So it was sad to learn of the death of Jimmy Greaves today, probably the best natural goal scorer the English game has ever seen. He didn’t score 30 yard screamers and very few headers; his technique was to pass the ball into the net. And he did it for every team he played for – Chelsea, AC Milan, Spurs, West Ham and England. So why am I so interested? Well he was probably the first footballing hero I can remember.
The first game I can definitely remember viewing was the Spurs v Burnley FA Cup final in 1961-62 on the tv. And bear in mind the Cup Final was the only game televised live in those days and I was just 9 and not attending live matches. I do have a hazy memory of the final in 60-61 when Spurs beat Leicester City to complete the first modern day double. But the Burnley game I recall more clearly because Greaves had been signed from AC Milan to deliver success and that’s what he did that year. It was a great story. And I could well have ended up a Spurs fan until my uncle Bernard arrived on a day visit from Manchester just before the 1962-63 Final and he gave me his semi-final programme, pink Manchester Evening news and other memorabilia. My dad was actually a City fan I later found out but he had a large family of elder brothers and loyalties were divided. But once I saw all those bits of ManU items and stories about the Busby babes, Charlton, and United’s own Italian import Denis Law, I was hooked. Sorry THFC.
But I retained this interest in Jimmy once he scored in the 61-62 final. I think THFC might have won a European trophy shortly after that but I think that was about it in terms of success for Greaves. He was in the 1966 World Cup squad but failed to make the WCF squad to his lifelong regret. That said his replacement Geoff Hurst did score a hat-trick to win us the Jules Rimet trophy for the first and only time. They all thought Jimmy’s England career was over, and it was then. I was delighted he and the rest of the non-playing squad eventually received their medals under Gordon Brown’s Premiership – about the only good thing he did as PM.
I didn’t really connect with Jimmy again until after he moved to West Ham United and his career was moving towards its end. He’d lost his pace but still had a lovely touch though you could tell the years of boozing in London’s drinking dens had taken their toll on his talent. There was a match against my home town team Blackpool in the 3rd round of the FA Cup on the 2nd January 1971. It was a freezing cold day and we had a new boss, Bob Stokoe, who was desperate for a good result. Blackpool’s midfield general the brilliant Tony Green, who we’d signed for 2s 6d from Albion Rovers or somewhere had an absolute blinder scoring two goals before half time. Green laid on the third goal for John Craven and before the end Henry Mowbray had thundered a fourth to make the rout complete. See vid below.
But that was not where the story ended. It came to light that the night before the game, Bobby Moore, Brian Dear, Jimmy Greaves, Clyde Best and club physio Rob Jenkins had stayed out drinking in boxer Brian London’s 007 Blackpool nightclub until the early hours. It was the top place to be seen in Blackpool (or not seen in the case of the WHU payers). A disgruntled West Ham fan had witnessed it and shortly afterwards the Fleet Street papers had the story plastered all over the back pages. Manger Ron Greenwood was furious and it led to the end of Jimmy’s career with the Hammers and that of Bobby Moore too.
Sad I guess but hey it was a great day for we Blackpool fans. I was there with 3 mates and we had a blast lambasting all the celebrated and possibly hungover WHU players. The game was covered by Match of the Day and at the final whistle we headed onto the pitch and did a jig in the semi-circle which was covered by the tv cameras. It was my first significant moment on tv but far from the last. That night my old mate Paul M was hosting a party at his parent’s fabulous home near Singleton and we watched the game on tv and revelled in our jig. We were as near as you could get to tv celebs in P-l-F and the party rocked.
Later Jimmy would have a pretty stellar tv career as a pundit but I’d lost interest in him by that stage. I didn’t care for this cheeky chappie persona; I just remembered his silky skills, which no one has come close to emulating – no that’s not true, maybe Messi is the nearest comparison. And hey isn’t that the best compliment I can pay him?