Jimmy Greaves went far beyond statistics – a working-class hero football fans could identify with

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Jimmy Greaves went far beyond statistics – a working-class hero football fans could identify with - PA
Jimmy Greaves went far beyond statistics – a working-class hero football fans could identify with - PA

Jimmy Greaves has died at the age of 81. England’s most natural, most gifted, most charismatic and greatest goal-scorer, Greaves passed away in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The former England striker had been in poor health since suffering a severe stroke in 2015 which left him paralysed down his right side and with only limited speech.

News of his passing was announced by his former club, Tottenham Hotspur, who released a statement just hours ahead of their game against the club where Greaves started his career, Chelsea. It will be an emotional occasion.

“We are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of the great Jimmy Greaves, not just Tottenham Hotspur’s record goalscorer but the finest marksman this country has ever seen,” it read.

“Throughout his wonderful playing career, Jimmy’s strike rate was phenomenal. His Spurs return was 266 goals in 379 appearances between 1961 and 1970 – 220 goals in 321 league games, 32 goals in 36 FA Cup ties, five in just eight League Cup ties and nine in 14 European matches.” The statement ended: “Football will not see his like again.”

The statistics alone are, indeed, phenomenal but Greaves went far beyond that – a working-class hero who football fans could identify with, even as they marvelled at his ability, who became a brilliant, innovative broadcaster. And always a very funny man.

Jimmy Greaves went far beyond statistics – a working-class hero football fans could identify with - Shutterstock
Jimmy Greaves went far beyond statistics – a working-class hero football fans could identify with - Shutterstock

In an era where many football fans believe the game started with the advent of the Premier League in 1992 it has to be remembered that Greaves scored 74 more goals than Alan Shearer, who is the record goalscorer since the old First Division was rebranded, and in 43 fewer games.

His all-time record for goals across the ‘big five’ European leagues was actually only recently broken by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

For England his strike rate was astonishing also, scoring 44 times in just 57 internationals including six hat-tricks although he never really recovered from the heartache of getting injured in the group games and losing his place to Sir Geoff Hurst who, of course, scored a hat-trick in the final.

Greaves played his final game for England in 1967 and remains the country’s fourth all-time record goal-scorer after Wayne Rooney, Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker.

Greaves in full flow during his playing career - Hulton Archive
Greaves in full flow during his playing career - Hulton Archive

He was severely disappointed at missing out on a World Cup winner’s medal – although in 2009 he was awarded one retrospectively after a campaign - and devastated by the death of his four-month old son, Jimmy Jnr, in 1961 and later struggled with alcoholism and battled with the addiction for years later admitting that he “lost the 70s completely”. He retired prematurely, aged 31, in 1971.

Greaves did not have a drink after 1978 and would later help many other people, notably former Tottenham team-mate Cliff Jones, to face their addiction. After Greaves’s passing was announced, Jones tweeted: “Heartbroken today to hear this, rest in peace Jim, the greatest goal-scorer of all time and a true friend.”

Another Spurs legend Glenn Hoddle also tweeted: “Such sad news this morning on Jimmy’s passing. A true legend of the game, love and thoughts to all of Jimmy’s family R.I.P”.

In a statement West Ham, who are facing Manchester United on Sunday afternoon, and where Greaves ended his career, said: “Everyone at West Ham United has been extremely saddened by the news that legendary striker Jimmy Greaves passed away this morning at the age of 81.

A member of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad, the prolific goalscorer spent two seasons with the Hammers towards the end of his illustrious playing career, scoring 13 goals in 40 appearances, including two on a memorable debut at Manchester City in March 1970.

There will be a minute's applause ahead of KO today at London Stadium, while players will also wear black armbands in tribute to Jimmy.”

Greaves showed courage throughout his career and then became a newspaper columnist but, even more memorably, a brilliant broadcaster who broke the mould with ITV’s iconic and innovative ‘Saint and Greavsie’ show, alongside Ian St John, from 1985 to 1992.

Jimmy Greaves and Ian St John on 'Saint and Greavsie' - Shutterstock
Jimmy Greaves and Ian St John on 'Saint and Greavsie' - Shutterstock

Given his achievements and his personality it was surprising that Greaves often appeared overlooked. He only finally received a British honour – and MBE - in the last New Year’s Honours list. But he was greatly cherished by football fans.

Greaves leaves behind wife Irene, four children Lynn, Mitzi, Danny and Andrew and 10 grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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