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19 September 2021

Jimmy Greaves: The life and times of England’s greatest striker

Jimmy Greaves, one of England's greatest ever goalscorers, has died at the age of 81.

As a tribute to his incredible playing career, NewsChain looks back at his rise from a brilliant teenager to his retirement 25 years later.

Chelsea, 1955-1961

Greaves (centre), who is sat alongside John Sillett (left) and John Compton (right), began his career at Chelsea, joining as a youth player in 1955 (PA Images)

Although Greaves will more than likely be remembered for his performances at another London club, he started off his journey in football at Chelsea.

He was scouted as a youngster and in 1955 became an apprentice or one of 'Drake's Ducklings', a nickname coined in response to the 'Busby Babes' as the Blues' manager at the time was Ted Drake.

It wasn't until 1957 that Greaves turned professional, although he still had to work for a steel company for eight weeks during the summer in the lead up to the season to pay his way.

On his First Division debut on August 24, 1957, Greaves scored as Chelsea drew 1-1 with Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Drake rested him for six weeks in mid-season to ensure he did not let the praise he was receiving affect his mentality and he still finished the club's top scorer with 22 goals.

Greaves then went on to score 32 goals in the 1958-59 season and 29 in the 1959-60 season despite the team finishing in the bottom seven places in both seasons.

It was Chelsea's lack of competitiveness in the league which eventually led to Greaves wanting out of the club.

He played his last game against Nottingham Forest on April 29, 1961, scoring all four goals in a 4-3 victory, finishing his final season with 41 goals in 40 games.

Tottenham Hotspur, 1961-1970

Greaves is widely regarded as one of Tottenham's greatest ever players (PA Images)

After a short one-season spell with AC Milan, Greaves returned to England and joined Tottenham in December 1961.

Legendary Spurs boss Bill Nicholson signed him for £99,999 in a bid to spare him the pressure of being England's first £100,000 player.

The north London side were flying high having just become the first team in the 20th century to secure the First Division and FA Cup double.

And Greaves slotted straight into the side as he scored a hat-trick on his debut in a 5-2 win against Blackpool at White Hart Lane.

He then played a major role in helping the team secure a second successive FA Cup trophy, bagging nine goals in the competition including a third minute opener in the final against Burnley, a game Spurs went on to win 3-1.

After lifting the Charity Shield, Greaves scored 37 goals in 41 league matches in the 1962-63 season, guiding the club to a second place finish behind Everton.

And he also netted twice in the European Cup Winners' Cup final - to redeem himself for the only red card in his career in the first leg of the semi-final against Belgrade - as Spurs beat Atletico Madrid 5-1 to become the first British side to lift the trophy.

Greaves scored 35 and 29 in his next two league season as he formed a new partnership with Alan Gilzean and the goals kept coming.

At the beginning of the 1965-66 campaign the English striker suffered three months on the sidelines after contracting hepatitis, but recovered to still finish as Tottenham's top scorer for the season with 16 goals.

Spurs then mounted a serious tilt at the title in 1966-67 which resulted in them finishing third, narrowly missing out by four points to Manchester United as Greaves hit the back of the net 31 more times.

They also reached the FA Cup final once more and lifted the trophy thanks to a 2-1 victory over Greaves' former club Chelsea.

Although he did not register a goal at Wembley, Greaves was the competition's top scorer with six in eight games.

After a trophyless 1967-68 campaign saw Greaves score 29 times, he then finished the 1968-69 campaign with 27 league goals (36 overall) and was crowned the First Division's top scorer for a sixth time.

He also became Spurs' all-time leading scorer and the First Division's all-time top scorer in the process.

Greaves' final season with the club in 1969-70 was one he and the team would probably like to forget as he was dropped from the team in January and never fought his way back into the side.

However, he did still finish the campaign the club's joint top scorer with 11 goals, finishing his time at Tottenham with a tally of 262, a club record which still stands to this day.

West Ham, 1970-1971

Greaves joined West Ham shortly after his 30th birthday (PA Images)

In March 1970, Greaves joined West Ham as part of a deal which saw Martin Peters move the other way.

Keeping up his impressive record in debut appearances, Greaves scored twice against Manchester City on his debut to give the Hammers a 5-1 victory at Maine Road.

One of his most infamous off-field moments came when he was told by members of the media the day before a match against Blackpool that it was unlikely to go ahead due to a frozen pitch.

Greaves subsequently went on a night out with Bobby Moore, Brian Dear and Clyde Best and got back at 1:45am.

Unfortunately, the match went ahead and West Ham lost 4-0, with Greaves and his three teammates subsequently fined and dropped from the squad.

The forward began to suffer from alcoholism and as a result began to struggle on the pitch.

He played his final match on May 1, 1971 in a 1-0 defeat to Huddersfield Town, finishing his West Ham career with a record of 13 goals in 40 games.

He would later admit he had received interest from Brian Clough's Derby County and regretted the decision to join West Ham instead.

Greaves finished with a tally of 366 top flight goals in England and Italy, meaning he held the record for the most goals in the top five European leagues until Cristiano Ronaldo overtook him in 2017.

Final stages of club career

Greaves spent two years away from football as his alcoholism took over.

He was reportedly drinking as much as 20 beers and a bottle of vodka a day, but returned to football in a bid to avoid the excessive drinking.

The England legend had spells with local clubs Brentwood and Chelmsford City, but he continued to drink and was eventually hospitalised in Warley Psychiatric Hospital.

Greaves carried on playing as he joined Barnet for two years while still drinking, but eventually got sober by the time he hung up his boots following a stint at Woodford Town in 1980.

England, 1959-1967

Greaves played for England between 1959 and 1967 (PA Images)

Greaves broke into the international set-up in 1959 and scored on his debut as England lost 4-1 to Peru.

He then built on a flourishing reputation with three hat-tricks in the space of six months between October 1960 and April 1961, a run which made him a starter for the Three Lions at the 1962 World Cup.

He scored once in four appearances at the tournament as England were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Brazil.

But fans will remember Greaves more for when a dog ran on the field during the last eight match and the England striker got down on his knees to catch the four-legged pitch invader, with Brazil's Garrincha then taking the dog home to keep as a pet.

A hat-trick against Northern Ireland in October 1964 saw Greaves become England's all-time leading scorer with 35 goals, before bringing his total to 43 prior to the 1966 World Cup.

He played all three group matches without scoring and was injured in the final game against France in a tackle which required 14 stitches.

Although fit for the final, replacement Geoff Hurst had forced his way into the starting line-up and proved undroppable as Greaves missed out on a World Cup winner's medal due to only the starting 11 receiving the honour.

Greaves would later receive a medal in 2010 when an FA-led campaign saw him finally presented the accolade by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

After the 1966 World Cup, Greaves only made three more appearances for his country, with his final appearance coming on May 27, 1967 against Austria.

Bobby Charlton went on to break Greaves' record of 44 goals for England the following year. 

And although Greaves did go to Euro 1968, he was an unused squad player for the entire tournament.

He finished with a superb return of 44 goals in 57 appearances for England.

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