by Rob Shepherd.
There have been so many fine words written about Jimmy Greaves in the last few days since it was revealed he had been admitted into hospital following a severe stroke. The most recent reports say Greavsie is making a spirited recovery. Let’s hope so.
Of all the fine words, the best piece was by Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail.
As ever it was a finely crafted piece by Martin but had an added edge, since for several years Martin ghosted Jimmy Greaves’s column in The Sun.
Despite being from a younger generation than 75 year-old Greaves, 51 year-old Martin knew the man better than most in many ways.
For a generation growing up in the Sixties he was a legend who transcended club loyalties. In an era when it was still the People’s Game, Jimmy Greaves was the People’s Player.
So while many can spin out all the statistics, and in some cases re-write the Wikipedia potted history, few were able to hone in on what really made Jimmy special like Martin.
It’s worth a read (click here) but from my perspective here is a short snap-shot of what Jimmy Greaves was all about.
As great a player as he was, Greaves retained the humility of a boy who grew up in East London’s Dagenham council estate in the charterer building post war years.
When he rebuilt his life (after his playing career ended and, for a while, descended into a battle against the bottle) as a TV pundit and presenter, Greaves’ catchphrase was: ‘It’s a funny old game.’
And that is how Greaves saw football… and still does.
He scored for fun and feels the game should still be fun for all the financial trappings.
It is why he finds it hard to warm to the modern game, driven as it is by money, corporate concerns and play-acting players. Often given the choice Greaves would rather watch a rugby international or Test match over a pot of tea in his living room than a Premier League match or even an England international.
Would Greaves have thrived in the modern game..? It depends;
As a free scoring forward? Of course he would. Harry Redknapp recently remarked that for those seeking a contemporary comparison with Greaves then they should think Lionel Messi.
Indeed Greaves’ overall club record of 422 goals in 602, for Chelsea, AC Milan, Tottenham and West Ham is still better than that of Messi’s as it stands. For England his record of 44 goals in 57 games works out at around a goal every 117 minutes.
But as a football celebrity and sponsor’s show pony..? Probably not.
Even though Greaves enjoyed a successful TV and media career after he pieced his life back together the day after he had his last alcoholic drink (February 28 1978), he shunned many of the things that went with his new found fame, especially the showbiz soiree’s. He didn’t like all the fuss and also felt the need to avoid temptation.
Greaves actually took more pride in the success of his media career than that of his phenomenal playing days because he had to work hard at the former and modestly felt he was simply a ‘natural footballer’ – a point he reaffirmed at an after-dinner speech he made recently.
There are so many tales that can be told about Greaves.
And many have in recent days, not least correcting the myth that he hit the bottle after missing out on playing in England’s World Cup winning team because of injury. The heavy drinking problems hit in the twilight of his career, around the turn of the seventies when he reluctantly moved from Tottenham to West Ham.
For me though there is one tale which sums up Greaves, the brilliant footballer and diamond geezer.
It was told to me by former England manager Terry Venables who played with Greaves at both Chelsea and Spurs.
Venables, three years younger than Greaves, had just broken into the Chelsea first team. It was 1960. Like Greaves, Venables had been brought up in Dagenham.
By now Greaves was living in the slightly more salubrious East London suburb of Gants Hill. Eager to look after the teenage Venables he told him to meet him in a café in Gants Hill on the morning of a game against West Bromwich Albion.
Venables takes up the tale: “I got two buses and met up with Jimmy in this café just after midday.
“Back then there was no such thing as a team pre-match meal let alone an overnight stay. You made your own way to the ground. Jimmy had a car – a Ford Poplar – and took me under his wing insisting I get a lift rather than take the long journey on the District line.
“But he insisted we have something to eat ahead of the match. Even back then I was conscious of what to eat, so I just had some grilled chicken, a few boiled potatoes and a cup of tea. A light meal, not a million miles from what players would have today, although maybe not so close to kick-off.
“Then the waiter turned to Jimmy. To my astonishment he ordered a full roast! The works; roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pud and lots of gravy and a cuppa.
“He whoofed that down. I thought we would get on the road since it was getting close to 1pm. But now Jimmy insisted on having some apple crumble and custard plus another cuppa.
“Now back then the roads were so clear that the drive from Gants Hill – which could take up to an hour and a half these days – was done in under an hour so we were in the dressing room comfortably for the allotted 2pm.
“Even so I felt Jimmy had eaten rather a lot before a big game. But it was December it was cold and Jimmy explained he needed some ‘fuel’ inside him.
“He obviously knew what he was doing. We beat West Brom 7-1 that day and Jimmy scored the first FIVE.”
Funny old game indeed.
Good luck Greavsie.