Giller’s greatest hits tribute to Greaves delivers all the right notes


Jimmy Greaves looked rather sheepish and anxious as he stood just inside the open cabin door scanning rows of seated passengers with pleading eyes. 

He had arrived late for the last shuttle flight from Glasgow to London after his television stint at the earlier Scotland v England international.

British Airways ticket sales exceeded the number of seats available as they assumed there would be some no-shows.  Not this time. Every single seat on the aircraft was occupied. The captain made an announcement appealing for anyone prepared to give up a seat to Jimmy. Feet were shuffled, eyes dropped to the floor. No-one moved.

The captain came on again this time promising BA would pay for a taxi into Glasgow city centre and overnight hotel accommodation for anyone prepared to swap with Mr Greaves who needed to be back in London for more television work.

Eventually a businessman left his seat and shook hands with a relieved Jimmy, having the presence of mind to declare himself a Spurs fan and collect his autograph on the way out. Cue applause from all round the cabin. Only the bravest Englishmen volunteer to spend an unscheduled night in Glasgow with locals mourning Scotland’s latest defeat.

You won’t find this story in a new book about English football’s goalscorer supreme. This is a personal anecdote as I was among several journalists on that flight. But it underlines enduring popularity that still makes Greaves a great subject for biography. Years after retiring as a player, someone was still willing to make a huge sacrifice for him.

There are plenty of other entertaining Greaves anecdotes in “The One and Only Jimmy Greaves”, an authorised biography by former Daily Express chief football writer Norman Giller.

Giller, a close friend of Jimmy’s for 64 years, delivered the eulogy at his funeral in 2021. The prolific author states this, his 119th book, will be his last. It is mainly a retrospective glimpse at Greaves’ life culled and cleverly assembled from 20 book collaborations between the pair plus extracts from many magazine and newspaper articles. A sort of “Jimmy Greaves Greatest hits” compilation.

READ MORE: A tribute to Jimmy Greaves and why we shall not see his like again

It was being hatched when Greaves suffered his debilitating stroke in 2015 and Giller decided it should be published in May 2022 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his superb 1962 FA Cup Final goal for Spurs v Burnley. It is the only biography authorised by Greaves’ long-suffering wife Irene whom he divorced and remarried.

Much of the material will be familiar to Spurs, England and Greaves fans so I will recount only a couple of prime extracts here. The book perhaps reaches a pinnacle when emphasising what a different world it was when Greaves tortured defenders with instant ball control, dynamic pace and precision shooting.

When a 17-year-old Greaves made his Chelsea debut at Tottenham in August 1957 he travelled to White Hart Lane on two buses from his Essex home then faced a 20-minute walk from the Regal, Edmonton to the ground carrying a small holdall containing his boots, shinpads and a bar of Fry’s milk chocolate given him by his mother. What a contrast with today’s Porsche or BMW-driving young superstars.

Players habits were enough to cause apoplexy among modern club dieticians. Many smoked openly before and after matches, as well as half time. Jimmy soon became aware of a drinking culture and some of the era’s top tipplers are named in the book.

Irene encouraged Giller not to hold back in a  “warts and all” biography and he doesn’t hold back about Greaves descent into alcoholism. At the lowest point Greaves awoke with a raging thirst to discover Irene had found all his hidden bottles, poured the contents away and hurled the empties in a bin. Jim crawled to the bin and rescued the bottles, lifting each to his lips in a frantic search for the final dregs.

The story of Jimmy Greaves, footballer, businessman, television personality, alcoholic, road show raconteur has been recorded in dozens of books by many authors. But Giller’s inside knowledge of genius Jimmy gives him an edge when it comes to recording his life.

Reading this latest offering one is left with the impression that Greaves’ football CV could have been even more illustrious but for fate and bad timing. Just a couple of years too young to feature in Chelsea’s 1955 Championship-winning team, he arrived at Spurs the year AFTER their momentous League and Cup double and of course missed out on England’s  1966 World Cup Final triumph through injury.

Yet he gave enormous pleasure to millions of spectators and fellow players regarded him so highly they pay tribute in the book. There can be no higher praise .

The One and Only Jimmy Greaves by Norman Giller is published by Pitch Publishing price £19.99.