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Jimmy Greaves obituary: One of England’s great entertainers both on and off the pitch

To some generations, Jimmy Greaves was England’s greatest goalscorer.

For many, he was the face and voice of Saturday lunchtime television.

They all saw him as a man of great talent and one of the greatest entertainers, no matter what he did.

He had many other guises over the years — sports shop owner, haulage firm director and journalist.

For more than 30 years, he wrote columns for two newspapers including The Sunday People. He was a gifted writer with a great sense of humor.

After his death at the tender age of 81, it will be his achievements as a goal scorer that he will be most remembered for.

Greavsie was a prolific goalscorer, scoring 357 league goals for Chelsea and Tottenham, nine for AC Milan, and nine for West Ham.

He scored 44 times for England, too, leaving him fourth on the nation’s all-time goalscoring list at the time of his passing.

He is surpassed only by Sir Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney and Gary Lineker, but Greaves had a better goals-to games ratio with just 57 caps.

He still holds the record number of hat-tricks for England with six, and arguably the most famous of his trebles came in a 9-3 victory over Scotland beneath Wembley’s old Twin Towers in 1961.

England striker Jimmy Greaves has sadly died at the age of 81
England striker Jimmy Greaves has sadly died at the age of 81

Born James Peter Greaves in London’s East End in 1940, Greavsie caught the eye as a schoolboy footballer in Dagenham and it wasn’t long before Chelsea snapped him up.

He scored 124 league goals for the club. This was a record. It also included an average of 0.78 goals per game and five goals in a match three times during his time at Stamford Bridge.

His 1961-61 season record of 41 goals is still a Chelsea record.

Word of his achievements spread quickly to the Continent and when Milan made their move with an £80,000 offer in June 1961, he was sold against his wishes.

His Italian job was short-lived, however, largely because the man who signed him, Giuseppe Viani, was axed and Greavsie and Viani’s replacement Nereo Rocco, to put it mildly, did not get on.

“I wasn’t happy with them and they weren’t happy with me — we just had a mutual understanding that that was how it was,” Years later, he would comment, pithily.

The young Englishman scored nine goals in 10 games. He left Milan mid-season but his contribution was vital to Milan’s Serie A title.

Chelsea were keen to re-sign Greaves but it was Tottenham won the race, Spurs boss Bill Nicholson paying £99,999 because he did not want to burden the player with the tag of ‘the first £100,000 footballer’.

As he had done for Chelsea, Milan and England, and as he would do at West Ham as well, Greaves scored on his Tottenham debut, going on to hit 220 league goals for the club — still a record.

It was again alarmingly high, at 0.70 per match.

Harry Kane met Spurs legend Jimmy Greaves in 2020
Harry Kane met Spurs legend Jimmy Greaves in 2020

His ability in front of goal saw him finish third in the 1963 Ballon d’Or behind two men he called friends, Russia goalkeeper Lev Yashin and Gianni Rivera, his former Milan team-mate.

“With the Red Army probably behind the winner, Lev Yashin, and the Mafia no doubt supporting second-placed Gianni Rivera, I really never stood a chance,” he once quipped.

That year he scored twice in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final as Tottenham beat Atletico Madrid 5-1.

He also won the FA Cup twice with Spurs in 1962 and 1967. In the first final, he scored against Burnley.

Greaves was revered for his achievements in scoring goals for club and country. But the greatest disappointment for English football fans of all would be his last season.

After he sustained an injury in the third match of 1966 World Cup Final, Alf Ramsey, England manager, decided to stick with Geoff Hurst. It was 43 years later that Greaves was awarded a medal.

Greaves scored goals for Tottenham until March 1970 when Nicholson sold Greaves to West Ham. This was in the same deal that took Martin Peters, his international team-mate, the other way.

He joked that they could have a drink at Tottenham, until he joined Bobby Moore and the rest at West Ham. However, the sad truth is that he was prone to alcoholism in his early years at Upton Park.

After becoming frustrated with the Hammers, he decided to retire at 31. He had topped the old Division One scoring charts six more times.

Greavsie made no secret of his love for a pint and a fag throughout his career. The latter eventually became a problem.

Jimmy Greaves obituary: One of England's great entertainers both on and off the pitch

Jimmy Greaves obituary: One of England's great entertainers both on and off the pitch

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In an effort to stop his drinking, he returned to football and joined Brentwood’s non-League team, before moving on to Chelmsford City, Barnet, Woodford Town, and finally, to his final destination, his home.

As he struggled with alcoholism, he spent some time at Warley Psychiatric Hospital. He was very philosophical about the experience.

In a Sunday People column he wrote: “I’ve met enough shrinks in my time to realise that, actually, I’m probably quite a sane bloke.

“I had one quack confiding in me that he had a drink problem and even though I ended up advising him he still took his fee.”

Retirement brought its challenges — some good, some bad.

In the 1970 London-to-Mexico World Cup Rally, he finished sixth with Tony Fall.

His continued struggle to beat the booze was evident right up to February 28, 1978, when he finally drank a single drop.

After admitting his problems in a hard-hitting Sunday People interview, he asked his eldest daughter, Lynn, to drive him to Warley hospital … but not before they’d stopped off at a pub so he could have one last pint and glass of brandy.

Because of his experience as a professional soccer player, his charm, wit and forthright opinions, doors were opened to him in the media.

And in 1980, he joined the TV show Star Soccer before working on The Saturday Show and later joining ITV’s punditry team for the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

He was an integral member of both the World Of Sport (and On The Ball) teams. It was there that he formed the partnership that would result in Saint and Greavsie. The Saturday lunchtime show ran from 1985 through 1992.

Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves went on to enjoy punditry careers, co-hosting 'Saint and Greavsie'
Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves went on to enjoy punditry careers, co-hosting ‘Saint and Greavsie’

Jimmy Greaves obituary: One of England's great entertainers both on and off the pitch
Jimmy Greaves with his Spitting Image puppet, which once joined Ian St John for an episode of Saint and Greavsie when Greaves was suffering with the flu

Before Saint and Greavsie, he was part of the TV-am team and later he would be a captain on Sporting Triangles alongside Emlyn Hughes and Andy Gray.

Greaves was awarded for his TV work and these accolades were more important to him than the football awards he received. The game had been so easy to him that he didn’t need to do much.

He toured Britain with shows which were part story-telling, part Q&A and part stand-up comedy, bringing the house down wherever he went.

He spent his entire life talking and playing football. However, his passion for the sport faded and he preferred to watch rugby and cricket with his wife Irene.

He was a great admirer of his children Lynn, Mitzi and Danny as well as his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and took much joy in their company.

As well as walking his dog Lester (named after Lester Piggott), he also took great joy in his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Greaves suffered a stroke in 2012 which he completely recovered from. But the huge one that struck him in May 2015.

Greaves lost all sensation in his right-hand side and was unable to walk again.

His speech never recovered either — there were days it was better than others but sentences, let alone conversations, proved difficult.

He and Irene were married again in September 2017 after 39 years of being together.

Greavsie and Greaves were married for 19 years. They divorced in 1977 due to Greavsie’s struggle with alcohol.

It was often assumed that Greaves’s drink problem stemmed from the disappointment of missing the 1966 World Cup Final.

Jimmy Greaves was part of the England 1966 World Cup triumph
Jimmy Greaves was part of the England 1966 World Cup triumph

But the truth is the devastating loss of his second child, Jimmy Junior, who was just four months old when he died of pneumonia in 1960, when Greavise was 20, had dealt him the sort of blow that would make sporting disappointment pail by comparison.

Jim’s family, and all those who knew him, will be devastated at the news of his death today, as will the public who adored him.

It’s hard to believe that the past five years have been so difficult for a man who, not only played alongside Moore, Dave Mackay, Danny Blanchflower but also was bracketed alongside them.

He had their respect, and they had their friendship just like he had theirs.

It was no surprise that he had the affection of his country as well.

Jimmy Greaves will be remembered as England’s greatest goalscorer by all who saw him play and his legend, quite rightly, will live on forever.

Jimmy Greaves obituary: One of England's great entertainers both on and off the pitch
Anurag Reddy
I'm a 29-year-old travel enthusiast, travel and nature photographer, Computer Science graduate, and Mass Communication student. I have seen different shades of life through traveling and lived different lives through reading. With every word I write, I travel within, and I understand myself better. Writing helps me discover myself, and that paved roads for me to choose writing as a profession.


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