England Greats: Jimmy Greaves

Modern football is all about money. Whether it’s non-league clubs unable to find £70 to replace a light fitting, Manchester City supporters taking umbrage at the cost of a ticket for their team’s visit to the Emirates, or Fernando Torres being sold for £50m, the almighty dollar is never far away.

But the truth is that football has only one currency that matters, and, as far as England Greats go, few men have mastered goals more richly than Jimmy Greaves.

Greaves’ famous goalscoring record for club and country stands up to any and all scrutiny, so it’s perhaps disappointing that the East Londoner’s international career is best known not for what he did but for what England did without him.

The Tottenham Hotspur striker played in the group games for Alf Ramsey’s England at the FIFA World Cup in 1966 but was injured in the last of them against France. By the time the hosts faced West Germany in the dramatic and ultimately glorious final, Greaves was fit but out of favour.

He maintains that he was as pleased as anyone that England won the World Cup on the back of a Geoff Hurst hat-trick, but it created a strange perceived division between the nation’s greatest footballing moment and a man that would have been a fitting protagonist. Many supporters feel it was a cruel twist that such a prolific contributor had no say in the final. He was belatedly awarded a medal in 2009.

Greaves made his England debut in 1959 against Peru and started how he meant to go on in front of goal. In 1962 he was part of the England team that went to Chile for the FIFA World Cup and progressed to the quarter-finals before being knocked out by a Brazil side inspired by two-goal Garrincha in the absence of the injured Pelé. Greaves scored once in Chile, putting England 3-0 up against Argentina in Rancagua.

His 44 goals in 57 appearances – quite apart from being a frankly eye-watering ratio – makes him England’s third highest goalscorer behind Bobby Charlton, who took the record from him but required more caps to do so, and Gary Lineker, who played 80 times. Only Stan Mortensen and Nat Lofthouse have a better post-war goals per game record for England.

Of course, Greaves was in the goals business for his club sides as well. He adopted Tottenham Hotspur as a young supporter but fate took him instead to Chelsea, where he went on to score 132 goals in 169 games, a figure that included no fewer than 13 hat-tricks.

Around the time that the maximum wage was abolished, Greaves moved to AC Milan – against his wishes, according to the Chelsea website – and although the goals continued to flow in the few Rossoneri appearances of his brief spell on the peninsula it was not a period Greaves seemed to enjoy. He didn’t get on with the lifestyle in a country he never wanted to switch to and he was soon back in England.

With Chelsea opting out of a potential bidding war, his boyhood love became the only candidate club: Greaves finally signed for Spurs in 1961. He earned true legend status at White Hart Lane, his 220 goals in 321 league games undoubtedly helping that process on its merry way. Greaves was a classic goalscorer, sometimes doing nothing of a matchday other than score a vital goal or two.

After a stint at West Ham United Greaves retired in 1971. He returned to play for Barnet and a group of clubs in London and Essex but had to overcome alcoholism as well as the end of a glittering career. He remains the highest top-flight goalscorer in English football history, and is affectionately regarded around the game.

For many supporters of my age or younger, Greaves in his later years might not be a familiar face. But he was a popular pundit in his time – he worked for many years with former Scotland international Ian St. John – and although I don’t remember seeing their ‘On The Ball’ segment of ITV’s ‘World of Sport’, I do have admittedly fading memories of the standalone ‘Saint & Greavsie’ show that aired until 1992. I’m not sure why the show ended, but I’d be willing to bet the year is no coincidence.

While St. John remains a familiar media figure primarily on Merseyside, Greaves now lives in Chelmsford and makes a living on the after-dinner circuit and as a voiceover man. Early last year he had a stroke, but quickly recovered fully and proclaimed that he is “as fit as a butcher’s dog”. Long may that continue.

Jimmy Greaves

England career: 1959 to 1968
England caps: 57
England goals: 44
Major championship appearances: World Cup 1962, World Cup 1966

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18 Comments

  • KC
    January 10, 2013 - 10:28 am | Permalink

    My Dad, who knows football inside out, says Greavsie was the most natural goalscorer the world has ever known. Whether that’s still true with Messi around, who knows, but it’s some accolade all the same.

    • Steve
      January 10, 2013 - 10:53 am | Permalink

      Your Dad was right.

    • mark hilditch
      January 10, 2013 - 1:07 pm | Permalink

      your Dad was spot on….Greavsie was the best English forward of all time and without a doubt 1 of the best the world has ever seen…..if you read his stats, he scored a ridiculous amount of hat tricks or 4 or 5 in a game…he was a freak….would be worth squillions in today’s inflated transfer market….my bedroom walls as a kid were adorned with pictures of Greavsie (and Pat Jennings) and to this day he is my favourite spurs player of all time….spurs fans thought of him like a God he was so good….COYS

      ps…his autobiography is a great read

    • January 10, 2013 - 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Believe me KC, your Dad is 100%correct. Greavies was a goal scoring genius, I am lucky enough to have been young enough to have seen all of his career from start to finish, and also old enough to see that of Messi. Who is the best ever scorer? Difficult yes, but for me its got to be Greavies, he maintained his high scoring standards throughout his career and banged them in the net whatever the pitch/weather conditions were like. Could Messi do it on a snow covered /water logged pitch in the middle of Jan/Feb? I,m not to sure. Maybe if he transfered to Tottenham then we might just see!! One can wish ah???

  • JGwasMyIdol
    January 10, 2013 - 10:42 am | Permalink

    ” . . the standalone ‘Saint & Greavsie’ show that aired until 1992. I’m not sure why the show ended”

    That was the year that the old Football League ended (muddy pitches, cold & wet terraces, weak tea in plastic cups) and the brave new world of the PL, big money began. The image of two ol’ gits chatting affably over a cuppa would never have sat comfortably withIn this new, sexy, exec-suited, state-of-the-art Sky TV environment. Sadly, ‘Saint & Greavsie’ suddenly ceased to be the zeitgeist, which ITV recognised immediately & even Greaves acknowledges in his first autobiography.

  • January 10, 2013 - 10:46 am | Permalink

    The very best out & out goal scorer I have ever seen. I was lucky enough to see him in his last few seasons for Spurs from 1968, he didn’t blast ‘em in, he passed them in. He had phenomenal control of the ball at his feet like Paul Gascoigne & an uncanny instict for goal. He was one of those players that could be marked out of the game for 89 &1/2 minutes, then pop up with the winning goal. There hasn’t been any other player playing in England since that could hold a candle to him, not even close. I was lucky to be able to attend one of his speaking gigs & made sure I was first to get him to sign a replica shirt for me which sits proudly on my study wall. A great night out & if you ever get the opportunity, go.

  • Chris Nee
    January 10, 2013 - 10:53 am | Permalink

    @JGwasMyIdol

    Cheers – I figured that would be the case, as hinted in the article. Would you recommend Greaves’ book(s)? Always seemed an interesting character.

  • January 10, 2013 - 11:32 am | Permalink

    @ Chris Nee. Definately mate, his autobiography is a must have for your Spurs book shelf.

  • January 10, 2013 - 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant article and great video to go with it, rarely seen a player going about his work so calmly. Incredible goalscoring record, would love to see how he would do in the present day (very well I suspect)

  • longtimespur
    January 10, 2013 - 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I was really lucky, I have seen probably “The best 2 English goalscorers!” grace the Lilywhites shirt. Not only Greavsie but Clive Allen too. Jimmy was a one off, until Messi came along, but Clive wasn’t that far behind.
    I used to stand on the shelf near the Paxton Road end and still remember Greaves picking the ball up on the far touchline near halfway and just running through the whole defence and round the goalkeeper to pass the ball into an empty net. I think it was Stoke and Gordon Banks but not positive on that.
    Messi’s balance, control and ability to go round opponents remind me a lot of JC

  • longtimespur
    January 10, 2013 - 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Cheers for the video, some really great memories from WHL when the crowd was regularly 60 thousand + brings a tear to my eye. lol

  • Nice 1 Cyril
    January 10, 2013 - 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Bill Nick once said that Greaves never shot at goal but passed the ball to the back of the net. A thing that one or two of today’s so called strikers could learn from from .He did not have to bust the net to score. he was undoubtably the best there has ever been as a goal scorer. I saw him twice run from the half way line leaving defenders in his wake to score (Newcatle and Man Utd) He stand’s alone as a goal scorer and the world willnever see his like again. No club would be able to afford to buy him in today’s climate, and make no mistakes he would be able to play in any era because of his natural ability and awareness of his surroundings

  • January 10, 2013 - 2:08 pm | Permalink

    @Nice 1 Cyril. If the Newcastle game you mention is the one I’m thinking of, it was October ’69 & early in Stevie Perryman’s career when he was in midfield & it was him that played Jimmy through. Greaves glided to the left of the area after leaving Bobby Moncur standing before slotting past Jim Moncur in the Newcastle goal. I was up in the Shelf near the half way line, but slightly nearer the Paxton goal in which he scored. Forever in my memory as I think it was the last competetive goal he scored in a Spurs shirt.

  • January 10, 2013 - 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Blimey, finally got the vid to work, I couldn’t believe that they had the very 1st game I attended at WHL against Liverpool in October ’68. It’s the free kick goal before the Newcastle one I described earlier. You will see Venables pointing just before Greaves scored & the story is that he did it to con the Liverpool wall into looking at the ref as Jimmy came up to take it. Worked, didn’t it! First example of gamesmanship? Captured on TV, perhaps.

  • Alspurs
    January 10, 2013 - 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Longtimespur. Gordon Banks was in goal but the opposition was Leicester City. Jimmy took the ball down from a goal clearance just inside his own half, and in one movement beat the first player then went on a mazy run before drawing Banks and slotting the ball in the net. He did something very similar against Man United.

  • Paul
    January 19, 2013 - 8:17 am | Permalink

    Great to see such recognition of Greavsie’s talent as a goal machine. Although born in West Ham territory, Jimmy was my boyhood hero and the reason that I followed (and still do) Chelsea. Remember he was scoring 30-40 goals a season at a time when the Blues were a relegation side. Apart from the hat-tricks, Jimmy also hit several teams for 5. Watched hm many times and the greatest – should have played in the WC final.

  • Martin
    January 19, 2013 - 7:06 pm | Permalink

    The resemblance to Messi in the previous threads was spot on! Jimmy drilled through defences in a straight line, no fancy swerves. Like Messi, Jimmy was too quick for defenders to get a tackle in. Jimmy got better as he got older. He was an accomplished passer and a brilliant crosser of the ball with BOTH feet! How many Spurs players today can use both feet, and how many can cross a ball like Jimmy? Look at Jimmy’s goals, and you’ll see just how good he was in scoring with either foot. Glenn Hoddle (another genius) could use either foot. But nowadays players are missing potential goal-scoring opportunities by being limited to one foot.

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