Footie icon, crit or co­me­dian, he shoots from the hip

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

JIMMY GREAVES is charm­ing com­edy club audiences in much the same way he cap­ti­vated foot­ball fans on the ter­races.

Just like his two pre­vi­ous ca­reers, as mag­nif­i­cent foot­baller and then tele­vi­sion pun­dit, he is very good at it, the jokes flow­ing with an ac­com­plished ease.

Looking along the rows of sil­ver heads and bald­ing pates, his fans ap­pear to have been with him for a long haul, most of them dat­ing back to the days when Chop­per chopped, Bestie daz­zled and Leeds United were a cyn­i­cal bunch of shin as­sas­sins rather than heroic FA Cup gi­ant-killers.

“Yeah,” says Greaves of his au­di­ence. “We al­ways say when I’m on stage they can give the staff at the old peo­ple’s home the night off.”

Greaves him­self reaches a sig­nif­i­cant chrono­log­i­cal mile­stone next month. He will be 70 years old, an event he is mark­ing with a star-stud­ded evening of rem­i­nis­cence at Lon­don’s O2 cen­tre.

“I know, me 70,” he says, as he sits in his dress­ing room be­fore his show. “Where did it go? No one knows. Time goes on. I mean, I don’t think of my­self as 70. I prob­a­bly look it but I don’t feel it. I have this ter­ri­ble habit of com­ing in from walk­ing the dog and I say to Irene [his wife]: ‘I’ve just been talk­ing to this old boy’ and she says, ‘Old boy? He’s younger than you are.’ The thing is you just don’t think of your­self as that way.”

Cer­tainly, the im­pend­ing land­mark has not changed his at­ti­tude to life.

“To be hon­est I slowed down and put me feet up 35 years ago,” he ad­mits. “I’m not work­ing hard, I’m just do­ing bits and pieces and en­joy­ing me­self. I feel great. I wouldn’t want to give it up. You can’t just walk away and do noth­ing. You’ve got to keep the old grey cells tick­ing over.”

To do that, he ven­tures on stage with his comic show sev­eral times a month. Plus, he is hugely in de­mand as an af­ter­dinner speaker.

“They seem to have a med­i­cal theme as you get older,” he says. “I done the Na­tional Haem­or­rhoid So­ci­ety an­nual din­ner the other day: stand-up buf­fet, ob­vi­ously. I dunno, things just seem to hap­pen. I got the bag from the Sun. No idea why, 30 years I was there, do­ing a col­umn. Then one day you’re not there any more. But you move on and I do a col­umn for the Peo­ple now. Things are pretty good. I’ve no wor­ries. I’m all right.”

That is the thing about Jimmy Greaves: on the sur­face, he has never ap­peared to have suf­fered a mo­ment’s worry. He re­mains the most gifted preda­tor English foot­ball has pro­duced, a fin­isher of stag­ger­ing ac­com­plish­ment. Yet he claims he found his job al­most com­i­cally easy: if the ball was there, he put it in the net and if it wasn’t, well what can you do?

“I never watched when I played. I’d never go to foot­ball,” he says. “And I didn’t go along with coach­ing. My job was to score goals, that’s it. When peo­ple used to say chase back, I’d say why? If I chased back, I’d then not be in a po­si­tion to do my job. For me, foot­ball changed af­ter the 1966 World Cup suc­cess when peo­ple got this idea about work rate. To be hon­est, that was never a con­cept that ap­pealed.”

In­deed, it could be said that Greaves him­self played an un­wit­ting part in the foot­balling revo­lu­tion. When Alf Ram­sey de­cided not to play the mer­cu­rial Tot­ten­ham ma­gi­cian in the 1966 fi­nal and landed the tro­phy by opt­ing in­stead for the tire­less worker bee Ge­off Hurst, things changed ir­re­vo­ca­bly for the English game.

“That suc­cess set the tone partly, you’re right, be­cause I wasn’t there,” he says. “A lot of coaches were wait­ing for a sign and it came that day: the tri­umph of work rate over flair.”

Greaves has never been short of opin­ions like that. And through the Eight­ies and early Nineties he made a lu­cra­tive liv­ing as the most opin­ion­ated tele­vi­sion pun­dit of them all. As with his foot­ball, it all came easy to him, he’d just talk with his dou­ble act part­ner Ian Saint John as he would in the dress­ing room.

But things changed with the ad­vent of the Premier League: ITV lost the con­tract to show the foot­ball and Saint and Greavsie went with it, their feisty take on things drift­ing out of fash­ion. So much so, when Greaves made a guest ap­pear­ance in the half-time break of an Eng­land in­ter­na­tional against An­dorra ear­lier this sea­son and ex­pressed his opin­ion that the game was rub­bish, he was hus­tled off the screen.

“Yeah, that was funny,” he says. “I don’t think they liked it. Put it this way, I won’t be in- vited on again. The prob­lem with tele­vi­sion now is they’ve paid for­tunes for the game and they’ve got to sell it. They’ve got to be pos­i­tive. Half the time that means barefaced ly­ing.

“We were hon­est about the game. Th­ese days you daren’t up­set any­body, tele­vi­sion is just bog-stan­dard suck­ing up: every­one’s great, ev­ery goal is great, ev­ery player is great.”

Foot­ball for Greaves is about a lot more than a few gags. There is a real pas­sion there. Af­ter all, is he not the man who re­sponded to the crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment of be­ing left out of Eng­land’s 1966 tri­umph by go­ing out on one of the long­est al­co­holic ben­ders of the cen­tury?

“Nah,” he says. “If only it were that easy. The only rea­son I had a drink prob­lem was I en­joyed drink­ing. Peo­ple used to ask, ‘What did you feel like in the morn­ing?’ Well, I didn’t have a hang­over for five years be­cause I didn’t stop. I car­ried on. In the end I got fed up. It was hard, I fell off the wagon a cou­ple of times, I was in a men­tal hospi­tal on and off for six months, but fi­nally I got through.

“It’s been a long time since I stopped – over 30 years – and I hope it stays like this. There’s no guar­an­tee, but I’m happy. Life’s been bril­liant to me. I wouldn't be see­ing 70 if I hadn’t given up the drink.” – The Tele­graph

HAPPY DAYS: Jimmy Greaves col­lect­ing his 1966 World Cup medal from Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown for rep­re­sent­ing his coun­try. Inset: Greaves in play­ing days.

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