London – Jimmy Greaves was hailed as the “best goalscorer to ever play” after the former Tottenham and England striker died at age 81 on Sunday.
Greaves, Tottenham’s all-time leading scorer, suffered a stroke in 2015 which left him wheelchair-bound and with severely impaired speech.
One of the game’s great characters, Greaves, who also starred for Chelsea during his iconic career, died at home on Sunday morning.
“We are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of the great Jimmy Greaves, not just Tottenham Hotspur’s record goalscorer but the finest marksman this country has ever seen,” the club said.
West Ham, another of Greaves’ former clubs, held a minute of applause ahead of Sunday’s match against Manchester United, with an image of the striker displayed on the stadium’s big screen.
Greaves’ former Tottenham teammate Alan Mullery led the tributes, saying: “I can picture Jimmy on the field, side-footing the ball past the ‘keeper. He was a wonderful footballer, the best goalscorer to ever play.
“He scored goals for fun, you’d be irritated that he’d not touched the ball and then bang, back in the net.”
Greaves, a member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad, scored 44 goals in his 57 appearances for England.
He scored 357 goals in England’s top flight, a record which still stands.
The charismatic Londoner, who was also renowned for his wit, scored 266 goals in 379 appearances for Tottenham between 1961 and 1970.
Martin Chivers, Greaves’ fellow forward at Tottenham, said the only modern-day player he would compare his friend to is Lionel Messi.
“You’d have to look at Messi, how he jinks in and out. Jimmy was like that,” Chivers said.
“He was a cheeky chappy, one that always put me into trouble, all pranks and jokes. But on the field he was deadly.”
Greaves’ 37 league goals in the 1962-63 season has yet to be surpassed by a Tottenham player in a single season.
“RIP Jimmy Greaves. A true legend and one of the great goalscorers. Thoughts are with his family and friends,” tweeted Tottenham striker Harry Kane, who is second behind Greaves on the club’s all-time scoring list with 223 goals.
Gary Lineker, another Tottenham and England great, said: “Quite possibly the greatest striker this country has ever produced.
“A truly magnificent footballer who was at home both in the box and on the box.
“A charismatic, knowledgeable, witty and warm man. A giant of the sport.”
Greaves began his career in 1957 with Chelsea — his 41-goal haul in 1960-61 still stands as the club’s single-season record.
He later had a brief spell at AC Milan before joining Tottenham.
Within a few months of arriving at White Hart Lane, Greaves won his first senior medal, scoring the opener in Tottenham’s 3-1 win over Burnley in the F.A. Cup final.
His brace in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final helped Tottenham in a 5-1 demolition of Atletico Madrid the following season.
He also played in Tottenham’s 1967 F.A. Cup final win against his old club Chelsea.
Greaves played in all four of England’s games at the 1962 World Cup but famously did not feature in the 1966 World Cup final victory over West Germany.
He was sidelined by a shin injury during the quarterfinal stage.
Although he was fit for the final, Alf Ramsey’s decision not to change a winning side was vindicated by Geoff Hurst Hurst’s hat-trick at Wembley.
Greaves played for West Ham after leaving Tottenham before retiring at the end of the 1970-71 season.
He scored 366 goals in Europe’s top five leagues. That stood as the record until it was eclipsed by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016-17.
In retirement, Greaves endured a debilitating fight with alcoholism.
After a long campaign for his England achievements of 1966 to be recognized, Greaves finally received a World Cup winners’ medal in 2009.
“One of the truly great goalscorers, terrific guy with an absolutely brilliant sense of humour, the best. It has been a difficult time for him, he can now rest in peace,” Hurst tweeted.
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