Soccer legend Jimmy Greaves dies, at 81

The late, great Jimmy Greaves has been remembered all over England following his death at 81.
The late, great Jimmy Greaves has been remembered all over England following his death at 81.

For all the goals scored - including a record 266 for Tottenham - it was the game Jimmy Greaves that missed out on that proved an enduring heartache for the man who stands as England's greatest striker.

Sustaining a leg injury that required 14 stiches in the final group stage match at the 1966 World Cup, Greaves lost his place to Geoff Hurst. In an era before substitutes were allowed, there was no way back into the lineup and it was Hurst's hat trick in the final that won England's only title.

Hurst remembered Greaves on Sunday as "one of the truly great goal scorers" after the beloved striker died at the age of 81.

There was a minute's applause before Tottenham played in the Premier League against Chelsea, fittingly a match between the two clubs where he scored the lion's share of his goals.

"The finest marksman this country has ever seen," Tottenham said, announcing Greaves died early Sunday. "He possessed immaculate ball control, great balance and such composure in front of goal that he rarely spurned an opportunity."

With 266 goals in 379 appearances, Greaves remains the all-time leading scorer for Tottenham.

An all-round striker equally adept with either foot or his head, Greaves scored 44 goals in just 57 matches for England, including a record six hat-tricks.

But his scoring exploits hadn't been enough to earn a recall from manager Alf Ramsey after the injury against France in the third game at the 1966 World Cup.

Greaves famously sat impassively on the bench as England celebrated at the final whistle after the 4-2 victory over West Germany.

"It was devastating for me that I didn't play in the final," Greaves recalled. "I always believed that we would win the World Cup and I'd be part of it, but I wasn't.

"Jimmy has always said it was a bitter blow," Hurst recalled last year. "There is no way that team would have changed had he not been injured (against France). Leaving Jimmy Greaves out was not an option. You hear the term genius, and it is the one word which applies to Jimmy."

James Peter Greaves was born in east London on February 20, 1940, and signed for Chelsea, aged 17.

At 20 years and 290 days, he became the youngest player to reach 100 league goals in English soccer and scored a club-record 41 times in the 1960-61 season to secure a lucrative move to Milan.

He scored nine goals in 12 games but failed to settle in Italy. He ended his brief stay to return to London with Tottenham, where he would spend the next nine years and hit a club-record 266 goals in 380 games.

Greaves was famous for being anonymous during matches before popping up to score a crucial goal.

"All Greaves did this afternoon was score four goals," Spurs boss Bill Nicholson once said.

In 1962-63, he scored twice in a 5-1 Cup Winners Cup win over Atletico Madrid, which made Tottenham the first British side to win a European trophy, and was the first division's leading scorer - a feat he would repeat in 1964, '65 and '69.

"You'd be irritated that he'd not touched the ball and then bang, back of the net," former Tottenham teammate Alan Mullery recalled Sunday.

Greaves switched to West Ham in 1970, with former England teammate Martin Peters moving the other way in a record 200,000-pound transfer, but retired at the end of the season after a record total of 357 goals in 516 league matches.

He made a brief comeback for non-league Barnet in 1978 but soon quit again and moved into television, where he co-presented the popular long-running Saturday show "Saint and Greavsie" on ITV in Britain with former Liverpool player Ian St John, who died in March.

Australian Associated Press