Burnley’s Nemesis: Jimmy Greaves
Those who remember Greaves only as a ponderous pundit, might be surprised to learn that he was once one of Britain’s deadliest strikers. Between 1957 and 1971 Greaves scored 357 goals in 516 top flight appearances with Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham, a strike rate of two goals in three games. His record for England was even better: 44 goals in just 57 appearances, an incredible rate of four in five.
Nottingham Forest suffered most, having conceded 24 League goals to Greaves. But Burnley came next, yielding 19 to this remarkable goal scorer, fourteen in sixteen games while he was at Spurs. His late equaliser at Turf Moor in March 1962, upset Burnley’s tilt at the title. His two goals at White Hart Lane in March 1968 resulted in a 5-0 drubbing, while his hat-trick, a few months later, set up a 7-0 humiliation.
As his ex-Spurs team-mate, Dave Mackay, stated: “Greaves, so light on his feet and quick of thought, never allowed anything to upset his poise. Missing a scoring chance only spurred him. Like all outstanding players, he took up positions which worried defenders. He got goals by being in the right place at the right time.”
Alan Mullery, another former colleague, added: “People talked about Michael Owen’s pace, but over fifteen to twenty yards no one could touch Jimmy. His first touch was incredible, and he was equally good with either foot… Jimmy was a lovely bloke and a terrible joker, he would never stop. He was always good at easing others’ nerves.”
Geoff Hurst who replaced Greaves for the 1966 World Cup Final said: “He appeared to take nothing seriously, but it was a front. He was one of the most calculating pros I knew. He tingled with alertness. He never went for the flash shot, the fancy move. He only beat opponents when he had to. Then it was a quick shot directed with a surgeon’s skill into the place the goalkeeper found it hardest to cover.”
Jimmy Greaves commented: “Rarely did I go for a spectacular thirty-yard shot. More often I would pass or chip the ball into the net. This wasn’t the product of coaching. It came naturally. I never panicked because the positions I took up gave me the confidence that I had time to apply the killer touch.”
I first saw Greaves play in August 1958. He was irrepressible. Only a spoil sport linesman denied him a double hat-trick against then champions Wolves. In the season before Burnley had suffered a similar six-goal drubbing.
But Greaves did not always have the upper hand against Burnley. In April 1964, Harris, O’Neil and Irvine scored a couple of goals each in a 7-2 hammering. The Daily Mirror ran the headline “Spurs smashed to ruins” while Spurs boss Bill Nicholson confessed: “Burnley paralysed us, crucified us. We were lucky it was only seven.” Greaves still scored his customary goal, though.
Probably the Greaves goal which caused Burnley most pain was his 3rd minute strike in the FA Cup final of 1962. Greaves recalled: “We had a dream start against an exceptional Burnley side. Bill Brown punted the ball long, Bobby Smith headed it down for me. But as I darted towards the Burnley goal, I overran the ball and had to check back. This threw the Burnley defenders off balance, leaving me with a small opening. I swivelled and hit the ball on the turn. It was a bit of a hopeful shot, but the ball evaded Adam Blacklaw’s dive and found the right-hand corner. I had pledged to score in the first five minutes. I’m not given to making rash predictions but thought it might psych me up.” Although Jimmy Robson levelled at the start of the second half, Burnley’s fatal loss of concentration allowed Spurs to restore their lead immediately.
In the bitter winter of 1962/63, Burnley avenged their Wembley defeat with a 3-0 Third Round victory at a snowy White Hart Lane. It was a bad-tempered, spiteful game that the Daily Mirror described as “Spurs Day of Shame”. It proved to be a pyrrhic victory, though. Liverpool eliminated Burnley in the next round after a replay. This setback prompted Burnley chairman Bob Lord to transfer his club’s supreme play-maker, Jimmy McIlroy, to Stoke, amid vociferous protests of Clarets’ fans.
Many years later, Greaves reflected: “The decline of Burnley followed the break-up of the McIlroy – Jimmy Adamson partnership that was one of the most stylish and successful in British football… While they were at the helm, Burnley played smooth, skilful football that showcased the best of the British game… Their boss, Harry Potts inherited a squad fashioned by his predecessor, Alan Brown, who was mainly responsible for the success-breeding tactics, particularly the quick, short corners and mesmerising free-kick scams. The Burnley team was brimming with outstanding individual players. who were encouraged to place greater emphasis upon skill than sweat. Even in defeat, I admired their artistry. In an era of the big boot they were a league of gentleman.”
Burnley ‘keeper, Adam Blacklaw remarked: “Jimmy was generally a perfect gentleman and very funny but wasn’t averse to scraping his studs down my shins.”
One of my lasting memories of Greaves was a prank he played on a younger Donald Trump on the Saint & Greavsie show. Here he presented the tycoon with a S&G mug which Greaves assured Trump would illuminate an inscription, ‘It’s a funny old game’ every time he filled the mug with hot water. I have never seen Trump so bemused.Share this page :