I’ll be honest I became weary of Jimmy Greaves in his media career back in the 1980s. The bonhomie with Ian St John seemed more than formulaic and contrived towards the end  – all a bit middle-aged Golf Club and ignored the challenges of the era. When terraces were clearly unsafe, fans treated appallingly with facilities, membership schemes and all of that it was tiresome to hear Greavsie and his side-kick The Saint going through the motions of a “funny old game” © and all of that stuff. But that was unfair. Greaves and St John were in many ways pioneers of a new media era in which coverage became a bit light-hearted and perhaps that’s something the terminally earnest Souness, Keane, Neville, Carragher et al might think about as they dissect matches on SKY. Football is a game, it is meant to be enjoyed and it shouldn’t be discussed in the po-faced demeanour of a global economic crisis just because Man Utd have been beaten at home by Burnley or some such.

But like all TV programmes by the time Greaves and St John were put out to pasture, their show and style had probably ran its course.

Despite hurtling towards retirement age I never saw Jimmy Greaves play football. He was fractionally before my time and he did retire at what seems a young age of 31 after an apparent falling out with Roy Greenwood at West Ham. But older relatives who had shuffled onto the largely uncovered terracing of St James’ Park in the 1960s all quietly acknowledged the talents of “the great Jimmy Greaves”.

This is a fantastic documentary. It obviously centres upon the life of an iconic English footballer and one who left a significant impression upon the supporters particularly at his main clubs Chelsea and Spurs. But it is more than just the tale of one great player. It is a history of football as it entered the modern media age. Greavsie records the time of local scouts, back-handers, the maximum wage, muddy pitches, unsegregated stadia, a boozing culture and the distance between punters and players being nothing like the chasm it is now.

I’ll confess to being a mug for the old footage, particularly from the 1960s simply because of what I like to think of as the purity of the club strips – their simplicity is a thing of beauty.

There is plenty of TV coverage of Greaves notching variously for Chelsea, AC Milan, Spurs, West Ham and England from the early 60s onwards in a way there isn’t in the 1950s from whence there was  a paradigm shift in coverage. Greaves emerged at a time when television was becoming more sophisticated leaving behind Pathe News reel style within the explosion of popular culture in the 60s.

What struck me most from the coverage and the Greaves’ highlights is his style. The slicked back hair, clean shaven with an economy of movement, Greaves had a grace about him that explains how he captivated so many fans of that era. His finishing seemed to have a startling simplicity to it – lightening quick with shots put in parts of the goal completely out of reach to the ‘keeper. A player of superb balance and movement with an assassin’s eye for goal. A fabulous footballer.  

Although Greaves’ record stands aside any, the man had numerous challenges. His illness (hepaptitis) in the run up to the 1966 World Cup and the subsequent injury in the match v France which ruled him out of the tournament is enough to have crushed lesser men. His post-retirement descent into alcoholism and subsequent recovery as well as the support he has given to former team-mates experiencing the similar loss of identity and purpose to him is mark of the man.

I hadn’t realised Greaves had played non-league after he’d retired from the professional game. He didn’t need to do that but he did because he loved football and suffered no sense of vanity at turning out at those levels of the game. His humility is obvious throughout the documentary.  I can only imagine the thrill that supporters of Brentwood, Chelmsford, Barnet and Woodford Town got from seeing a bona-fide legend of English football turning out in their humble surroundings.

Greaves had presence – looking at the articulate, measured, self-possessed, confident, well-presented young man, the son of a bus driver giving interviews to the media in the early 1960s and it’s difficult not to see a great example of working class pride and masculinity.

Greaves is getting on. He clearly isn’t in great health, having previously suffered from a stroke but around him is the love and devotion of his family and the many ex-team-mates and those he inspired and provided with so many great memories.

He has had a life well-lived and all the very best to him.

MICHAEL MARTIN