Jimmy Greaves will be remembered for game he DIDN'T play at 1966 World Cup – but his England record is almost unmatched

JIMMY GREAVES will always be remembered for the game he didn’t play.

But if he had been selected for the 1966 World Cup it’s a fair bet that England wouldn’t have needed extra-time to beat West Germany.

No post-war British player even comes close to matching Greaves’ astonishing scoring record for club or for country.

Yet he finished his remarkable career with just two FA Cup winners’ medals and one from the 1963 European Cup Winners’ Cup final.

Thirty-three years after the event, he was finally presented with a World Cup medal along with the other surviving members of the England squad who hadn’t made Alf Ramsey’s starting team in 1966.

But it was a token gesture to a footballer who didn’t need golden baubles to validate his genius.

Because Greaves had already cemented his legend years earlier thanks to 479 career goals during a spectacular career with Chelsea, AC Milan, Spurs, West Ham and England.

Even now it is hard to believe that the last of his 57 England caps came at the age of 27, when most professional footballers are just about to enter their peak.

He scored 44 times for his country including a record six hat-tricks at a strike rate of one goal every 1.29 games.


Wayne Rooney, Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker have subsequently claimed more England goals, but it took them all considerably more games to overtake his haul.

He is not quite the most prolific England scorer of all time – George Camsell scored at an unbelievable two-per-game between 1929 and 1936.

But certainly since the abolition of the minimum wage back in 1961 Greaves has been in a league of his own in terms of cold-eyed ruthlessness.

He was still 11 weeks shy of his 21st birthday when he scored his 100th League goal and finished as the First Division’s top scorer on six occasions.

He scored 132 times in the first four seasons of his career at Chelsea, when he lived in a flat above Wimbledon’s old Plough Lane stadium.

And even though he signed for Spurs in the middle of the 1961-62 season, he still finished the campaign with 30 goals for Bill Nicholson’s team.

Fifty years after last kicking a ball for the club, he remains Tottenham’s all-time record goalscorer with 266 goals, still 85 clear of current White Hart Lane idol Harry Kane.

But it wasn’t just the quantity of Greaves’ goals which made him so special. It was the sheer quality of them.

Like an English George Best, he would slalom his way through opposing defences with the ball seemingly tied to the end of his boot before passing into the net.

And remember this was in an era when pitches often resembled the Somme and no prisoners were taken by hairy-arsed defenders full of evil intent.

Yet Greaves, by and large, was simply too clever and too elusive for the Sixties’ hatchet-men.

Unfortunately the one he couldn’t avoid was French midfielder Joseph Bonnel, who raked his studs down Greaves’ shin during England’s final group game of the 66 World Cup.

That left him nursing a gash which required 14 stitches to close and opened the door for Geoff Hurst to become a national hero.

Remarkably, he managed just three more appearances for his country after that as Ramsey stuck with Hurst in spite of Greaves’ far superior strike rate.

Yet it was a snub which he shrugged off without a hint of bitterness as he continued to score at an unprecedented rate for Tottenham.

It was only when Spurs told him that he was being swapped for West Ham’s Martin Peters in 1970 that he became disillusioned with football and started his slow descent into alcoholism.

But he was honest enough to confront his demons and supported by his wife Irene remained resolutely sober for the final 40 years of his life.

I was privileged to work with Jimmy at the start of my journalism career when I ghosted his column for Shoot magazine.

He was one of the funniest people I have ever met with absolutely no trace of ego and a withering disdain for the stardom his career warranted.

Our Thursday morning chats were the highlight of my week and one of my biggest regrets is that I lost contact with the great man in recent years.

He died today aged 81 after a long battle with dementia. Rest in peace, old chum. Gone but never forgotten.

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