'Harry Kane is a great finisher but does not score goals like my dad, Jimmy Greaves'
The last goal Jimmy Greaves scored for Tottenham Hotspur came against Derby County 53 years ago, and he was just 29 then – the same age as Harry Kane is now – and two months away from the transfer that ended his White Hart Lane career.
On Sunday, at Spurs' new stadium on the same site, Kane moved clear outright of the 266 goal-record that Greaves left behind him in March 1970.
Greaves had spent the previous few weeks playing largely for the reserves, having fallen out of favour with Bill Nicholson. The great Spurs manager believed that he had detected a dimming of the astonishing talent that had made Greaves the club’s leading scorer for the previous eight seasons.
Jimmy’s son Danny is in no doubt that his father was forced out of Spurs too early. “Dad really should have sat back and said, ‘No, I don’t want to go’ because he believed he still had a lot to offer,” Danny tells Telegraph Sport. “If he had done so, he probably would have scored another 30 or 40 goals for the club. He had a bit of a fallout with Bill, but that could have been repaired. It was a completely different time: if the club decided your time was up, then your time was up.”
Hard to believe that when Jimmy was sold to West Ham on the old transfer deadline day of March 16, he picked up his boots from the stadium, bade farewell to the kitman, and to such little fanfare the greatest player in Spurs’ history left the club. With his goal against Manchester City on Sunday, Kane's 267th Spurs goal was the 283rd of his career – the rest of them on loan in the Championship and League One.
Danny politely points out that by the same stage his father had scored 409 goals during 13 seasons at Chelsea, AC Milan and Spurs. His 132 goals in 169 games scored between the ages of 17 and 21 for Chelsea was a stupendous total.
“Harry Kane is a wonderful player – a very good footballer and an exceptional finisher,” Danny says. “But Harry can’t score the sort of goals that Dad could score, or that Lionel Messi can score. Messi or my dad could pick up the ball with the game going nowhere, put three or four men on their backsides and stick it in the net. Those are the sort of goals they score.
“Harry is about power and great vision. He is a wonderful striker of the ball. Dad and Harry are really different kinds of strikers and both very good at what they do.”
That is the comparison that may be missed amid Jimmy’s Spurs record falling to Kane. That the parallel with Jimmy is Messi. Like Argentina’s greatest son, he was – at his peak – a dribbler with an astonishing goal record.
“The ability to go past players is a dying art,” Danny says. “The closest English player to Dad would be Jack Grealish or Phil Foden, but those sorts of players tend to be played out wide these days.”
Danny says that his father was free to play anywhere and he agrees there are similarities with Messi’s false nine role that began under Pep Guardiola and has been reprised at times. “Dad wasn’t a conventional centre-forward. In the early days Bobby Smith played as a central striker and then Alan Gilzean. Dad would play off them. Funnily enough, Harry Kane does that well too and he may be more suited to playing off another striker.”
Now 57, Danny, a former professional at Southend United, helps manage Isthmian League North Division side Heybridge Swifts in his native Essex, and coaches the under-19s at Billericay Town. Those teenagers are told by their grandparents what Jimmy achieved. Once Danny points out that his father’s career total of 366 European top-flight league goals has been beaten only by Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he says that strikes a chord and they search out Jimmy’s goals on YouTube.
There is a sting for the Greaves family that Jimmy’s record of 357 Football League goals in the First Division for Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham seems to have been nudged aside as a record in favour of Alan Shearer’s 260 Premier League goals. But their father, as Danny says, was “never bitter”.
He adds: “He loved football and he loved being around people, and if someone didn’t want to pick him he would shrug it off and move on.”
It does feel that for all the goals he scored, there were many more that Jimmy might have had. His 44 goals for England came in just 57 caps but Sir Alf Ramsey constantly overlooked starting him. His exclusion became one of English football’s biggest issues. Jimmy’s biographer, David Tossell, writes that when England played Bulgaria in December 1968 it was widely discussed in the newspapers that Jimmy had outscored the entire Arsenal team at that point of the league season. When Romania came to Wembley the following January, Ramsey picked Arsenal striker John Radford for a debut ahead of him.
Kane will also have that England goalscoring record by the end of the year and perhaps sooner. The two forwards met in 2017 when Spurs chairman Daniel Levy invited the Greaves family to lunch.
“Dad and Harry chatted about the club and about football,” Danny says. “They both appreciated each other’s time and they were very respectful of each other.”
Jimmy died in September 2021, aged 81, six years after a stroke that had left him in a wheelchair. “If he was still here, Dad would be the first to shake Harry’s hand. He would wish him the very best and would hope that the club would win something too,” Danny says. “For Harry and for the club. Harry is a wonderful footballer and it would be a tragedy if he didn’t win anything in his career.”