There are essentially two people called Jimmy Greaves, depending on your generation. To some, he is the greatest goalscorer this country has ever produced, breaking records for Chelsea, Spurs and England. To others, he is a kind avuncular figure with his bald head and moustache not out of place in front of a log fire with pipe and slippers telling you stories of the old days.
The transformation of Greaves via his two careers has been remarkable. Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer were also both great goalscorers in their day, but when you compare old footage of them to their current appearances on Match of the Day, you can see that basically they are the same characters albeit a bit greyer and thinner on top. Greaves, on the other hand, went through a complete reinvention – the young fit goal machine of the 60s with the keen eye and aggressive forward manner became the warmer softer pundit of the 80s, always with an anecdote or two to tell.
I first knew of Jimmy through reading articles in Shoot magazine in the 70s through which he occasionally contributed. I was also aware of his achievements, especially with a mother who supported Spurs, and that, at the time, he was a regular player for Barnet.
And then I recall asking who was that person on ITV’s World Cup panel 1982? This world cup I had keenly looked forward to, as it was, for me, the first with England in. I devoured much of the coverage but could not place the calm gentleman with the soothing voice who sat with people like John Bond and Jack Charlton. By now, even though he was only 42, Jimmy had the balding head and the bushy tache which became his trademarks. I soon warmed to him, with his comments and stories aplenty.
He was a considerable success on the panel but completely unlike one’s image of a ferocious goal poacher, and remained a pundit and personality appearing on chat shows, quiz programmes and daytime television.
His reinvention came complete with his teaming up with Ian St John on the legendary ‘Saint and Greavsie’ show – starting in 1985 and broadcast Saturday lunchtimes. Preview shows have never been my cup of tea – for example, Football Focus and On The Ball – but Saint and Greavsie seemed to be something different, very informal, chatty, St John’s straight man presentation skills superbly balanced by Greavsies’ witty asides and his catchphrase ‘it’s a funny old game’.
I was at university from 1988 and the common room was always packed at 12 noon on Saturdays. No-one could start their Saturday afternoon until we had seen Ian and Jimmy discuss the day’s footy and present various features.
Of course, they were open to mockery – Baddiel and Skinner providing several sketches portraying the two in a variety of guises – although Jimmy did appear on the ‘Phoenix From The Ashes’ segment for a (sort of) recreation of the moment from the Brazil v England world cup quarter final in Chile, 1962, when a dog invaded the pitch and urinated on Greavsie.
It was a sad day when the Saint and Greavsie show was axed in 1992 following Sky obtaining the Premiership TV rights. At the final scene, we saw our two friends cycling off into the sunset singing ‘this could be the last time’, as indeed it was.
Jimmy is now 73 years old and currently works on live shows and after dinner speaking. His latest show ‘Jimmy Greaves Live’ is this summer, details on jimmygreaves.net.
Jimmy, not only English footballing legend, but also television legend - we salute you.