I never had the privilege of watching Jimmy Greaves play, but earlier today I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the great man.
The word ‘legend’ is bandied around far too often these days, but Jimmy falls into that category. Speak to any Spurs fan of a certain vintage and they’ll tell you that he’s the greatest striker that they’ve ever seen. Greaves scored 266 goals in 379 matches for Spurs and 44 goals in 57 games for England – truly deadly statistics.
Jimmy was of course a member of the 1966 World Cup squad and I asked him how he thought the current team would fare in South Africa. Greaves was cautious about England’s chances.
“We’re a fair side, we’re not a great side. There’s ten teams as good as us and a lot depends on how the competition goes. I’m sure Capello would like to start with the team that he thinks can win it and finish with that same team. If you get a bit of luck and stay injury free, then who knows?
“In a short competition like this, it’s not like the Premier League, where there’s 38 games and things happen over a period of time and you can deal with them. At the World Cup you have to deal with things as they come along.
“England have got as good or as bad a chance as anyone else really, it’s how you want to look at it.”
Jimmy was more decisive on the matter of whether it should be Peter Crouch or Emile Heskey that starts up front alongside Wayne Rooney.
“Oh Crouch. I don’t see how anyone could be anti him with his goals record.
“You’re talking about a guy who’s got a great goals ratio and surely your front men are there to score goals?
“They talk of Heskey and him making Rooney a better player. I don’t really hold with that or otherwise Alex Ferguson would have bought Heskey a couple of years ago.
“Its every player’s responsibility to do his best and Rooney would know that, whoever he plays with.”
Great goalscorers are normally part of a great strike partnership and Greaves was no different. When I asked him who had been the best forward he’d ever played alongside, Jimmy gave his answer without hesitation.
“Alan Gilzean. I had a great partnership with Bobby Smith as well and Les Allen really, because when I first joined Tottenham Les was centre forward because Bobby was injured.
“People thought I took his place but I didn’t. Les went to centre forward and I took the 10 shirt. Bob hardly played the first ten months, but I had a good relationship with Smith, because of course we played together with England as well.
“But Gillie was an absolutely phenomenal player. We just read each others’ minds.”
Whilst Greaves has enjoyed the media spotlight after his retirement, Gilzean has disappeared from public view. A sort of mythology has built up about Gilzean’s whereabouts, but Greaves was keen to quash the rumours that surround the former Scotland international.
“I know where Gillie lives. He’s fine and can’t understand what all the fuss is all about.
“I was talking to Steve Perryman about three or four weeks ago and Steve sees him quite regularly. He’s happy, Gillie. He just don’t want to get involved in anything. He can’t understand this rumour about him being a recluse. He’s not.”
Greaves played alongside the likes of Smith and Gilzean during Tottenham’s glory days. Since then, there have been many success-starved years at White Hart Lane, but he’s optimistic that Harry Redknapp can continue to build on his initial success.
“Harry’s got a good team there at last. I don’t know what he’ll get in terms of money to spend, but I’ll think they’ll have a good season regardless.”
“I like the Croats he’s got. They’re good players and reliable. I can see a good future for Tottenham now… first time I’ve been able to say that for a while.”
When Greaves left White Hart Lane to join West Ham, he briefly played alongside Redknapp. I asked him if Harry had initially struck him as someone likely to go into management.
“No, not at all. The first time that I realised that he might was when I was doing a job in Oxford and I met up with Bobby Moore, who was then manager of Oxford City.
“Harry was there and was helping Bobby. He said that he really wanted to be a manager and that you’ve got to start somewhere.
“He started there and he’s gone from strength to strength.”
Unlike Harry, Jimmy was never tempted at a crack at management.
“I never fancied getting into management, because I didn’t really see my career in football after I retired.
“If I’d have known you could get millions for being absolutely crap and getting the sack, I’d have been in like a shot.”
As a Spurs fan, it was an absolute honour to spend just a few minutes with the greatest striker the club has ever had. If you’d like to do likewise, then watch the video below, to find out how you could be in with a chance to watch the World Cup final alongside Jimmy Greaves.