For a long time Jimmy Greaves was the benchmark for modern footballers.
It’s why there was a such an outpouring of celebration as to the quality of one of England’s finest strikers when the sad news of his death emerged on Sunday.
After all, it was only in 2017 that he was surpassed as the all-time top scorer in Europe’s top five leagues by Cristiano Ronaldo, when he scored goals 367 and 368 in his league career, surpassing Greaves’ 46-year record.
He remains Tottenham’s top scoring player with 266 goals, while he also holds the record for the most goals scored in the English top-flight with 357.
Although not officially known as ‘Sir Jimmy’, a campaign to see him included in the honours list was launched by one newspaper, which Greaves’ son Danny told talkSPORT in 2020 was ‘overwhelming’.
“For whatever reason, I don’t know why dad hasn’t been honoured in the past and who knows whether he’ll get one in the future,” he said.
“It’s been absolutely superb. Thousands and thousands of people have joined the campaign and it’s just lovely.”
Greaves’ path to goal king began at Chelsea where he became a teen sensation, scoring 132 times in just 169 games.
He was 17 when he scored his first – against Tottenham on his debut – and ended with 22 goals in his first season, 37 the next, followed by 30 and then finally 43 goals in his final campaign with the Blues.
Greaves scored 13 hat-tricks for Chelsea and his one against Man City in 1960 included his 100th league goal – he was only 20.
But it was at Tottenham where he cemented his place in legend and here, talkSPORT.com looks at a few of the men Spurs fans owe a massive thanks to for giving them Jimmy Greaves, beginning with Chelsea chairman Joe Mears.
Greaves’ sale to Milan was a necessity for cash-strapped Chelsea, who received £80,000 for their star pupil.
Mears was happy to cash in, but unwilling to sell to a rival First Division club and given Milan were a force to be reckoned with, having won four league titles the previous decade and were about to dominate in Europe, player and club appeared to be the perfect match.
Greaves, by his own admission, was initially interested in a move to Italy, given that he could earn far more than the £20-a-week he was getting at Stamford Bridge. However, doubts about leaving London quickly grew and pretty soon his heart wasn’t in Milan.
He tried desperately to get out of the move only to be told Chelsea had already received £10,000 up front for the 21-year-old.
‘Buona fortuna’ was the message.
Greaves spent just six months in Italy – scoring nine times in 14 appearances – but it wasn’t as good as his goal record suggested and to say he didn’t bond with Nereo Rocco, Milan’s strict boss, is an understatement.
Between a Rocco and a hard place. That’s what Greaves’ short spell at Milan has been labelled in reference to his life under the watchful eyes of Rocco.
“He was a strict disciplinarian who could have given irritability lessons to Captain Bligh,” Greaves wrote in his autobiography ‘Greavsie‘.
“He made my life hell and I didn’t exactly bring sunshine to his.”
Greaves didn’t make a good impression on his new boss and was in Rocco’s bad books from the start owing to the fact he missed his flight to Milan to enjoy a champagne and lobster lunch at Heathrow.
“My first impression of him was that he looked like something that would eat his young and I wasn’t far out,” Greaves said.
Stories that Rocco was obsessive about player’s private lives and would follow them about to check their diet were confirmed by Greaves, whose experiences of pre-season in Italy were more akin to an army boot camp.
“He would supervise our diet to the extent that he’d order our individual meals from the menu. He not only ordered my meals, but sat opposite me to make sure I ate them.”
But despite his Italian nightmare, Tottenham fans should thank their lucky stars Rocco was such a taskmaster because his next step saw him become an iconic figure at White Hart Lane, starring in a golden age for the club.
Rocco despaired at Greaves and Altafini – one of the game’s other great strikers – on the pitch together. He thought they didn’t work hard enough in the catenaccio system he became known for.
One of them had to go and it was Greaves, with 1958 World Cup winner Sani joining to become the missing piece that allowed Milan to play the way Rocco wanted to.
The midfielder’s move from Boca in 1961 edged Greaves ever closer to a return home.
“The first inkling I had that Milan were prepared to sell me came one morning when I turned up at the training ground and noticed there were far more reporters than normal.
“I asked [playmaker and star] Gianni Rivera what was going on.”
Greaves said when it was explained to him they were here for the new boy, he suspected it was himself that would make way as Milan’s owners would never dream of selling Rivera.
“I was absolutely spot on as later that day [Milan secretary] Bruno Passalacqua told me that the club had placed me on the transfer list. I can’t say I was gutted.”
After his time in Italy, he returned to London, to join his beloved Tottenham and he was an instant hit.
Spurs’ legendary former manager travelled to Milan to try and get a deal for the striker over the line. He even turned up at Greaves’ home one afternoon and joined his wife Irene for tea while he waited for the main man to return home.
“I was delighted to see Bill Nicholson,” he later wrote, knowing the only reason for his visit was to sign him and make him the striker in Spurs’ ‘glory, glory’ years.
Nicholson finally got his man, in December 1961, for £99,999, the fee being set so there wasn’t the pressure of being footy’s first £100,000 footballer to deal with.
And it was at White Hart Lane, where he first scored as a 17-year-old Chelsea striker, that he began his path to Tottenham legend.
He scored a hat-trick on his debut against Blackpool, but even before that, 14,000 fans turned up at Home Park to see Greaves make his first appearance for the club in a reserve match against Plymouth. The opposition even formed a guard of honour to welcome Greaves onto the pitch for a game Spurs won 4-1 – he scored twice.
Greaves ended his Tottenham career with 266 goals in 379 games, winning the Cup Winners’ Cup and two FA Cups before finishing off at West Ham.
There was also a belated World Cup winners medal which he received in 2009 for his part in the 1966 triumph.
Reacting to new of his death, former teammate Alan Mullery said he’d be worth a billion pounds in today’s market.
“He was 5ft 9in, 10 and a half stone, but he could glide past footballers,” he told talkSPORT.
“Go back 50 years and see a fella playing on a pitch like that full of mud with people trying to kick him every time he went through, that was Jimmy Greaves.”