United Kingdom

JEFF POWELL: Jimmy Greaves was a grand master and the most feared goalscorer around in his day

Jimmy Greaves has died at the age of 81. 

The Tottenham and England legend passed away in the early hours of Sunday morning, with his former club Spurs announcing it on social media.

Greaves had been suffering from poor health since a stroke in 2015 and now the greatest goalscorer English football has ever seen has, sadly, slipped away.


It is not for the first time.

On the most hallowed of all days for English football the most prolific goalscorer in the history of our national game was nowhere to be seen as Bobby Moore and his boys of the summer of 66 celebrated this country’s only winning of the World Cup.

Greaves, having been reduced to watching the final from the Wembley touchline, congratulated the lads on their extra-time victory over Germany, then dropped out of sight.

No Greavsie on the team bus away from the old Twin Towers.

No seat at the victory banquet in a swish west London hotel. No appearance on the balcony with football’s most coveted trophy.

Jimmy Greaves, pictured here during his days as  Tottenham Hotspur player, has died at the age of 81

Greaves scored 44 goals for England in just 57 games - he is pictured here playing against France at the 1966 World Cup

The much-loved Greaves, pictured here in 2013, had been in poor health since suffering a stroke six years ago

Manager Alf Ramsey, who had weighed the genius of Greaves against a semi-serious injury which had cost him his place in the quarter-final against France and decided to stay with Geoff Hurst at centre-forward, turned to his captain in the midst of the celebrations and asked : ‘Where is Jimmy?’

Moore was the only one in the know. He replied: ‘Don’t take it wrong, Alf. It’s not a protest. He’s not walked out on you. He’s not even angry. Just disappointed.

‘Jimmy’s hurt and can’t take all this. Accept it. He’s better off away from all the fuss.’

A long way away as it happened.

Moore roomed with Greaves in the England team hotel and on the night before that historic Saturday afternoon he had watched his friend slowly and sadly pack his bags after being told he was not being recalled to the team.

Packing for an early exit.

Still Greaves encouraged Moore to go along the corridor and congratulate his West Ham team-mate Hurst, who was destined to score the only hat-trick ever in a World Cup final.

Thoughts of staying away from Wembley were set aside out of concern that his personal dismay might affect the mood of the team. So Greaves sat watching the match in his jacket – football had no substitutes in 1966 – and when it was over he shook a few hands, slapped a few backs and, yes, slipped away unnoticed.

Slipped away to the airport with his devoted wife Irene, his brother and his sister-in-law for a sunshine holiday as distant from that hotel in Kensington as he could fly.

Greaves was still only 26, still the deadliest finisher in the land, still had trophies to win, still had goals to score and records to break.

But that great day for his country was the beginning of the end of his love affair with football.

Sometime later he would say: ‘I always dreamed of scoring the winner in the World Cup final. I missed out on the match of a lifetime.’

The chirpy Cockney persona bubbled through that regret for years to come, on the pitch and then in the television studio in his Saint and Greavsie show in which he starred alongside the equally effervescent Ian St John.

Greaves formed a brilliant on-screen partnership with Ian St John for their television show Saint and Greavsie

'It's a funny old game' was Greaves' catchphrase but he was a serious goal scorer for Tottenham (left) and England (right)

Greaves was born to score goals- once clear of the defences, he did not so much shoot as pass the ball into the net

But even his catchphrase – ‘It’s a funny old game’ – hinted at the melancholy which nagged away at this most affable, engaging and beloved of sporting personalities.

His refuge was to treat life as a laugh. So how ironic it was that when the TV show was axed the main excuse given was that the pair were not taking football seriously enough.

Exactly how seriously Greaves took his game and his life became evident in his decline into alchoholism.

So did the inescapable poignancy of being the most feared goalscorer in the world ever to be left out of a World Cup final.

It is not easy to be a grand master who is unappreciated in his prime and Greaves knew that the no-more-than-niggling ankle injury sustained against France was not the only reason Ramsey left him out of the final.

Sir Alf, as he would become, had a reputation for distrusting genius unless it came soaked in sweat. Greaves gambled that conserving himself to score goals would always win more matches than scrambling back to bale out the midfield and defence.

The statistics of a phenomenal career bear him out.

For years he was the all-time leading scorer in Europe’s top five leagues, at 366 one ahead of German legend Gerd Muller, and remains third in that pantheon behind only Ronaldo and Messi. 

In his absolute nine-year heyday at Tottenham he scored 266 goals, including the winners in FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup finals against Burnley and Atletico Madrid respectively.

Greaves (2nd right) got his hands on the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1963 after scoring in the final against Atletico Madrid

The year before Greaves was an FA Cup winner for Spurs after scoring against Burnley at Wembley - he won it again in 1967

Greaves, pictured here against Liverpool's Ron Yeats and Tommy Smith (right) will always be remembered as a Spurs hero

Greaves had announced his greatness with 124 goals in only 157 First Division games with Chelsea. He was the top scorer in that forerunner to the Premier League for no fewer than six seasons.

The spells with AC Milan and, at the end, West Ham, were less conspicuous yet still they were lined with goals.

Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Wayne Rooney have surpassed his England tally but, significantly, not his goals-per-game ratio

Greaves scored his 44 in 57 matches while it took Rooney 100 appearances to reach that total.

Of themselves the numbers are remarkable but it is the manner in which he scored most of them which is the Greaves hallmark. 

Between leaving Chelsea and joining Tottenham, Greaves had a brief spell with Italian giants AC Milan

He still found the time to score a goal against Milan's city rivals Inter in the derby in 1961

Greaves had started his career at Stamford Bridge in 1957 and spent four seasons there before his switch to AC Milan

He played for West Ham after leaving Tottenham in 1970 and added a few more goals to that incredible tally

Yes, again, he slipped quietly away.

Mostly, once clear of the defences, he did not so much shoot as pass the ball into the goal. Often the weight was so perfectly delicate that the ball rolled over the line but did not reach the back of the net.

The man was a precision instrument with a heart of gold.

A pint with Greavsie was one of the football life’s more pleasant experiences.

Through the halcyon years with Tottenham he would, yes, slip away from the pub near the ground before the rest of the boys supped up.

But when he was eased away from White Hart Lane to Upton Park, the ground closest to his Manor Park birthplace in the East End of London, the disenchantment became more profound. At one point it came to him expressing a preference for watching rugby.

Strong drink took a powerful hold. Scoring goals had come easy to him but in eventually beating the booze, summoning up the will to enlist the aid of Alchoholics Anonymous in the process, he found the grit, strength and determination which Ramsey considered lacking in his football.

GREAVES' ASTONISHING CAREER IN NUMBERS

114 - goals scored for the youth team after signing for Chelsea in 1956.

17 - Greaves' age when he made his first-team debut for Chelsea, scoring in a 1-1 draw with Tottenham.

100 - number of league goals Greaves had scored by the age of 20. He remains the youngest player to reach the landmark.

99, 999 - the fee in pounds paid by Tottenham to sign Greaves from AC Milan in 1961.

132 - goals for Chelsea in 169 games.

44 - goals scored for England in 57 matches. He is still fourth on the all-time list behind Wayne Rooney (53), Bobby Charlton (49) and Gary Lineker (48).

6 - hat-tricks scored for England still stands as a record today.

41 - number of goals for Chelsea in 40 league games during the 1960/61 season is still a club record at Stamford Bridge.

266 - goals for Tottenham in 379 appearances means Greaves remains Spurs' record goalscorer.

One of Greaves' 44 England goals was this one against Wales - typically just stroking the ball home in his unique style

Greaves was pictured with Tottenham's latest goal machine, Harry Kane, at the club's training ground in 2017

In its way, recovering from that addiction was a nobler, more exemplary achievement than scoring the World Cup winner might have been. Although if pushed to the point, he would have taken the latter.

Still, better that he went on to find an after-football life as an endearing, chuckling figure on the dinner speaking circuit with the collateral drinking damage to his family life happily repaired.

How unbearably poignant that the last years of so incisive a mind should be spent in the fog of dementia, the confines of a wheelchair and the ministering of a carer, as well as the unfailing affections of his nearest and dearest.

How unforgiveable that it needed so long a campaign by so many of us to unlock his MBE, which although too little for a man of his grace and stature was, thankfully, not quite too late.

How bitter-sweet the irony that his demise should have begun with being cut down by a stroke, the very word which best defines his uncanny knack for rolling a football into a goal.

Now he has slipped away, one last time.

Dare we say it?

Cheers, Greavsie.

Football news:

Porto winger Luis Diaz is Interesting to Chelsea, Bayern, Real Madrid, Newcastle. Compensation - 80 million euros
Cristiano Ronaldo: My role in the team is to score goals and help with experience. I like to make people happy
Arteta pro 3-1 with Aston Villa: Happy with how Arsenal dominated. That's how we should play
Ole Gunnar Sulscher: I enjoy coaching at Manchester United and life
Patrice Evra: I want to understand where racists come from. They are not born. Perhaps these people are traumatized
The Saint-Etienne match started an hour later due to protesting fans. They threw flares and burned holes in the goal net
Pope Francis thanked Messi for the autographed PSG T-shirt