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Born: Tuesday 20 February 1940, East Ham, England
Position: Centre Forward
Among the most prolific goalscorers the English game has ever seen, Jimmy Greaves found the net at a remarkable rate throughout his career and remains the all-time leading scorer in England's top division. He also had a fantastic record at international level, holding his country's scoring record for several years, but missed out on the 1966 World Cup victory when he was injured during the tournament and was unable regain his place in the team.
Greaves was born in East Ham, in the east end of London, on 20 February 1940. Growing up in London during the post-Second World War years, football provided a means of escaping the difficulties of the time. Greaves grew up supporting Tottenham Hotspur and almost signed for the club as a 14-year old, but when that opportunity fell through he instead went to west London and joined Chelsea in 1956.
His impact was astonishing, as in his first season leading the forward line in Chelsea's youth team, Greaves scored an unbelievable 114 goals. It was clear that he was ready to make the move into senior football, which he duly did in the 1957-58 season. He scored on his debut, something which he developed a reputation for doing throughout his career, before going to grab an impressive total of 22 league goals in 35 games for an unspectacular mid-table team.
An instinctive striker with the ability to score goals at crucial times in games, Greaves was however far more than just a goal poacher. His pace and dribbling skills allowing him to produce spectacular strikes as well. He broke through the 30-goal barrier in 1958-59, finishing as the First Division's leading scorer and earning a first international call-up. Again he scored on his debut, but that first match ended in a disappointing 4-1 defeat for England in Peru.
Although Chelsea were rarely able to progress above mid-table during Greaves' time at the club, he became an ever more prolific scorer. During the 1960-61 season hit 41 league goals to lead the league in scoring again and set a single-season club record which still stands today. He also added 13 in just eight games for England, including the first two of what became a record six hat-tricks for his country, one of them in a famous 9-3 thrashing of Scotland at Wembley.
In 1961 the opportunity of a move to Italian giants AC Milan emerged, and Chelsea decided to cash in. Although not keen to leave, English footballers were still subject to a maximum wage and the move was lucrative for Greaves. He got off to a great start with nine goals in his first ten Serie A games, but failed to settle in Milan. He hoped for a return to Chelsea, but when double-winners Tottenham also showed an interest and the transfer fee started to rise, Chelsea dropped out.
Greaves joined Tottenham for a record fee of £99,999, avoiding the notoriety of being the first £100,000 player. Greaves almost helped Tottenham to retain their title, scoring a hat-trick on his debut against Blackpool and averaging almost a goal a game for the rest of the season. Eventually Tottenham finished third, but did retain the FA Cup with a 3-1 win over Burnley in the final, Greaves scoring the opening goal.
Following that success, he travelled with the England squad to the World Cup in Chile. The team lost their first match to Hungary, but rebounded with a 3-1 win over Argentina as Greaves scored what proved to be his only World Cup goal. England eventually progressed to a quarter-final against holders Brazil which they lost 3-1, a match remembered for a bizarre incident where Greaves helped to catch a dog which had run on to the pitch only to have it urinate all over his shirt.
With England preparing to host the next World Cup, Greaves remained the most prolific striker in the country and finished as leading scorer in the First Division for an unprecedented three years in a row (once jointly). Tottenham remained regulars in the top six of the league and in 1963 became the first British team to win a European trophy, Greaves scoring twice in the 5-1 win over Atlético Madrid in the Cup Winners' Cup final.
In 1964 Greaves set a new national record with his 31st goal for England. When the 1966 World Cup came around, he was still undoubtedly first choice up front, having scored four in one of England's warm-up games against Norway. Sadly, during the finals he suffered an injury in England's last group game against France. For the quarter-final he was replaced by Geoff Hurst, who scored the winner and kept his place for the rest of the tournament.
In the final, a fit again Greaves could only watch on as Hurst scored the only ever World Cup final hat-trick in England's 4-2 win over West Germany. Greaves played just three more times for England, remaining unused as the team finished third in the European Championship in Italy in 1968. He scored a total of 44 goals for England, a figure passed only by Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker who both won significantly more caps than the 57 Greaves obtained.
Despite the approaching end of his international career, Greaves did win another major trophy with Tottenham in 1967 as the club claimed the FA Cup again, this time beating his former team Chelsea in the final. He was still a formidable goalscorer, regularly passing the 20 goal mark each season and finishing as leading scorer in the First Division for the sixth time in his career in 1969, although the team were dropping further out of contention for major honours.
During that season he also passed the record for the most goals in England's top division, held for nearly 60 years by Steve Bloomer, but it proved to be Greaves' last full season at Tottenham. Early in 1970 he was transferred to West Ham United, as part of a deal which took World Cup winner Martin Peters to Tottenham. Greaves left Tottenham having established single-season and career goalscoring records which remain unbroken.
Inevitably, he scored on his debut for West Ham, grabbing two goals in a 5-1 thrashing of Manchester City. However, in a struggling team the goals gradually dried up an in 1970-71, with West Ham fighting against relegation, Greaves scored just nine in 32 league games. His fitness levels began to drop and in the spring of 1971 he lost his place in the team after a being spotted out drinking the night before a match.
Greaves decided to retire from professional football at the end of that season, his record top-flight goalscoring total having reached 357 in 516 games. Four years later he made a comeback at semi-professional level, first with Brentwood and then Chelmsford City, before joining Barnet in 1977 where he scored 25 goals in his first season. His final club was Woodford Town, where he played one year before retiring in 1980 at the age of 40.
While playing semi-professionally Greaves had battled with alcohol problems, but having successfully stopped drinking he built a new career for himself in the 1980s as a newspaper columnist and TV pundit. For many years he hosted the show 'Saint and Greavsie' with former Liverpool striker Ian St John, as well as co-writing a number of books and spending many years working as an after-dinner speaker.
References (all accessed 26 November 2012):
- Published on Monday, 26 November 2012 16:22