RISING 70, JIMMY STILL GREAVES FOR NOTHING
Footie icon, crit or comedian, he shoots from the hip
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.