LONDON (AP) — For all the goals scored — including a record 266 for Tottenham — it was the game Jimmy Greaves missed out on that was an enduring disappointment for one of England’s greatest strikers.
Sustaining a leg injury that required 14 stiches in the final group stage match at the 1966 World Cup, Greaves lost his place to Geoff Hurst. In an era before substitutes were allowed, there was no way back into the lineup and it was Hurst’s hat trick in the final that won England’s only title.
Hurst remembered Greaves as “one of the truly great goal scorers” after he died on Sunday at the age of 81. There was a minute’s applause before Tottenham played in the Premier League against Chelsea, the club where Greaves started his career.
“It has been a difficult time for him,” Hurst said. “He can now rest in peace.”
Greaves suffered a minor stroke in 2012 and his family thought he had made a full recovery until he was admitted to intensive care after a more severe stroke in May 2015.
“The finest marksman this country has ever seen,” Tottenham said, announcing Greaves died early Sunday. “He possessed immaculate ball control, great balance and such composure in front of goal that he rarely spurned an opportunity.”
With 266 goals in 379 appearances, Greaves remains the all-time leading scorer for Tottenham.
An all-round striker equally adept with either foot or his head, Greaves scored 44 goals in just 57 matches for England, including a record six hat tricks.
Greaves was the first player to lead scoring in England’s top league for three straight seasons. But his scoring exploits hadn’t been enough to earn a recall from Alf Ramsey after the injury against France in the third game at the 1966 World Cup.
Greaves famously sat impassively on the bench as England celebrated at the final whistle after the 4-2 victory over West Germany.
“It was devastating for me that I didn’t play in the final,” Greaves said in the Mail on Sunday newspaper in 2009. “I always believed that we would win the World Cup and I’d be part of it, but I wasn’t.
“It wouldn’t have been so important now because I would have been a substitute and probably would have got on.”
Only the lineup from the final rather than all squad members received medals, unlike at World Cups since 1974. A campaign led to Greaves and 10 other members of the squad — who were dubbed the “forgotten heroes” — receiving medals in 2009. But Greaves sold the 18-carat medal at auction in 2014 for 44,000 pounds ($60,000).
“Jimmy has always said it was a bitter blow,” Hurst recalled last year. “There is no way that team would have changed had he not been injured (against France). Leaving Jimmy Greaves out was not an option. You hear the term genius, and it is the one word which applies to Jimmy.”
James Peter Greaves was born in east London on Feb. 20, 1940, and signed for Chelsea aged 17.
At 20 years and 290 days, he became the youngest player to reach 100 league goals in English soccer and scored a club-record 41 times in the 1960-61 season to secure a lucrative move to Milan.
He scored nine goals in 12 games but failed to settle in Italy. He ended his brief stay to return to London with Tottenham, where he would spend the next nine years and hit a club-record 266 goals in 380 games.
Manager Bill Nicholson, who had just guided Spurs to the league and cup double, paid 99,999 pounds for Greaves because he was keen to spare him the pressure of being England’s first 100,000-pound player.
The move apparently worked as Greaves scored a hat trick in his opening match, a 5-2 win over Blackpool, and helped Tottenham retain the FA Cup.
Greaves was famous for being anonymous during matches before popping up to score a crucial goal.
“All Greaves did this afternoon was score four goals,” Nicholson once said.
Greaves made it into England’s squad for the 1962 World Cup in Chile, but his most famous deed during the tournament was when he caught a dog that ran onto the field during a match against Brazil. The animal then urinated on Greaves’ shirt, endearing itself to Brazil winger Garrincha — who kept it as a pet.
The following season, he scored twice in a 5-1 Cup Winners Cup win over Atletico Madrid, which made Tottenham the first British side to win a European trophy, and was the first division’s leading scorer — a feat he would repeat in 1964, ’65 and ’69.
“You’d be irritated that he’d not touched the ball and then bang, back of the net,” former Tottenham teammate Alan Mullery recalled Sunday.
Another former teammate, Martin Chivers, was also at Tottenham’s game against Chelsea to remember the striker he compares to Lionel Messi.
“You’d have to look at Messi, how he jinks in and out. Jimmy was like that,” Chivers said. “They’d fly out at him, but he’d tap the ball in the net. He was a cheeky chappy, one that always put me into trouble, all pranks and jokes.
“But on the field he was deadly. I wonder how he would play on these pitches. As a footballer, he was greedy. I would remember passing to him but very rarely did I get it back.”
Greaves switched to West Ham in 1970, with former England teammate Martin Peters moving the other way in a record 200,000-pound transfer, but retired at the end of the season after a record total of 357 goals in 516 league matches.
He made a brief comeback for non-league Barnet in 1978 but soon quit again and moved into television, where he co-presented the popular long-running Saturday show “Saint and Greavsie” on ITV in Britain with former Liverpool player Ian St. John, who died in March.
Greaves is survived by his wife Irene, sons Andy and Danny, and daughters Lynn and Mitzi.
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