Former England striker and Tottenham Hotspur’s record goalscorer Jimmy Greaves has died at the age of 81.
Greaves - who began his career with Chelsea before spells at AC Milan, Spurs and West Ham - died on on Sunday following a long illness.
Spurs said in a statement: “We are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of the great Jimmy Greaves, not just Tottenham’s record goalscorer but the finest marksman this country has ever seen. Jimmy passed away at home in the early hours of this morning, aged 81.
“Throughout his wonderful playing career, Jimmy’s strike rate was phenomenal. His Spurs return was 266 goals in 379 appearances between 1961 and 1970 — 220 goals in 321 league games, 32 goals in 36 FA Cup ties, five in just eight League Cup ties and nine in 14 European matches.”
A member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad, although he did not feature in the final victory over West Germany, Greaves scored 44 goals across 57 senior appearances for the Three Lions — the fourth-highest total of all time.
Greaves also held the all-time record of 366 goals in Europe’s top five leagues, which stood for no less than 46 years, before being eclipsed by Cristiano Ronaldo during Real Madrid’s 2016-17 campaign.
His career began in the junior ranks at Chelsea and he turned professional in May 1957, scoring on his Blues debut and racking up 132 goals in total for the club. He remained at Stamford Bridge until 1961, when he moved to AC Milan. After a single season in Milan he joined Spurs in 1961 to play in Bill Nicholson’s successful side.
Back in Britain, Greaves maintained his form in front of goal for the next nine years, netting 220 times in 321 league appearances for Spurs. He was the top league goal scorer for six seasons.
His goals helped Spurs to win the F.A. Cup in 1962 and 1967 and become the first English team to claim a European trophy, with victory in the Cup Winners’ Cup of 1963. Greaves scored twice as Spurs beat defending champion Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the final.
Greaves finished his league career at West Ham United, his third London club and the closest to where he grew up. He scored twice on his debut in 1970, but quit the following year.
The Tottenham statement continued: “Although we had just won the ‘Double’, there’s no question that Jimmy’s arrival in N17 made us an even better team.
“He was a natural goalscorer, always in the right place at the right time to add the finishing touch to another well-worked move, while he could also create his own goals, as he did on numerous occasions by gliding past defenders and passing the ball into the back of the net.
“He possessed immaculate ball control, great balance and such composure in front of goal that he rarely spurned an opportunity.”
Geoff Hurst, who replaced Greaves in the 1966 team and scored a hat-trick in the final triumph over West Germany, says Greaves was simply the greatest English forward there has ever been.
“There have been some great players but forwards are judged on goals, and there’s nobody who could touch him,” Hurst told the PA news agency in February 2020.
“I am asked is there any animosity between Jimmy and I, because I took his place? But not for one second. You hear the term genius, and it is the one word which applies to Jimmy.”
Greaves, who’d married at 18 and fathered four children by 26, battled alcohol problems after retirement which led to bankruptcy and divorce, though he was later reunited with his former wife.
He later became a columnist for The Sun and Sunday People newspaper, was a hugely popular pundit and co-host on the Saint and Greavsie football show with former Scotland and Liverpool footballer Ian St. John in the 1980s, and was a regular after-dinner speaker.
In 2009, he was among 11 members of England’s 1966 squad who didn’t play in the final to be presented with a World Cup-winner’s medal by prime minister Gordon Brown at Downing Street.
Three years later he underwent an operation after suffering a minor stroke. In May 2015 he suffered a more severe stroke, leaving him in a wheelchair.
He is survived by his wife Irene, sons Andy and Danny, who had spells playing at Southend and Cambridge, and daughters Lynn and Mitzi.