An entertainer on and off the pitch for six decades, 357 goals in England’s top tier yet he’s never even had an MBE – As he approaches 80 Sportsmail calls for Jimmy Greaves to finally receive the recognition he deserves
- Jimmy Greaves is arguably the greatest finisher in English football history
- Nobody comes close to his record for goals at the top level of English football
- Yet the iconic star has never received so much as MBE recognition for his work
- Sportsmail now calls for a nation hero to be given the honours he deserves
Let us begin with the goals because the weight of those scored by Jimmy Greaves deserves formal recognition.
It is almost 49 years since the end of his professional playing career and nobody has come close to his record for goals scored at the top level of English football.
Greaves did go on to make valuable contributions in other areas of public life, as an award-winning TV presenter, a newspaper columnist and a public speaker.
Jimmy Greaves was born to score goals and goes down as one of England’s most prolific
He enthralled audiences from the moment he broke into the Chelsea team as a teenager until a severe stroke curtailed a sell-out theatre tour and ended his working life nearly five years ago.
But let us begin with the goals because Greaves was a master of the art. Indeed, many argue he was the greatest finisher of all.
Greaves scored 357 goals in the top tier of English football and nine in Italy’s Serie A. The modern icons, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, are the only players to surpass his 366 across Europe’s five elite leagues.
By comparison Alan Shearer, who is by a distance the leading scorer in the Premier League era, has 283 top-flight goals.
As he prepares to turn 80, Sportsmail calls for the national hero to be given recognition
Greaves reached 100 League goals before he was 21. On a record six occasions he finished the season as the top scorer in the old First Division.
He played for 14 seasons from 1957-58 to 1970-71 and retired at 31. Throw in his goals in various domestic and European competitions, plus 44 for England, and he scored a total of 464 goals in 659 senior appearances; an average of more than 33 per season for club and country.
He scored 34 hat-tricks, including a record six for England.
He was the nation’s iconic striker going into the 1966 World Cup on home soil, but was injured in the final group game against France and, although fit for the final against West Germany, he missed out as Sir Alf Ramsey stuck with a winning formula.
Ask his peers and they all start from the same place. ‘One word, genius,’ said Alan Mullery. ‘Just a genius,’ said Harry Redknapp. ‘A genius in the art of scoring goals,’ said Sir Geoff Hurst.
And then, given the chance, they will go on to eulogise about his natural ability, his instinct and awareness. And what a ‘smashing fella’ he was. Laid back and down to earth.
‘One of the laziest players I’ve seen,’ said Mullery. ‘He would drive me mad at times but he would score you 30-odd goals a season and I would rather have him on my side than not.
‘We could be playing on mud or ice — and quite often we were — and Jimmy Greaves would still score goals. He was born to score goals. He went through his career scoring goals for every club he represented and he scored some fabulous goals. He was the best of his time, just like Lionel Messi in the modern day.’
Greaves started with a goal at Tottenham on his Chelsea debut at the age of 17, spent four years in the first team and finished by scoring four in a 4-3 win against Nottingham Forest in April 1961.
He left Stamford Bridge after 132 goals in 169 games. He is seventh in the club’s list of all-time scorers, though his popularity at Chelsea took a turn for the worse when he joined their London rivals Spurs after eight months at AC Milan.
Greaves scored 357 goals in the top tier of English football and 44 for the national team
Chelsea, in fact, sold him because they needed the money and they could not afford to re-sign him from Italy, despite the charade of flying manager Tommy Docherty out for talks.
‘We went to negotiate under the instruction from our chairman Joe Mears not to bring him back,’ Docherty told Sportsmail in 2017.
‘We couldn’t afford him. It was just to make it look good for the punters. We’d have won the championship three or four times if Greavsie had stayed.’
Tottenham paid £99,999 and Greaves marked his debut with a hat-trick against Blackpool, with a teenage Redknapp in the crowd at White Hart Lane. ‘Time seemed to stop when Jimmy was on the ball,’ said Redknapp. ‘His control was amazing. He’d receive the ball in the box and a defender would slide in and he would move the ball and they’d go sliding by.
‘Someone else would slide in and Jimmy would move it to his other foot, there would be bodies flying everywhere and he seemed to have all the time in the world as he rolled it into the corner of the goal.’
Greaves scored 266 goals for Spurs as they won the FA Cup twice and the 1963 European Cup Winners’ Cup. He had arrived after their Double win in 1961, but is synonymous with the glittering success of Spurs in the 1960s.
‘Pat Jennings hit the ball up the middle and Alan Gilzean headed it,’ said Mullery, recalling a goal against Manchester United which for him encapsulates the brilliance of Greaves. ‘Jimmy pulled it down on his chest and started running. He went past one player and then another and they were all trying to kick him. And then he went round the goalkeeper Alex Stepney and put his foot on the ball.
‘Looking down the pitch, there were bodies scattered all over and there was Jimmy with his foot on the ball. It was as though he was saying, “I am the bullfighter, I am the matador, come and get me”. Then he back-heeled it into the net.’
Immediately noticeable as a talent, Greaves began his trade in English football with Chelsea
It was a move to Tottenham which saw Greaves become a superstar and the trophies built up
There was an outpouring of affection for Greaves after the stroke which almost took his life in 2015. He is disabled down one side of his body and will not recover. He cannot walk, his vision is impaired, his speech is limited and he requires professional medical care four times a day.
This deterioration in his health did serve to strengthen bonds with Tottenham which have not always been tight since 1970, when he felt forced out by Bill Nicholson to join West Ham as a makeweight in a £200,000 deal for Martin Peters.
Greaves, having rejected the invitation on several occasions, was inaugurated into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016 and returned with his family to spend time at the old White Hart Lane before it was demolished.
He loved football for the game it was and valued the link to supporters. Nicholson encouraged his players to spend time with fans and they would drink after games in the Corner Pin and the Bell and Hare on Tottenham High Road. At West Ham, Greaves, Redknapp, Bobby Moore and others would meet for a kickabout in Hainault in the late afternoon with coats for goalposts before an evening in the Retreat pub, Chigwell.
Perhaps it was no surprise that in later years he preferred to immerse himself in non-League football, or cricket and rugby. He did not care for the pretensions around the top of professional football. His disregard for authority and flippant humour put him at odds with the establishment.
As with George Best, his attitude probably played a part in the lingering absence of any official recognition. There are statues in honour of Best at Old Trafford in Manchester and in his home town of Belfast. There are also 90 football figures represented in sculpture around the UK, yet not one statue of Greaves.
This century, in supposedly more enlightened times, he might be lionised for his courage in the fight against alcoholism as it threatened to tear apart his family life when he stopped playing.
Greaves with Ian St John on their ITV show Saint and Greavsie which ran from 1985 to 1992
He dared to face the public, admit to mistakes and confess he was flawed, telling all in a newspaper interview, a book and a television documentary.
He reinvented himself and forged a career on TV, first as a strident pundit and then, in tandem with Liverpool and Scotland striker Ian St John, capturing the hearts of a new generation of football lovers with Saint and Greavsie.
It was a forerunner for Fantasy Football and Soccer AM and proved Greaves had not lost his quick wit or his gift for connecting with ordinary people. The hit ITV show ran from 1985 to 1992, sprinkling humour on football during a dark decade and conjuring the catchphrase, ‘It’s a funny old game’, which went viral in an ’80s way with Saint and Greavsie even commanding puppets among the politicians on Spitting Image.
He really ought to be hailed as an inspiration to others in the quest for a better appreciation of mental health.
Greaves has not touched alcohol since 1978 and helped others beat their demons, including former Spurs team-mate Cliff Jones, with no demand for fanfare. Most of his England caps and medals have been quietly donated to charitable causes.
‘Jim saved my life, no doubt about that,’ said Jones. ‘We had great times together and he helped me along when I had my problems. It was all down to Jim. He’s a great pal and what a player he was.
Greaves was inaugurated into Spurs’ Hall of Fame in 2016, having rejected the invite before
‘All he ever wanted to do was score goals. He would be happy to have a stinker if he could toe-poke one over the line in the last minute. When it came to scoring goals, he was the best ever. One of England’s greatest ever strikers. One of Tottenham’s greatest ever strikers. One of Chelsea’s greatest ever strikers.’
All of this and still no formal honour in recognition of his achievements. No knighthood. No CBE. No OBE. No MBE.
‘If we’re talking about services to football you can’t fault him,’ said Jones. ‘And he has conducted himself well. He is a recovering alcoholic and has done a lot of work helping addicts. He should be recognised.’
Denis Law is in agreement. ‘He should be Sir Jimmy Greaves,’ said Law, in the splendid new film Greavsie, which will be screened on BT Sport after Tottenham’s Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig.
Sir Geoff Hurst wrote in the foreword to Natural, a biography of Greaves published last year, how there were five world-class players in England’s 1966 World Cup squad: captain Moore, keeper Gordon Banks, Bobby Charlton, left back Ray Wilson and Greaves.
Moore received an OBE in 1967 and Banks received one three years later. Bobby Charlton was knighted in 1994. Wilson was belatedly awarded an MBE in 2000, along with four other players who appeared in the final.
‘That England squad never got the recognition they deserved,’ said Redknapp. ‘It was years before Geoff Hurst got his knighthood. Bobby Moore should have had a knighthood and never did. It was years before some in the team were honoured. Unfortunately, Jimmy’s one who didn’t get the recognition he should have.’
After recovering from a stroke, Greaves was invited back to Spurs in 2017 at the old stadium
Alf Ramsey was knighted in 1967, Hurst in 1998. Jack Charlton received an OBE in 1974, Martin Peters an MBE in 1978. Others from the squad were honoured over time: George Eastham (OBE), Ian Callaghan (MBE), Terry Paine (MBE) and Jimmy Armfield (CBE).
Dozens of gongs have been scattered among footballers, managers and others connected to the sport since its gentrification this side of Italia 90.
Among them great keepers Peter Shilton and Pat Jennings; great captains Bryan Robson and Tony Adams; great midfielders Steven Gerrard and David Beckham; great wingers Ryan Giggs and John Barnes. And great strikers Shearer, Gary Lineker, Ian Wright, Teddy Sheringham and Harry Kane. Still, nothing for Greaves.
Nothing for the finest goalscorer we have seen on these shores. It really is a funny old game.
The only public screening of ‘Greavsie: The Jimmy Greaves Story’ will be at Stevenage FC on February 20, his 80th birthday, as part of a stage show featuring Spurs legends Pat Jennings, Ossie Ardiles, Micky Hazard and others. Tickets from £30 from www.a1sportingspeakers.com
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