The day I saw Greaves score a hat-trick

The day I saw Greaves score a hat-trick

Former England striker Jimmy Greaves attends an event in 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
Former England striker Jimmy Greaves attends an event in 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

It is only natural that every football fan will have grown up idolising a particular player who catches their heart.

The players change with each generation of course and every decade new favourites emerge.

Growing up in the 1960s, my hero was Jimmy Greaves who sadly passed away last weekend at the age of 81.

I have never seen such a gifted goalscorer, netting 382 goals in a career that took him from Chelsea to AC Milan, Spurs, West Ham and Barnet.

There were also an impressive 44 goals in 57 appearances for England.

At that time in England, apart from the FA Cup final, the only football you got to see on TV were Saturday night highlights of what was then Division One.

If you were lucky, you actually went to a stadium and maybe see your idol perform. That's what happened to me one day in 1960.

As a schoolboy, I was a regular at Elm Park to watch my home team of Reading who were then in the Third Division.

My dad thought I deserved to see something better and on Aug 27, 1960 he took me to London to watch Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It was one of the most exciting days of my life.

It is hard to explain that initial thrill of standing on the terrace behind one of the goals at the Bridge, amongst a 41,681 crowd roaring on the Blues.

At Reading, we were lucky to get 6,000 spectators.

Chelsea were playing Wolves who at that time were the best team in England.

The crowd was treated to end-to-end thrills with the match ending in a hugely entertaining 3-3 draw.

Greaves, aged 20, scored a sublime hat-trick for the Blues.

I was already aware of Greaves' talent through numerous articles and occasional TV clips, so watching his outstanding performance in the flesh was the icing on the cake.

Greaves became my idol and Chelsea my top flight team.

It is often overlooked that Greaves scored an extraordinary 132 goals at Chelsea in just four seasons. I saw him in a Chelsea shirt a couple of more times before he moved to AC Milan.

Chelsea weren't a great team, but it didn't matter to me.

I just loved the atmosphere of the big match and the excitement of walking down the Fulham Road eating a soggy hot dog.

Ted Drake was the Chelsea manager and young Jimmy was known as one of "Drake's Ducklings."

Greaves once commented that Drake's team talk for every match was a simple "do your best" and a pat on the back.

Eight months later, I was at Wembley to witness Greaves score another hat-trick, this time for England when they overwhelmed Scotland 9-3 in April, 1961.

Greaves was purring that day, but the whole team was terrific.

Others on target included captain Johnny Haynes and Bobby Smith who both scored twice and Bobby Robson. What a privilege it was to be at that game.

Based near London as a student in the mid-1960s, I got to see Greaves, who was now playing for Tottenham Hotspur, score in several Wembley internationals in the years building up to the 1966 World Cup.

Although he played in the early stages of the World Cup, he suffered an injury and by the time of the final it came as a huge disappointment for Greaves when Geoff Hurst took his place.

During his prime, whenever Greaves got the ball, whether it be at Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane or Wembley, there was a buzz in the crowd similar to that generated by George Best at Manchester United.

Greaves scored goals with a minimum of fuss.

He rarely blasted the ball into the net but rather stroked it in, celebrating with little more than a wave of the hand.

His goal-scoring record at Tottenham speaks for itself -- 266 goals in 379 games.

His last club was non-league Barnet for whom he scored 25 goals.

It was at Barnet that Greaves reckoned he scored his best-ever goal which he joked was witnessed by a crowd of "three men and a dog."

During his later years, after recovering from alcoholism, he co-hosted the popular Saint and Greavsie show from 1985-92.

I only saw it on a few occasions but it was always entertaining. Sadly, only six months ago Greaves was mourning the passing of co-host Ian St John.

An all-time great, Jimmy Greaves brought such joy. I will miss him.

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