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Greavsie in his own words: Jimmy Greaves talks England, the 1966 World Cup, and what came next…

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Jimmy Greaves, who died Sunday aged 81, remains the most prolific English goalscorer of all time. 

Between 1958 and 1969 he was the leading First Division scorer a record six times, in total scoring 357 in 516 league games for Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham.

He also got 44 in just 57 England appearances. 

Sportsmail pays tribute to him in his own words, with exclusive extracts from his autobiography Greavsie, which gives a glimpse into a bygone football era. 

Here he talks England, the 1966 World Cup, and what came next…

Some questions: How long was the 100 years war? From which animal do we get catgut? And yes or no? Jimmy Greaves’ slide into alcoholism was a result of his disappointment at missing out on England’s World Cup success in 1966.

The answers: 116 years. Horses and sheep. And No.

Many people believe, and I’ve seen it written, that I was so bitter and heartbroken not to have been a part of England’s World Cup winning team that I immediately sought solace in drink and plunged into alcoholism.

Jimmy Greaves scored 357 goals in 516 league games for Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham

Jimmy Greaves scored 357 goals in 516 league games for Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham

Of course I was upset. Who wouldn’t be? But the truth is my decline came not in the immediate aftermath of England’s success but following my retirement from football in the early 1970s.

The season after England’s World Cup win I scored 25 goals in 38 league matches for Spurs to finish as the First Division’s third leading scorer. I was also the leading scorer in the FA Cup, won an FA Cup winner’s medal with Spurs, and regained my place in the England team.

The following season I scored 26 for Spurs, and the year after, 36, which made me the leading scorer in the entire Football League. That doesn’t sound like a player ‘in immediate decline’ to me.

The other truth is I never blamed Sir Alf Ramsey for missing out on that final. I blamed France’s Joseph Bonnel.

Seven months before the World Cup I had contracted hepatitis, an illness that affects the liver. It wasn’t brought on by anything to do with alcohol but it meant I spent 15 weeks on the sidelines.

By the time I made my comeback in February of 1966, Alf was already well ahead with his team-building plans. I have never worked so hard in my life to recover optimum fitness. I hardly touched a beer for months — I was desperately keen to be in Alf’s plans because I was convinced England were going to win the World Cup.

I clinched my place in the team during the tour leading up to the finals. I wasn’t the only one — that was when Bobby Moore convinced the manager he should play ahead of Norman Hunter, too.

Tottenham and football legend Jimmy Greaves has passed away at the age of 81

Tottenham and football legend Jimmy Greaves has passed away at the age of 81

I didn’t score in our first two games but Alf was obviously happy because he picked me to play against France in our last group game.

That was when it happened, a crunching tackle by Bonnel. He dragged his studs down my shin and my leg opened up like a red rose. There were no substitutes in those days, so after having a dressing applied by our trainer Harold Shepherdson I simply carried on playing.

After the game I had 14 stitches and the scar was still clearly visible for years. That wasn’t the biggest wound. Back in my room I realised that should England reach the final I wouldn’t be playing. My World Cup was over.

When we beat Portugal in the semi-final I was delighted for my team-mates. I was also very disappointed and down because I knew I would miss out on the chance to make history, but at no point was I bitter. That ain’t me.

My disappointment was all to do with Bonnel of France and the injury I got from his challenge, and for the record I don’t hold a grudge against him either. Injury is part and parcel of being a footballer.

While I was 99 per cent certain that Alf wouldn’t change a winning team, the remaining one per cent hoped he would. But when on the morning of the final he was very distant I sensed he had made up his mind.

I went back to my room and started packing my bags. Bobby Moore, my room-mate, asked me what on earth I was doing.

Season after England’s World Cup win Greaves scored 25 goals in 38 league matches for Spurs

Season after England’s World Cup win Greaves scored 25 goals in 38 league matches for Spurs

‘It’s all over for me, mate,’ I told him. ‘I’m getting ready for a quick getaway once the final is over.

‘You can do that tomorrow morning,’ Bobby said. ‘We’ll all enjoy a few bevvies tonight, together, to celebrate winning the World Cup.’

Alf didn’t say much. He just told me he was going with an unchanged team and hoped I would understand his reasons.

‘Sure, Alf,’ I told him. ‘They’ll win it for you and England.’

‘I think so,’ he said, and then went to talk to the lads who would be joining me on the sidelines.

When the final whistle blew and England had won I ran on to the pitch and grabbed the first player I came across, Nobby Stiles. I danced around the Wembley pitch with everybody else but even in this moment of triumph, deep down I felt sadness. I had missed out on the match of a lifetime.

As the celebrations got into full swing that night I slipped away, returned to our hotel, packed my bag and took off home.

Greaves joined AC Milan for £80,000 in 1961 but returned to England just 12 months later

Greaves joined AC Milan for £80,000 in 1961 but returned to England just 12 months later

I was later told by Bobby Moore that Alf thought I had snubbed him but that was never the case. I was delighted for Alf and didn’t want to put a downer on the greatest moment of his career by letting him see the hurt in my eyes.

If you had asked me in 1961, I firmly believed England had a team that was good enough to win the 1962 World Cup. I would go so far as to say that 1961 side was actually better than the team which did win it in 1966.

A year later, however, the team Walter Winterbottom had built had received a series of cruel blows. Peter Swan, a centre half of rock and oak, was ruled out by injury. Then my Spurs and England team-mate Bobby Smith got a knock on an old ankle injury. Bobby Robson too was ruled out.

By the time we left for Chile we had lost the spine of the team, and although we got out of the group stage we then met Brazil, who were far too good for us. After they beat us 3-1 I wasn’t surprised they went on to lift the trophy.

A year after the disappointment of being unable to play in the World Cup final I was back at Wembley, and this time winning the FA Cup.

Jimmy Greaves smokes a cigarette as he talks with Ron Henry in the Spurs changing room

Jimmy Greaves smokes a cigarette as he talks with Ron Henry in the Spurs changing room

It mattered then. In that 1966-67 season nearly four million people attended all the FA Cup games. We played Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough in the semi-final in front of 55,000. When Spurs got to the final against Chelsea the anticipation throughout the country and not just in London was of a massive occasion and a compelling game.

Every member of the our team produced a great performance in that final. When Dave Mackay led us up the 39 steps to the Royal Box it was a sweet moment for me. I was a winner again at Wembley, I had finished the season as the club’s leading scorer.

For me the 1968-69 season was very enjoyable, I got back my enthusiasm and my touch for goals. There was even a press campaign for me to return to the England team.

But a year later Spurs were in transition again with a young team and when Bill Nicholson was urged to ‘clear out the dead wood’, I found myself in the reserves.

My wife Irene and I were preparing to move house when the phone rang. Bill Nicholson informed me that the club were signing Martin Peters, and he was selling me to West Ham as part of the deal.

I was taken aback, and said: ‘OK, if you don’t want me, I’ll go.’

As well as a successful playing career, Greaves (left) co-presented popular Saturday lunchtime football show 'Saint and Greavsie' alongside Ian St John (right)

As well as a successful playing career, Greaves (left) co-presented popular Saturday lunchtime football show ‘Saint and Greavsie’ alongside Ian St John (right)  

Looking back I wish I had told Bill I wasn’t interested in moving. It started well, but by a year later I was becoming anxious, agitated and downcast. I started using drink as a crutch.

I was in the early stages of alcoholism. I drank because I needed to. I knew every pub from the east of Aldgate Pump to Southend.

I left West Ham in May 1971 and didn’t only leave football, I departed from life and family living. I was 31, suddenly free of the daily discipline I had known for 16 years. As a footballer I had more or less stuck to drinking beer but now I adopted the ‘anything goes’ approach.

It was two years before the real drinking started, and then I would be hiding bottles of vodka. I put my lovely Irene and our children through hell.

I went into private nursing homes for treatment and when it got even worse friends booked me into the alcoholic ward of Warley Psychiatric Hospital. Each time I would come out for a week or so, and then start having a social pint, and within another fortnight was drinking myself to oblivion again.

Greaves was in the early stages of alcoholism when he left Spurs to join West Ham in 1970

Greaves was in the early stages of alcoholism when he left Spurs to join West Ham in 1970

It was only when the Sunday People learned of my alcoholism and told me they would run with the story that I woke up. I co-operated in making it public knowledge and then hoped that what little pride I had left would help me defeat this illness. So I summoned the strength and courage to ring Alcoholics Anonymous.

I rediscovered the feelings of love, compassion and companionship through AA. We came from all walks of life and from every race, creed and colour. We had a common bond. As a footballer I had played in some great teams but I had never been a member of such a team as this.

I even made a return to playing football, signing to play for Barnet in the old Southern League Premier in 1977. By two years later I could see light at the end of the tunnel and for once it wasn’t a train coming! Irene had been granted a divorce because of my dreadful behaviour while drinking but now while I was still living in a small flat we were beginning to spend time together again.

In the spring of 1979 I got asked to appear as a guest on the Russell Harty show and talk about my battle with alcohol. My initial reaction was to say ‘No’ but I knew that if I didn’t it would mean I was running away from my problem again and that would lead me in only one direction which was back to the booze.

It was brutal, it was honest, and when I finished I just wanted to get to the hospitality bar for a drink. I felt really good about myself when I told the barman: ‘I’ll have a Perrier water, please.’

Greaves was in poor health after suffering a stroke in 2015 and required care four times a day

Greaves was in poor health after suffering a stroke in 2015 and required care four times a day

I was asked to appear in a documentary about my alcoholism called Just for Today. To produce 50 minutes of usable film I had to spend hours doing unscripted direct to camera talking which unbeknown to me was going to launch me on a new career.

In August 1980 Tony Flanagan, the producer of Star Soccer which showed highlights of Midlands clubs, was looking for a former footballer to work as an analyst.

He suggested me and it was the start of a new career which lasted longer than my football one did.

My first efforts were terrible. If there was a wrong camera to look at, I looked at it, and I tried to be serious and was forever tripping over words and repeating myself.

But then I decided to be more true to myself and inject some humour. Asked for my impression of a Coventry City player who had worked his socks off but contributed little, I said: ‘Well he floats like a bee and stings like a butterfly.’

From there it just took off. I was asked to do network shows, was part of Saint & Greavsie with Ian St John, and then Greg Dyke recruited me to be a presenter on TV-AM.

Television moved on. By the mid-1990s they wanted people who would be more serious about football which was becoming big business.

I moved on too. I did after-dinner speaking, I still got asked to do TV work but picked and chose what I wanted.

Looking back on my life there are obvious regrets. I am still angry with myself for the pain I caused Irene and our family during my slide into alcoholism.

I can never reverse that but hopefully the love and care I have devoted to my family since 1979 have gone a long way to healing the pain. Certainly now we are one big happy family, my life revolves around them. They are everything to me.

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