet and Woodford Town, he later conceded that “I was drunk from 1972 to 1977” and that “I completely lost the 1970s. “.

After several dark years, however, he slowly came out of his alcoholism, taking a column for the Sun newspaper in 1979 and in 1985 finding new life as a television expert in tandem with the former Liverpool player and d Scotland Ian St John, with whom he was able to show off his abundant Cockney spirit on the popular show Saint and Greavsie.

Jimmy Greaves, right, with Ian St John filming their Saint and Greavsie TV show in 1987.
Jimmy Greaves, right, with Ian St John filming their Saint and Greavsie TV show in 1987. Photograph: ITV / Rex / Shutterstock

The 30-minute program, which airs Saturdays at noon on ITV, has regularly drawn over five million viewers with its largely playful look at football, which Greavsie memorable described as “a fun old game.” While Greaves conveyed his explosive humor, St John mostly played the straight man who giggled, but neither of the two presenters took himself too seriously. When illness prevented Greaves from presenting two episodes in 1990, he was happy to be replaced by his Spitting Image puppet.

The program ran for seven years until it was cut off mid-term by Sky’s removal of Premier League television rights, and then Greaves effectively retired, although he continued his work as jovial figure on the after-dinner speaker circuit.

Despite his successful footballing and broadcaster careers, Greaves never accumulated great wealth. In 2009, he and other members of the 1966 World Cup squad who had not played in the final were belatedly awarded the winners’ medals after a Football Association campaign. Greaves sold his medal in 2014 for £ 44,000 and suffered a stroke the following year. In January of this year, he was appointed MBE.

In 1958, he married Irene Barden. One of their sons died at an early age. Irene survives him, along with their four other children, Lynn, Mitzi, Danny and Andrew.

Jimmy (James Peter) Greaves, footballer, born February 20, 1940; passed away on September 19, 2021

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