There are few words that can adequately describe the genius of Jimmy Greaves, Spurs’ greatest goalscorer and the finest British football has ever seen. 306 goals in 420 games is a truly phenomenal record, but it is frightening to think how many he may have scored if Spurs manager Arthur Rowe had not fallen ill early in 1955. Jimmy had been expected to sign for Spurs on leaving school, but in Rowe’s absence Chelsea nipped in and persuaded Greaves to join them. It was another six years before he donned the white shirt he had always been destined to wear.
Greaves made his debut for Chelsea in August 1957 against Spurs at White Hart Lane and of course he scored, the first in a long line of debut goals. For club, for country, in one competition after another when Jimmy made his first appearance he inevitably scored. With 132 goals in 169 games over four years at Stamford Bridge, Greaves topped the wanted list of every Italian club planning for the day when their League lifted its embargo on foreign players. That came in June 1961, but Jimmy spent a miserable six months at AC Milan, unable to accept the way they demanded total domination of a player’s life. His unhappiness came to an end in December 1961 when Bill Nicholson laid out £99,999 to secure the only player he thought could improve the double-winning side.
Jimmy scored a wonderful hat-trick on his debut at home against Blackpool in a 5-2 victory. At the end of the season he played in his first FA Cup Final and scored the opener within three minutes, a typical piece of opportunism, as he collected a pass from Bobby Smith, spun one way, then the other and left three defenders for dead as he slipped the ball home. A year later he went one better, netting twice in the European Cup-winners’ Cup Final.
Back row (L-R): Peter Baker, Maurice Norman, Bill Brown, Ron Henry and Dave Mackay
Front row (L-R): Terry Medwin, John White, Danny Blanchflower, Bobby Smith, Jimmy Greaves, Cliff Jones
For eight years Greaves was simply outstanding, breaking one record after another. Scoring goals is the most difficult art in football, but for Greaves it was made to look easy. His anticipation was incredible, moving into position as if he knew where a misplaced pass or deflection would deposit the ball, his reactions razor-sharp and his initial burst of pace enough to take him away from any defender. When he got the ball, his control was immaculate, his balance perfect and his coolness unsurpassable. Jimmy scored the majority of his goals from inside the box, but he did more work outside the box than given credit for. Frequently on the end of the roughest treatment, he was always available for a pass, always looking for the opening that would allow him to turn and show his close control as defenders were left sprawling in his wake. He scored 44 goals in 57 appearances for England but missed the World Cup Final in 1966 after he needed 10 stitches in a leg injury following a tackle by a French defender.
From a personal point of view watching Jimmy Greaves play he made the game look so easy, his immaculate play making it appear as if he floated over the ground, pure genius.