Full Name: James Peter Greaves
Date of Birth: 20/02/1940
He has scored the third highest number of goals for England. There’s no better way of introducing the legend that is James Peter Greaves than that: a goal-machine. A man who knew how to find the back of the net better than anyone else on the pitch. Jimmy Greaves was a player who struck fear into the English league, the Italian Serie A and the world.
Greaves is famous for missing out on England’s World Cup winning final due to a leg injury, which resulted in his substitute, Geoff Hurst, playing a somewhat vital role in the game. No one would have thought him replaceable though. Greavsie was one the most legendary football players England has ever seen.
From East to West London and then to Italy
Born in East Ham in East London Greaves was a cockney through and through. Being born in 1940, the East end of London wasn’t the easiest place to be a baby. At school, Greaves found football provided the perfect escape. He was very talented at a very early age and it led to him being spotted by a London club on the other side of the city, Chelsea.
Jimmy made his debut for Chelsea in 1957 at the tender age of 17. Within a couple of years of being at the club, he not only secured a concrete place in the first team but became the youngest ever Top Goalscorer, scoring the most goals in both the 1959 and 1961 seasons. Just before Jimmy celebrated his 21st birthday, he celebrated his 100th League goal: a record for a player of his age.
Although we think of it as usual now, in 1961 it wouldn’t have been that common for a foreign club to come asking for an English lad. But his reputation at Chelsea meant that the European giants, AC Milan, heard about Jimmy and he signed for them in 1961.
The East Ham boy found it hard to settle in Italy, although with 9 goals in 12 games you’d never have thought it. He decided to move back to the UK and it would have made him the first £100,000 player in Britain . . . but for one pound!
The shrewd, clever and reputable Tottenham manager, Bill Nicholson, brought Jimmy back to London for a fee of £99,999, meaning that he didn’t have the pressure of being the first to cost a hundred grand. This would turn out to be a pretty smart move as the success Jimmy showed whilst with Spurs suggested a man without any pressure at all.
To north London
People knew Jimmy was good at scoring goals but no one on earth would have been able to predict just how good he would prove to be in the ten years he was with Tottenham Hotspur. When he finally left the club in 1970, Jimmy had notched up arguably the most impressive statistics any striker in the English game has ever had for one club.
He played 379 games and scored 266 goals. He was unsurprisingly the League’s top goal scorer over four seasons in the top flight. All in all, Greaves would finish his career with the record that still stands, of being the top goal scorer in six seasons of competition.
Silverware for Spurs would sadly never match his individual success but he still helped Tottenham to lift the FA Cup in 1962 and again in 1967, as well as the UEFA Cup in 1963. Jimmy would play a huge part in this monumental Spurs win by scoring twice in their 5-1 win over Spanish Atletico Madrid. They would then become the first British club to win the UEFA Cup, making it all the more historical. There was another little matter of less silver but more gold-ware in the World Cup, but I’ll come to that in a moment.
….and then finally back to East London
You can take the man out of the East end but you can’t take the East end out of the man. In 1970, when Jimmy was 30, he returned to his roots in East Ham by playing for his own team, West Ham United.
He had always expressed a desire to play for the Hammers and, now at the latter stages of his career, he would do them the service. He scored twice on his debut against Manchester City and would proceed to enjoy 38 games for West Ham that season and score a pretty reasonable (for him) 13 goals.
Jimmy’s days of glory might have been over but he remained a first team player and important goal scorer not only for West Ham but also for Brentwood Town, Chelmsford City and Barnet FC, playing well into his thirties. They were much smaller clubs but he proved he was no less of a player. For Barnet he scored around 25 goals but no one really counted. He finally hung up his goal-scoring boots at around the age of 38 … but it could have been longer.
For Queen and Country
Some strikers hold outstanding goal scoring records in their domestic leagues but don’t always manage to match it for their country. This wasn’t to be the case with you know who. He made his debut in 1959 and would finally complete his time with England in 1967, the year after the World Cup. Greaves’ tally might not have beaten Bobby Charlton’s, who played many of his games alongside Jimmy, or that of the ultimate goal-poacher Gary Lineker, but his records are perhaps more impressive being the third highest scorer with 44 goals, because they all came at a much higher rate and in a shorter period of time than any of the others. He still holds the record for the most number of hat-tricks for England (which came to six).
Greaves’ cheeky and lovable sensibility was never better displayed than in a World Cup match in 1962 against Pele’s Brazil, in which a stray dog clambered onto the pitch during the game. Many of the players tried to lure the dog but it was Greavsie, who got down on all fours, and managed to get the dog to behave himself – not for long though as the dog ended up weeing all over Jimmy.
This sort of treatment might have been more appropriate at the next World Cup Finals in 1966, which were of course held on Jimmy’s home territory. We all know what happened to England during that historical tournament but many might not know of Jimmy’s part.
It was a very sad story. Jimmy was injured in a qualifying game against France and suffered a serious leg injury. This meant that substitute Geoff Hurst was drafted in to play up front with Bobby Charlton. Poor Jimmy would spend the rest of the tournament nursing his wounds on the bench.
The hardest pill for Jimmy to swallow in 1966 is that when he regained his fitness in time for the final against West Germany at Wembley, the incredible form of his replacement, Geoff Hurst, meant that he was left out of the starting eleven and, because of the lack of substitutes in those days, he wouldn’t get to play any part in the famous (They Think It’s All Over It Is Now) win. He sat on the bench in his suit looking genuinely shocked at what he was seeing unfold in front of him.
No man would have been able to hide such a huge level of disappointment but Jimmy tried his best. He couldn’t face it though and famously went on holiday with his wife while the other players dined out on the fame of being world champions. He retired from English football the following year.
Jimmy hasn’t left the world of football, which has pleased a number of football fans. There is no way that his personality and face would have been forgotten. He overcame alcohol problems in the late 70s to become a TV presenter alongside his friend and former player, Ian St John, when they hosted the long-running cult show, Saint and Greavsie, from 1985 to 1992.
He has appeared in many other football programmes over the years and has been a contributor to regular columns and articles such as his one in The Sun for a number of years. He is now a grandfather and a very popular figure in the social world of football.
Jimmy Greaves is a man who has to be seen to be believed. The sheer volume of goals he scored is simply staggering. Greaves is a legend both on and off the pitch and was justly rewarded with acceptance into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
- Top Scorer in the First Division: 1969, 1965, 1964, 1963, 1961, 1959
- Inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame
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