Jimmy Greaves didn’t need to win a league to be embedded in the history of the best England, that of the sixties: his goals were enough for him. It was a predator that could be missing throughout the game to surprise its victim at the most unexpected moment and score the winning goal. His great frustration was the 1966 World Cup final: Greaves had started the tournament as a starter but an injury in the last group match left him out of the team at the next stake, the quarter-finals against Argentina. His replacement, Geoff Hurst, scored the winning goal that day, would remain as the starter and end up scoring a hat-trick in the final against Germany (4-2, ghost goal included). They say that this disgust is the origin of the alcoholism that Greaves fell into years later and that it would mark the end of his career. The striker was left without a medal for not having played in the final. An injustice that FIFA did not rectify until 2009.
Born in East London in 1940, Jimmy Greaves was discovered by a Chelsea scout, who signed him at just 15 years old. At 17 he made his debut in the first team and scored the goal that would give Chelsea the draw (1-1) at White Hart Lane. I didn’t know it then, but it would be at Tottenham where I would really end up triumphing.
In those days footballers didn’t make much money in England. Chelsea paid him 17 pounds a week plus another two for a win and one for a draw. After four years, 169 games and 132 goals, Greaves left Chelsea in the summer of 1961 and signed a three-year contract with Milan, which paid him a £ 15,000 transfer bonus and an annual salary of £ 7,000. But the London striker regretted as soon as he signed, tried unsuccessfully to back down and lasted only a few months in Italy: in December of that same year he returned to England. Chelsea (who had traded him for £ 80,000) and Tottenham offered £ 96,500 for him. Both offers were accepted and he ended up signing for the Spurs, who had increased their offer to 99,999 pounds. One below 100,000 so that he would not become the first English player to break that barrier.
With the Spurs he would end up playing 379 games in which he scored 266 goals, a record still in force at White Hart Lane, and winning two English Cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. With England he would play 57 games and score 44 goals, a number that only Wayne Rooney (53), Bobby Charlton (49) and Gary Lineker (48) have surpassed. He would end his career at West Ham, where he arrived in March 1970 but only lasted until May 1971. He had been losing his enthusiasm for football and depended more and more on alcohol. In January of that year West Ham traveled to Blackpool for a Cup game but the field was frozen and the players thought it could not be played. Greaves went out for drinks with his teammates Bobby Moore, Brian Dear and Clyde Best. He had 12 pints of Lager and arrived at the hotel at almost two in the morning. The game was played and West Ham lost 4-0.
After retiring from West Ham, his dependency worsened: he drank 20 pints during the day and a bottle of vodka at night. He returned to football to try to overcome his alcoholism and played until the age of 40 in minor teams, such as Brentwood, the club in his neighborhood. In 1977 he asked Alcoholics Anonymous for help and would eventually overcome his dependency. In 1980 he began a successful career as a commentator in the press and television, which would last until 1998. In 2012 he suffered a stroke from which he would recover. A second stroke in 2015, however, left him very deteriorated, unable to speak and in a wheelchair. He died this morning, at the age of 81. It was undoubtedly the Müller Torpedo of England. From the best England.