Sunday, September 19, 2021

Farewell to the Goal Machine

JIMMY GREAVES, LEGENDARY GOAL GETTER, 1940-2021

Today's sad announcement that Jimmy Greaves had died aged 81 was not wholly unexpected.

The record Tottenham goalscorer (266 goals) and fourth-highest England marksman (44 goals) had been ill for some time. 

Jimmy Greaves

A stroke in 2015 had left him speechless and wheelchair-bound and he had spent time in hospital last year.

The East Londoner had all the gifts for being a goal poacher -  two good and quick feet, a hawk's eye and a bloodhound's nose for the target. For those reasons, he scored a whopping 357 top-flight goals in England between 1957 and 1971 for Chelsea, Spurs, and West Ham. 

Across Europe's top leagues, only Cristiano Ronaldo has netted more in his career.

After 125 goals for Chelsea, a brief sojourn for Milan in Serie A brought an impressive nine strikes in 12 games but Greaves failed hopelessly to adapt to a different culture and hurried back home to sign for Spurs, where he became their record goalscorer and won two F.A. Cups and one European Cup Winners' Cup.

He played at two World Cups, famously catching an encroaching dog at Chile 1962 and playing in England's three first-round matches in '66.

Subsequently dropped by Alf Ramsey, Greaves' miserable face at the final whistle as England won the Jules Rimet trophy, was unforgettable. He did not attend the after party and his perceived failure lived with him. 43 years later, in 2009, he was at last awarded a winners' medal.

He had famously battled alcoholism and bankruptcy in the 1970s as his career petered out but conquered both to reinvent himself in the '80s as a pally, vaudevillian pundit alongside the laughing Ian St John, who passed away earlier this year, on ITV's Saint & Greavsie show, cementing a different Jimmy Greaves into the minds of a younger generation who had never seen him play.

In later years he would periodically appear in the tabloids with reactionary political opinions or would admit he had fallen so out of love with football that he preferred watching cricket and rugby instead.

In his final year he at last achieved national recognition with an MBE. He remains in football history as a pure goal machine, probably the best England has ever made. 

A schoolteacher of mine told us, "If the ball ever fell to him in the box, Greaves would always get it in."

How fitting that today his two main former clubs, Spurs and Chelsea, play each other in London.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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