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Greaves - Simply the best

Posted on 20 August 2002  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

Jimmy Greaves had a brief sojourn in Italy with AC Milan before returning home to become the ultimate goalscoring machine. John Fennelly reflects on what the Italians missed.

WITH SUCH A cascade of goals during an immense career that literally illuminated White Hart Lane, Jimmy Greaves was indeed one of the greats.

True you can study the facts and figures that kaleidoscope through a career of artistry to glean some magnitude of the greatness of the man. But this is never the real story. Only older fans that actually saw him in action have a great advantage - they can close their eyes and savour his sheer class.

Whatever he did, Greaves did well. And what he did best was score goals. He was a good enough player to have won a place in any side for his general all-round game but manager Bill Nicholson, who always looked to his players to work hard, acknowledged Jim for what he was - goals personified - and sensibly left him to get on with it.

Indeed, Greaves still holds two Tottenham records that may never be broken. He remains our highest League goalscorer in a single season with 37 in Division One in 1962-63 and scored the most League goals in total aggregate for us with 220 between 1961-70.

So what sort of goalscorer was he? He remains difficult to categorise. He left 40 yarders to others and the headers to his fellow 'G-Man' Alan Gilzean. But he remained well capable of both approaches to goal and the deftness of his own heading was clinical.

Many will remember him as the archetypal penalty box poacher - and so he was. But tell that to Leicester City who, on two separate occasions, conceded goals to the little man that saw him gain possession in the centre circle and then dribble past literally their entire team before applying the coup de grace.

And this was done to the calibre of goalkeeper represented by Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton! In between, Manchester United suffered the same fate in 1965.

But the majority of his successful efforts were more simplistic finishes with his reputation built on quantity rather than quality. Indeed, few of his shots seemed to even hit the back of the net as they were deftly steered past a despairing hand. He was lethal and, in many instances, simply passed the ball home.

One description used a lot these days was probably coined with Greaves in mind: He was a great scorer of goals rather than a great goal scorer.

His chief attribute? I would say confidence before all else. Then came immense skill and a balance that wrong-footed defenders with the merest feint. Next sheer brain power that matched his footwork, pace, telepathic anticipation, coolness and the mark of a winner.

There were some great marksmen around at the time. And there were even brief pretenders to his throne. But they were always the apprentices to the Spurs sorcerer.

Such was his immense early promise that just about every other London club hoped to snap up the boy from East Ham straight from school. We were confident that he would come here but he opted for Chelsea - and quickly showed us what we had missed when he arrived here as a 17-year-old to make his League debut for the Blues - and scored in the 1-1 draw.

Indeed, every debut at every level was marked with at least one goal throughout his career. He did it again and again at club and international level and his 44 goals in 57 senior games for England leaves all others in the shade.

You just cannot overestimate what a supreme talent he was.

He set Chelsea's goalscoring record with 41 in season 1960-61 but that June opted to join AC Milan. Scoring the customary goal on his debut in a friendly against Botafoga, he went on to notch another nine in 14 League matches. But his heart was never in it and he longed for home.

Bill Nicholson put an end to his misery in December, 1961, when we paid £99,999 to bring him to Tottenham. Nick was determined not to add to the pressure on Jim by making him the first £100,000 player - and Greaves started the repayment with a hat-trick on his Spurs debut here against Blackpool.

He was on his way.

Just days before, his first appearance in a Spurs shirt saw him score in the Football Combination at Plymouth - and attract a 20,000 crowd!

Could he improve our glorious 'Double' side? Probably, but only older supporters can really make that judgement.

He played a major role in our two FA Cup successes - 1962 and 1967 - and bagged a brace in our 1963 European Cup Winners Cup success. And he set records all along the way.

He became the first player to top the First Division goals chart in three consecutive seasons and maintains the record of leading that same log on six occasions in the senior flight.

Sadly a bout of hepatitis struck to destroy his World Cup hopes in 1966. Although he played in the early rounds, he then lost his place to a young Geoff Hurst and watched from the bench as England lifted the crown.

He went back to what he did best - scoring goals for Spurs and, quite literally, for fun. Then, in March, 1970, he left us for West Ham United as part of the £200,000 deal that brought us Martin Peters.

As a schoolboy, I remember being in two minds about the deal. True, I wanted the potential of Peters - but I also wanted Jim who was so revered at the Lane.

The following week Peters scored here on his debut in a gloomy 1-2 deat by Coventry City. As we trudged miserably away from the ground, the news bill for that night's Evening News classified already spoke of a Greaves brace for the Hammers as he made his customary start.

Still, no-one can argue about Peters's subsequent contribution to our cause.

Looking back, people spoke about an end of an era and such like. But this was more. It would be different because it could never be the same again. They sang 'There's only one Jimmy Greaves' and they were right to do so. In our hearts, many of us still do.