Friday 28 October 2016

John Giles: In his day Jimmy Greaves could stand beside Messi

Spurs legend Greaves had the skills to compare with Barcelona's little wizard


IT is very sad that Jimmy Greaves has only risen back to prominence because he has fallen ill.

This is a man who had the same ability Lionel Messi shows today and yet his time and many like him have been edited out of history.

If anything, Greaves deserves even greater praise because he did his work at a time when football was played in mud. He could float across it. These days, park footballers have better surfaces than we had.

I remember when Alan Shearer notched up his 100th goal for Newcastle to add to the century he got for Blackburn and was celebrated across the land for his great achievement. Greaves did the same 30 years before him.

It's as if the people who run and market the Premier League want to wipe everything pre-1991 from memory. It's a terrible mistake. After all, we couldn't be where we are today without layer upon layer of history.

Jimmy Greaves

Football fans accumulate those layers over the years and build a love affair with a club. Take away those memories and you break the links.

All over the world now, fans are complaining about the way football is evolving and the grip very wealthy people have on our game.

Liverpool fans have been protesting about ticket prices and they are not alone. Many clubs face unrest and all of those clubs would not exist but for the small, incremental investments made by supporters over the years.

It is for people like them that Greavesie should be remembered and his story told again and again. He was one of the greatest finishers the game has ever seen and when I mentioned him in the same breath as Messi, I wasn't exaggerating.

Much is made of the World Cup in 1966 and the fact that he didn't play in the final but there was so much more to Greaves than those few games.

Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves

He was unbelievably unlucky that he had a dip in form at exactly the wrong time and Alf Ramsey, who played him in the first three games of the tournament, decided to leave well enough alone and pick Geoff Hurst as his starting striker.

Greaves missed those few games for England but got back in after the World Cup and for me it was just pure bad luck and bad timing.

I played a lot of games against Jimmy so I saw first-hand what he could do. Pace, control and finishing were his weapons and he used them very well indeed.

It always struck me about Jimmy that he had a very sanguine view of the game, which was actually the perfect profile for a top class striker.

I remember him in games where he would miss an easy chance and he would just shrug, smile and get ready for the next chance. He really wasn't one bit bothered if he missed and I'm certain that this character trait was his trump card.

This nonchalant approach to football became his trademark when he teamed up with Ian St John and created a television format for football coverage which was brand new and entertaining.

I'll bet if you asked most young people today who Jimmy Greaves was they wouldn't be able to tell you and as I said at the start, I find that very sad.

Obviously enough, the old days mean a lot more to me that they would to a teenager or 20-year-old but it is all connected and if you start breaking those connections, you lose touch with the soul of the game.

I've watched the saga at Blackpool unfold with increasing unease. A statue of Stan Mortensen, one of the greatest players in the history of English football, was unceremoniously taken down and dumped in a shed without any reference to the fans.

Naturally, they are annoyed. It is another example of how stupid and uncaring many owners are and how little they understand about the game they have bought into.

Every season I watch Newcastle United pulling itself apart and I wonder what pleasure Mike Ashley could possibly get out of being disliked so much by so many people.

He is just one in a line of people who saw Newcastle as a means to an end. The history of the club means nothing, only the bottom line.

As each connection with the fans is broken, the game dies another little bit.

It is worth noting that Jimmy Greaves was to be the guest of honour at a ceremony installing him in the Spurs Hall of Fame, an honour long overdue.

He scored 220 goals, a club record for Spurs and that after he hit 127 for Chelsea. His international record, 44 goals in 57 caps, is remarkable.

Yet it took Spurs 45 years to acknowledge one of their greatest stars and if they feel a bit uncomfortable now, well I have no sympathy for them.

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