- Jimmy Greaves fought alcoholism and had a wonderful and varied life
- He sold his World Cup winning medal after not playing in the prestigious 1966 final
- Greaves’ love for football had a purity that was untainted by the professional game.
- He philanthropic support of Diego Maradona after failing the World Cup drug test
Much will be written and said about footballer Jimmy Greaves in the days to come. You must have heard a lot about it already.
Compare with Lionel Messi, the numbers, records and milestones that are still being chased today, or usurped by only the greatest.
You might have already gone looking for highlights of goals scored in Torrent or the performance against Manchester United in 1965, which captures his talent so brilliantly.
Jimmy Greaves is the most natural goalscorer many football fans have ever seen
Greaves, the player, was an extraordinary man. But Greaves, that man, was even bigger
There are many wonderful players on that pitch, but Greaves is playing a different game to everyone else in his class.
And all this praise is true, and relevant; For us, at least. There are plenty of good judges who will maintain that Greaves is the most natural goalscorer he has ever seen. And statistically speaking, he is undoubtedly the best British.
So, yes, Greaves, the player, was an extraordinary person. But Greaves, that man, was even bigger.
The first act of his life, Jimmy was exploiting a gift so natural that it burst onto the scene in the shape of a directive more technically specific than wishing to bid ‘all the best’ farewell to his Chelsea manager Ted Drake before the match. Gaya.
Yet what happened was a real victory. Traveling back from the abyss of wine, establishing a career as a broadcaster, a writer, a speaker, of another life, without bitterness, regret or arrogance.
Paul McCartney once said that there are only four people in the world who never got to experience The Beatles, who didn’t get to hear those songs for the first time, who never got a chance to see a show or share that thrill of discovery .
He says that he is now beginning to appreciate that he was in a band not with his friend John, but with John Lennon.
However, the 81-year-old also turned out to be an accomplished broadcaster, writer and speaker.
And likewise ‘Greavesie’ never got to see Jimmy Greaves playing. His speed, his poise, the precision of his refinement, his precision, his artistry never ceased to amaze.
Maybe that’s why he was so adamant about it, so generous but gently baffled that people would want to share the memories he had half a century ago, and what it meant to him.
‘A retired welder is never asked about the bracket he made,’ he says, ‘but people want to talk to me about what I did all the time in 1962.’
His favorite was a person who approached him at a function where he was the guest speaker. ‘Remember me?’ He asked. Jimmy had to admit he didn’t.
Chap recalled in great detail a hat-trick Greaves had scored decades earlier as a flamboyant young man.
Jim was happy to jog his memory – sadly even before the stroke, he said he didn’t remember what it was like to be good at football – but was still struggling to spot where his new Friend fit in this story.
Was he on the other team? In the end, all is exposed. ‘I’m surprised you don’t remember me,’ the chap announced proudly. ‘I was behind the target.’
The time spent in Jimmy’s company was filled with such fascinating gaps. ‘People are always coming up to me – ‘Jim, can you remember that goal against West Brom in 1968?’ And I say, ‘No.’
Greaves seemed incapable of appreciating his talent, despite having the best seat in the house
‘But that’s okay because they only want to tell you what happened to them.
‘Well you had the ball halfway on the line, and I remember that because I was with Charlie and we just got two pies…’.
‘And it turns out the real story is about Charlie giving up on his pie and what you did wasn’t that important anyway. And I like that, really.’ And he really did.
A recovering alcoholism finds no time for ego and self-importance and Jimmy does it the hard way, through meetings among drug addicts in central London. This did not give him time for self-indulgence.
‘If they can keep calm, so can I,’ he would insist, and he did. His last drink was February 1978. But Jimmy never wanted it to be about him.
He was a recovered alcoholic enough to keep wine in the fridge at his place in La Manga for family, friends, and guests, because while he couldn’t indulge, it didn’t mean no one else could. .
The ghostwriters of his column—and I had that privilege for a few years, and Anand, Jim, all mine—were always treated as equals, not secretaries.
He was as selfish as any great striker should be on the pitch but a team player once dropped the ball.
When he was ill for two days, Jimmy had no problem with the TV-M studio being filled with his spitting image puppets.
Greaves’ sociable and charming manner makes it a pleasure to spend time in his company
The newspaper launched a campaign to get him a knighthood but the campaign for such an honor would never have come from Jim. Nor was he insisted on awarding the World Cup winning medals. Why does Greaves want a delayed memento of a day of hopeless despair?
When the FA lobbied so vigorously with FIFA it would be rude to refuse but Jimmy’s only motivation for attending the presentation ceremony at Wembley was to catch up with old friends again. Jimmy later proved how much he cared about that medal. He sold it for £44,000.
If he could, Jimmy always avoided nostalgic gatherings. Asked to be the guest of honor in a match between Tottenham and Chelsea a few years ago, he said politely. Too much fuss, too much ceremony, too much commotion.
He used to watch Six Nations match, England vs Ireland with a pot of tea at home. Finally, in the end, he made no secret of preferring rugby union to football and the subtleties of a good Test match.
He didn’t even come from a football family. His father used to play hockey with the army in India and Jimmy could get as much pleasure from talking about his rally driving experiences. He had great stamina behind the wheel of the car.
He hated flying and could get from Essex to his place in La Manga, Spain, in a day. When I did this, as his guest, after the 1996 European Championships, it took me three.
It is often suggested that Jimmy did not like football, but this is not true. He loved to play sports, physical activity, but not what surrounded him.
Greaves was not interested in being awarded the World Cup winner’s medal and sold it.
He told me, ‘I’m not sure I even wanted to be a professional as a kid. ‘I just loved playing. I woke up and wanted to play for 12 hours a day. And it never changed.
‘I used to go to a tennis club that was owned by a co-op. They had a Sunday soccer team and we’d take on the Met Police or local company teams.
‘I used to go out to them and we had Bobby Moore and Geoff Hearst on the line, waiting to come. And we were all still playing.
‘We envisioned a match and a pint at the bar afterwards. It was like that. Players play for the fun of it.
He also enjoyed talking about it, when it was his job. He had a tremendous intellect, an easygoing charm and worked hard on the elements of broadcasting that needed to be mastered. It wasn’t always even bright and breezy fare.
When Diego Maradona failed a drug test at the 1994 World Cup and was banned for humiliation, the easy commentary was rotten rookie, Hand of God, heaps.
Instead, Jimmy filed a counter-intuitively sympathetic piece focusing on the terrible kicking Maradona received at the peak of his career, and how the injury set him on a path where addictive painkillers, and other Medicines became a part of his life.
It was brave, it was true and today, the rest of the world has caught up. Jimmy’s insights into some of football’s saddest heroes – George Best, Brian Clough, Paul Gascoigne – were always clear and perceptive. He was much more than a class clown.
Greaves’ love of playing football was pure and not influenced by its commercialization
‘Everyone listens when a funny man talks seriously,’ he would observe, and it is true. He didn’t like the direction football had taken, and he said so.
A generation shared his scorn, wit, gluttony, squeaks of disdain for his scorned, arrogant finger-to-lip ceremonies. He came from an era when players used to tackle Ron Harris and more.
A favorite story was that of John Sillet, his friend, and Chelsea’s left back. He endured a particularly difficult game, culminating in a goal of his own.
Sylate took his time letting the crowd go. He waited till it was dark, pulled off his overcoat and headed towards the bus stop.
There were some fans standing there waiting, still going about his performance without realizing that he was with them now.
‘What did you do?’ asked Jim. ‘I didn’t want to take any chances,’ replied Sillet. ‘So I joined.’
When I left the newspaper and another lucky, young journalist inherited Jimmy’s column—and it’s no coincidence that he speaks as much about Jimmy as I, as the writer who succeeded him—they There were conversations that I missed.
Now hours went by talking about football, and then, stories, insights, most of which never made it to print.
Jimmy was a natural. One year, he told me, he sold and moved to Cornwall. He had been there on vacation several times, loved it, and was working for Central Television.
Greaves came to Diego Maradona’s defense when Argentina failed a drug test in 1994
He thought the M5 commute would be straightforward, but he was calculated without the holidaymakers. By the end of August, the new home was sold and the family moved back to Essex.
He said, ‘I did not change the house. ‘I just took a summer break with my furniture.’ Who needs a ghost with such lines?
The last time I interviewed Jimmy he was preparing for a one night show at the O2 Arena. It was before the stroke that clearly affected the last years of his life.
He joked that he had to check with his agent whether it was a farewell tour or a return: ‘We alternate them every year.’ At his age, one day, there was always going to be a farewell.
Still, it seems too early. Those numbers, of course, will survive. But, for those lucky enough to know him, those numbers weren’t even half.