19 September 2021 went down as a terribly sad day in the history of football.
Our beautiful sport was forced to say its farewells to Jimmy Greaves, one of the very best to have ever pulled on a football shirt and taken to its green, grassy fields.
The Tottenham Hotspur and England legend’s passing was announced by the north London club last year, causing a tidal wave of emotion to wash over Twitter, cleansing and purifying even the most toxic of the earth’s corners.
You see, that’s the effect a true legend of the game has on its viewers. Many younger football supporters won’t have had the honour of watching Greaves play football, other than the odd grainy YouTube video.
But speak to your parents or grandparents who were around during the 1960s, and they’ll all tell you that Jimmy Greaves is the most natural finisher they’ve ever seen and the greatest English goalscorer of all time.
When you boil the ever-more complex and intricate game of football down to its core, the result is extremely simple. Goals are the key, and having players who can score them makes you much more likely to win a match.
And that means Greaves is one of the best footballers our sport has ever seen – even if he is criminally underrated when it comes to the conversation of the all-time legends. But how can that be?
Perhaps it’s because Greaves is synonymous with Tottenham, a name that doesn’t carry such global weight as Manchester United or Liverpool. Maybe it’s because his goals didn’t result in the trophies and silverware his career deserved.
Or maybe it’s because he didn’t start in the World Cup final back in 1966, despite leading the line in the opening matches, before cruelly suffering an injury which allowed Geoff Hurst to take his chance.
For whatever reason, the English top-flight’s all-time leading scorer and England’s fifth-highest scorer in history never quite got the credit or recognition he deserved – outside of north and west London, anyway.
It’s time to put an end to that, for good.
Greaves’ numbers are simply staggering. Bursting onto the scene as a teenager at Chelsea, the forward hit 22 goals in 35 games in his first season as a professional footballer. He then bagged 32 goals in 42 matches, 29 in 40 and a club record-breaking 41 in 40.
Those unbelievable statistics led to Greaves earning a move abroad, joining Milan in 1961. The prolific forward didn’t enjoy his time in Italy, but despite fallings-out with the coach and a general regret over leaving London, he still managed nine goals in 12 league matches.
Even at his lowest, the goal machine was unstoppable. His unhappy spell in Milano came to a premature end when Spurs decided to bring the former Chelsea man back to London. It was truly as if he’d never been away.
Joining midway through the 1961/62 campaign, Greaves hit 21 goals in the remaining 22 matches for his new club, as well as scoring the opener in their FA Cup final win over Burnley. With silverware around his neck and goals in the bag, the striker was writing his own story in the Lilywhite.
He ended his time in north London as the club’s all-time leading scorer with 266 goals, winning another FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup along the way. He went on to join West Ham, where even at the end of his career, he was still finding the back of the net.
All of those goals translated onto the international stage, of course, where he struck 44 times for England in only 57 appearances. He would have surely held the record as the Three Lions’ leading scorer had he not retired early due to a dispute over game time with Sir Alf Ramsey.
He did clinch the biggest prize on offer with England, winning the World Cup in 1966 – even if it was Hurst’s hat-trick heroics in the final.
But Greaves’ impact on Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham, England and football in general should never be downplayed. He remains the dictionary definition of a natural goalscorer and one whose name will forever be synonymous with the beautiful game.