“He was a very special talent Jimmy, and he deserves to be remembered as one of the very, very best” – Gary Lineker
The exploits of the greatest goal scorer in the history of the English top flight are surprisingly unsung.
Jimmy Greaves, who turned 80 in February, was a genuine great with statistics comparable to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who sank to the very depths of despair off the football pitch.
But he has never been recognised in any honours list, he missed England’s crowning glory at the 1966 World Cup and his unique story hasn’t reached modern audiences.
Greavsie, the latest instalment in BT Sport’s acclaimed series of feature-length documentaries, tells the tale of the meteoric rise, tragic fall and glorious reinvention of one of England’s greatest strikers with rarely seen archive footage and interviews with some of the game’s biggest names.
The story begins in the 1950s when a teenage Greaves is poached by Chelsea from under the nose of Tottenham when an opportunistic scout offered his father £50 in Irish five pound notes.
He graduated from the youth ranks and became a teenage superstar, scoring 132 goals in 169 games, including a wonder goal on his debut against Spurs at White Hart Lane in August 1957.
Greaves was a goalscoring sensation. “Goal-glutton Greaves” screamed the Sport Pictorial after he bagged five against Preston.
He shot to stardom but was struck down by a secret heartache when his four-month-old son Jimmy died on the same night he scored against Spain on his England debut.
Reeling from the tragedy and frustrated by the league’s maximum wage policy, he signed for AC Milan for £40,000 deal in 1961. He departed Chelsea as the club’s seventh-highest goal scorer in history, despite only spending four seasons at Stamford Bridge.
In an ill-fated spell with the Rossoneri, Greaves clashed with disciplinarian coach Nereo Rocco and struggled with a culture of media intrusion.
Tottenham offered Greaves a lifeline when they agreed to pay £99,999 for his services. They offered one pound less than the asking price because Bill Nicholson didn’t want him to be saddled with the pressure of being the first £100,000 player.
He picked up where he left up in England, scoring a hat-trick on debut in a 5-2 demolition of Blackpool in December 1961.
Spurs won the 1962 FA Cup and became the first British team to ever win a European trophy when they beat Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the 1963 Cup Winners’ Cup final.
In the Swinging Sixties Beatlemania swept Britain, Sean Connery starred as the first James bond and Greaves was football’s pin-up boy. “He was electrifying. When Jimmy was on the ball, the whole crowd came alive,” says boyhood Spurs fan Glenn Hoddle.
His reputation was enhanced by his stellar international record. He remains the youngest player to reach 20, 30 and 40 goals for England and he’s the fastest ever to reach 30 goals after his debut. None of his 44 England goals were penalties.
The 1956-66 season proved difficult for Greaves as he contracted hepatitis and was out of the Tottenham team for three months.
“Jim was the Lionel Messi at that stage for England, but with the illness he had, it made it very, very difficult to be Jimmy Greaves of the first three, four, five years he was at Tottenham,” says Spurs teammate Alan Mullery.
He made Alf Ramsey’s squad for the World Cup in England in 1966 and started the first three games, but injury against France ruled him out of the quarter-final against Argentina.
Greaves did everything in his power to prove his fitness, but he didn’t make the final against West Germany.
Geoff Hurst, Greaves’ replacement, scored a hat-trick and Bobby Moore and co. were immortalised in sporting legend and in the iconic image on the Wembley turf at full time.
“The overwhelming feeling was being the loneliest man in Wembley Stadium that day,” recalled Greaves.
His dream was snatched from his grasp and his exclusion from England’s greatest day means his international achievements remain undervalued.
Fast forward nearly twelve months and Greaves’ narrative arc reached another glorious climax.
From missing out on the World Cup final to lifting the FA Cup in front of 100,000 people, Greaves starred in Tottenham’s 2-1 win over Chelsea – often dubbed the ‘Cockney Cup Final’ because it was the first to be contested by two London teams.
But even Greaves was susceptible to lapses in form and he was among a raft of star players dropped by Bill Nicholson after Spurs slumped in the 1969/70 season.
In March 1970, he joined West Ham United as part-exchange in Martin Peters’ transfer to White Hart Lane. He remains Tottenham’s all-time top scorer with 266 goals.
Despite continuing his trend of scoring on debut for every team he played for, he struggled for fitness and motivation at Upton Park.
In January 1971, on the eve of a weather-threatened cup tie at Blackpool, Greaves and several of his teammates were involved in a late-night drinking session.
West Ham lost 4-0 and Greaves’ relationship with manager Ron Greenwood was ruined. His career was effectively over.
Alcoholism began to take over when his playing career ended in 1971 at the age of 31. Without the routine football offered, his domestic life deteriorated and he became a recluse.
“It’s easy to see how people can fall from being superstars on the pitch, macho man, invincible, to being someone who feels weak and a little bit in limbo,” says Rio Ferdinand.
Despite suffering with alcoholism, he returned to football after a four-year absence at non-league level with Brentwood, Chelmsford City, Barnet, and Woodford Town before retiring for good in 1980.
During his comeback, Greaves publically admitted the extent of his addiction. The Sunday People’s haunting front page splash in January 1978 read ‘Drink Is Killing Me, Says Jimmy Greaves’. He also released a tell-all autobiography entitled ‘This One’s On Me’.
After retiring as a player, he became a massive hit as a pundit on the hugely popular Saturday afternoon show Saint and Greavsie hosted by the two legendary former players which ran from 1985 to 1992.
In one particularly memorable episode, the lovable duo made the draw for the 1991 Rumbelows Cup with Donald Trump. The draw took place in the US President’s boardroom in New York’s Trump Tower.
“You don’t realise what you’ve done there!” Jimmy quipped after Trump pulled Manchester United out of the hat to face Leeds United in the fifth round.
The fact that Greaves was known more as a broadcaster than a goal scorer is testament to the success of his glorious reinvention from the depths of addiction.
In May 2015, Greaves suffered a severe stroke that “95% of people wouldn’t have survived” according to his clinicians. He has recovered from the stroke but is wheelchair bound and suffers from speech difficulties.
Speaking exclusively to BTSport.com, Director and Producer Tom Boswell said Greaves’ tale deserves to be celebrated.
“It’s riches to rags to riches again,” he said.
“His life kind of played out like a Hollywood film. There’s so much glory, so much pain. It really had the lot.
“Various generations know him for different things, either as a pundit or as a footballer. The idea of this film is to tie it all together into one place because it is an absolutely incredible life and he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest.”
Greaves was a true titan of the English game, deserving of the adulation afforded to the 1966 World Cup winning stars.
His achievements have been diluted over the years by timing and circumstance, but his legacy lives on and since the release of Greavsie, over 30,000 people have signed a petition to get Greaves on the Honours list.
If you like Greavsie, you’ll love:
Too Good To Go Down: The BT Sport Film explores the story of how relegation to the second tier of English football was the catalyst for a new Manchester United to develop in the years after Sir Matt Busby's retirement.
Rocky & Wrighty: From Brockley To The Big Time: BT Sport Films presents the extraordinary story of how a young David Rocastle’s meteoric rise to stardom with Arsenal inspired boyhood friend Ian Wright to also achieve legendary status with the Gunners.