Jimmy Greaves, who has died aged 81, will be remembered as a prodigy, pioneer and pundit as well as one of the greatest natural goalscorers English football has ever produced.
Greaves’ glittering career at club level with Chelsea, AC Milan, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United was matched by his feats for England as he remains fourth in the list of all-time goalscorers behind Wayne Rooney, Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker with 44 goals in 57 games.
Despite this stellar record, he will be best remembered at international level for the crushing disappointment of missing England’s 1966 World Cup final win over West Germany at Wembley after failing to regain his place from Sir Geoff Hurst following an injury. Hurst scored a hat-trick in England’s 4-2 win.
After retiring from the game and overcoming alcoholism, Greaves forged a hugely successful broadcasting career that cemented his status as one of the game’s most popular and enduring figures.Jimmy Greaves for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 1957
The future England legend would carve a name for himself at Chelsea aged just 17
Greaves already had a reputation as a special talent as one of ‘Drake’s Ducklings’ at Chelsea – the name given to manager Ted Drake’s group of gifted youngsters in response to Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’. He made his debut as a 17-year-old in August 1957, scoring against Spurs at White Hart Lane.
He may be best remembered for his feats at Spurs but his name is still fondly recalled at Chelsea after scoring 124 league goals in just four years at Stamford Bridge – his natural speed, poise and killer instinct in and around the penalty area breaking records.
In 1960, aged 20 years and 290 days, he became the youngest player to score 100 league goals as his feats brought him to Europe’s attention.
The pioneerThe young Greaves was one of English football’s early exports when he left Chelsea for Italy and AC Milan in June 1961 – but it was a move he made reluctantly and briefly, scoring nine goals in 14 games before returning to London just five months later.
Even in that short stint, he still demonstrated his class.
In an Italian league dominated by the Catenaccio ‘door bolt’ defensive system, Greaves proved he could still pick the locks with expertise, scoring goals even in the face of physical punishment.
He later said: “I always felt I went to Milan a boy and came back a man thanks to all the physical treatment I withstood from their defenders.”
Scoring goals, anywhere, was never a problem but Greaves felt stifled under the austere regime of Milan’s new head coach Nereo Rocco, who banned sex and alcohol for three days before matches. Greaves could not wait to return when the San Siro giants accepted bids of £96,500 from Chelsea and Spurs.
The glory, glory yearsGreaves was on his way to Spurs in December 1961 after the League and FA Cup ‘double’ winners eventually outbid Chelsea with an offer of £99,999 – manager Bill Nicholson declining to pay the last pound because he did not want the striker to be burdened with the tag of being England’s first £100,000 footballer.
It was worth every penny as Greaves’ deeds wrote him into White Hart Lane legend, scoring a record 266 goals in 379 games in all competitions for the club.
He won the FA Cup twice at Spurs, scoring in a 3-1 win over Burnley in 1962 and playing in the 2-1 win against Chelsea in 1967.
Greaves demonstrated his quality on the wider stage as Spurs won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963, scoring twice as they beat Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the final in Rotterdam.