Tottenham On My Mind Meets Jimmy Greaves

At my age I’m fairly certain of what’s important in life. If I haven’t figured it out by now, frankly it’s too late. But even for someone as jaundiced and careworn as I, there are still moments when those priorities become crystal clear. Last Thursday, when my train halted in Kent as St Pancras was evacuated for a bomb scare, my groan turned heads in the carriage. If it had been work, an interview, a woman even, I would have remained stoically philosophical. But this, this meant something, because I was on my way to meet Jimmy Greaves.

I don’t do heroes. I admire certain people for who they are and what they do but in the end they are all flawed, just like you and me, and I’m no hero. But Jimmy Greaves was the closest I have ever come to idolising a fellow human being. As an impressionable football mad only-child growing up in the late sixties, Greaves was the biggest star of many in that Tottenham team. Kids aren’t fussed about records, they have no perspective of history, so I didn’t care that he was our best ever scorer. What mattered was, Greaves delivered. He always scored, or so it seemed. The ball in the box, is he on the end of it, yes and must be a goal.

Jimmy Greaves in His Prime

More than this, he did so with style, and even this sheltered boychick knew it, just by looking. Greaves was different, and ever since I’ve searched for flair, the distinctive individual. It’s hard trying to explain his football to those who never saw him. Goodness knows I’ve tried with my kids, but there is no one in the modern game to say even, ‘Jim was a bit like him’. Was he fast? Not a sprinter, but he outpaced defenders with the ball at his feet, gliding over the turf with perfect balance, the ball two feet in front of him. Was he quick in the box? Apparently not, but he got to the ball first, so often. Powerful? Not really, but the ball sped into the net, passed rather than belted. In these days of inflated superlatives, Greaves was unique and remains so. His was a frail, almost shambling figure who was transformed when the ball was at his feet.

I never dreamt for a moment that I would ever have 15 minutes on my own with the great man, but if it had crossed my mind, the setting would not have been as surreal as the back upstairs table at Burger King, Leicester Square. I shake hands with the PR guy (Jim’s flogging World Cup burgers), glance around and there in the corner, lost amidst the indifference of tourists and office workers gulping down a bite or two before moving on to something better, is a small, rotund man, healthily tanned, chatting quietly into a microphone. One of the game’s greatest goalscorers sits anonymous, surrounded by discarded burger wrappers and plastic carriers.

As he greets us there’s a touch of weariness around the eyes. It’s been a long day already, we are the last in line, two packed into a single slot as time has almost run out, and there’s a car waiting for a radio interview so it’s not over. Yet there is genuine warmth in his firm handshake and a willingness in his tone to talk football. “Ok here we go chaps, how are you, all right? Start, don’t worry.” A legend takes the trouble to make me feel relaxed.

First up, some punditry, and he’s refreshingly honest. Asked how England will get on in the World Cup, he replies cheerfully, “No idea.” He elaborates with care.

“We’re a fair side, don’t think we are a great side. There are 10 teams as good as us, a lot depends on how the competition goes. With a bit of luck and staying injury free, who knows. I’m sure Capello would like to start with the team he feels can win it and finish with that same team.”

I wondered about his appetite for the game these days. Does he still watch a lot of football?

“I don’t watch a tremendous amount of football”, he admits, kindly lining up the recorder closer to him to ensure nothing is missed. “These days mostly the top teams, obviously the World Cup. Haven’t thought about it really, it starts tomorrow and we’ll start watching it. No point in getting excited until it starts. England have as good or bad a chance as anyone else.”

Still on the World Cup, what’s his solution to one of our biggest conundrums, who partners Rooney up front? His response is characteristically forthright.

“Crouch. Don’t see how anybody could be anti with his goalscoring record. We’re talking about a guy who has a great goals ratio. Surely front runners are there to score goals. There’s talk of Heskey making Rooney a better player, well, I don’t really hold with that. Otherwise Alex Ferguson would have bought Heskey a couple of years ago.”

He paused. “It’s every player’s responsibility to do his best and Rooney would know that, whoever he plays with. Let’s wait and see.”

Greaves at a Do Recently

Some of my correspondents last season would not be so certain of Crouch’s abilities, but Jimmy was having none of that.

“Need more? Need more what? He’s scored plenty, more than Rooney. Play him, it’s that simple.”

Time to talk Tottenham. I wondered what he thought of the current team.

“Yeah, Harry’s got a good team there. I don’t know what he’s got in terms of money to spend but they’ll have a good season next year. I can see a good future for Tottenham.” He chuckled, “it’s the first time you’ve been able to say that for a while.”

Regarding any of the modern players who stood out, he was less certain. Eventually he said, “I like the Croats he’s got, they are good players and reliable.”

Jim’s an engaging storyteller and appears more relaxed with reminiscing. He needs little prompting to warm to his subject, in this case Harry’s credentials as a young manager. They played together for a while at West Ham – was Harry always cut out for the comfy heated touchline seat?

“No not at all. The first time was when I was doing a job down in Oxford and I met up with Bobby Moore. Harry was there, I said ‘how are you mate?’ He said he was helping Bobby. What are you doing in non-league, where do you want to go? He said, ‘I want to be a manager, you’ve got to start somewhere’. He started there and has gone from strength to strength.”

Up and running now, there’s no stopping him.

“Bob didn’t have a clue really. With respect, Bobby was a world class footballer and suddenly trying to buy players and know the level of non-league football. Barry Fry, he knew every name of every footballer and every non-league club in the country because that’s where he was.”

Not thought about being a manager yourself, Jim?

“No, never fancied being a manager because I didn’t see a career in football after I retired. If I’d known that you could get millions for being absolutely crap and getting the sack, I’d have been in like a shot.”

Greaves was a fine striker but who was the man he most enjoyed playing with? He had no hesitation.

“Alan Gilzean. I had a great partnership with Bobby Smith. When I first joined Tottenham, Les Allen was centre forward because Bobby got injured. People think I took his place for a while but I didn’t. Les went to centre forward. I had a good relationship with Bobby Smith because we played for England together. Gilly was absolutely phenomenal. We had a great relationship, we could read each other’s minds. Yes, Alan without a doubt, phenomenal touch.”

I expressed my anxieties for Gilly, the subject of a forthcoming book, ‘In Search of Alan Gilzean’, who has largely disappeared from view amidst concerns for his health.

“I know where Gilly lives,” he scoffs. “He’s fine. He can’t understand what the fuss is all about.” He warms to his theme. “I was chatting to Steve Perryman about 3 or 4 weeks ago. Steve sees him quite regularly. He’s happy, just doesn’t want to get involved in anything. He can’t understand this rumour about being a recluse.” So there you are.

At this point the PR intervenes, but Jim wants to make sure we have our time. “Hurry up, any more?”

I squeeze in a quick question about then and now. Does he envy the money of the modern players?

“At the end of the day I was a professional footballer. It would be nice to be on the wages that they’re on but I’ve got to work for Burger King instead!”

As the PR ushers him away, Jimmy remains a true gent. “Thank you, there you go chaps. Sorry we didn’t have longer really.” You and me both, Jim.

He makes time to sign two programmes for me, the first of the game in 1969 against Newcastle where I saw him run 50 yards to score, the second a photo of the goal in the programme of the next home game. No chance for me to ask if it was his favourite, or indeed anything much about his time at Spurs, but despite the urgings of his PR, he took the time to sign it carefully, a full signature rather than an impatient scribble. I assured him that they will not appear on ebay. “I’ve heard that one before” and with another chuckle he looked up and was gone.

On the way out my son pointed to a Chelsea fan in the burger queue, late teens or early twenties, standing near a undignified cardboard cutout of Jimmy grinning and holding the sponsor’s product. We couldn’t resist. ‘Jimmy Greaves. He’s upstairs! Greavesy!’

The guy looked puzzled, as if he was trying to figure out the words of a foreign language. He then turned away and he and his mates shook their heads in sadness. Greaves is one of their finest goalscorers too, but they’ve never heard of him.

It was a privilege to meet him, for which I’m eternally grateful, my only regret being that I didn’t have the full time with him, one to one. Not because I was denied the opportunity to obtain a better interview or ask a searching question, but simply because talking with Jimmy Greaves is an absolute pleasure. Maybe heroes don’t disappoint after all.

I didn’t have the chance to ask Jimmy about the one matter that fellow Spurs fans seemed most concerned about, his omission from the Spurs Hall of Fame. He’s not been honoured, whereas Freund has. Peter from Spurs Odyssey did ask him about it. Full details in his superb piece (link below), but the gist of it is that he won’t do the dinner. He believes that players should be honoured for their achievements on the pitch, enigmatically adding that this did not seem to be the case.

Thanks to Jack Clothier at Cow PR and to Burger King where you can watch a video and enter a competition to watch the World Cup Final with Jimmy Greaves.

Thanks to the lovely Dan at the excellent Tottenham Blog, link in the sidebar. For more, Peter Garnett on the Spurs Odyssey site is required reading

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The Season That Keeps On Giving

2009/10 – the season that just keeps on giving. Bathed in a warm rosy glow, I’m still reliving the great moments of the last month or so. It’s a feeling that I hope never ends.

I’ve rhapsodised about our miraculous achievements and swooned at the mere thought of players who have not only played scintillating football but have in different ways overcome through sheer bloody minded determination handicaps that prevented them from showing their true potential. Mostly mental, some physical, Dawson, King, Bale, Gomes, Huddlestone, in this age of money-motivated mercenaries, all could have sat back and waited for a lucrative transfer but their pride in themselves and in their club left them bursting for a chance. All of them took it, all have earned my undying admiration.

Over the season I’ve analysed the players and tactics, as I’m fond of doing, but now, at the close, I’ve watched Spurs regularly since 1967 and there’s a couple of simple things to say, so we realise just what we have, to savour it all the more.

The coverage of the modern game is so comprehensive. We see everything in slow motion, 37 times and only then do the pundits solemnly adjudicate, but this doesn’t mean that we see everything clearer. Of course the game is won and lost in fractions of a second, in subtlety and nuance, but too often we end up with unrealistically excessive expectations of what human beings are capable of. This creates an unnecessarily critical perspective, which in turn detracts from the pleasure we take from football and footballers.

Listen next time to the analyses of any match by any of the major TV stations. I guarantee that negatives rather than positives will predominate. It’s not about what players did, it’s where they failed. In particular we have the cult of the penalty. Usually they go straight to the replays of those given or denied. Match-turning moments they may be, but they are just that, moments in a much wider spectacle that ebbs and flows over 90 minutes. Yet you would be forgiven for believing that football is primarily about the creation of penalties or penalty appeals, rather than a stunningly beguiling mix creativity, nerve and physicality.

This is all part of the game, but please remember to enjoy what you have, because you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Younger players suffer particularly. I wrote about this a few months ago – a few games in, they’re learning and making mistakes but find themselves virtually written off in many quarters.

It’s been our privilege as Spurs fans to see some cracking football this season, as well as some total dross, but enjoy the good times for all they are worth. Know what you have and take the utmost pleasure in being part of it. And in that spirit, no analysis, merely a few straightforward comments.

Ledley King is one of the best centre halves I have ever seen. He would go straight into my best ever Spurs team. His intelligence and timing is peerless in the current Premiership and my only sadness is that his injury has prevented him from playing more frequently.

Gareth Bale is one of the best prospects in any position that I have ever seen from someone of his age. The combination of skill on the ball, pace and power is a force of nature. He has much to learn but if he fulfils anything like his full potential, he is a world-beater.

Heurelho Gomes – I would not swap him for any keeper in the Premier League. Luka Modric – the player to build a team around. Top, top quality.

So my first season of blogging has come to an end. I’ll carry on over the summer, something at least once a week. And maybe get round to updating the Harry quotes page…There will be a few more thoughts about this season – I’ve not talked enough about Harry lately – plus anything else that crops up that is Tottenham related.

There may a few additions to ‘Always On My Mind’, tales of footballing obsession, and you may have noticed through the teary beery CL haze that there’s a World Cup on. I’m part of the Guardian fans’ network and no doubt will shoehorn in any Spurs reference, however tenuous.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has read the site this season, in particular my sincere gratitude to those who have bothered to comment, especially those who do so regularly and so cogently. Check out the comments sections – often people have taken the time and trouble to write extended and insightful pieces. Ever thought of starting a blog? Anyone can do it….



Love Hangover

On the morning this season’s fixtures were announced, I was on a train from London to Cardiff. Rolling through Bristol, a northern voice in front of me laughed into his mobile: ‘Great, Spurs on the last day of the season – they never have anything to play for.” It was only later that I worked out that he was a Burnley fan. As it turns out, he was right, but not quite in the way he expected.

On the surface, all the hallmarks of classic Spurs. Two up then falling apart to vastly inferior opposition. But you know what, I couldn’t care less. Easy for me to say, I wasn’t there, didn’t lay out hard earned cash and get caught up in some of the travel problems that befell our returning bravehearts. And I’m usually the first to state emphatically that whatever the circumstances, professional standards, pride in the shirt or the need to earn their inflated salaries should be enough to ensure maximum effort. So understand that I’m breaking a habit of a lifetime here. At the end of the season, we have done enough.

I’m still suffering from my love hangover, and as a woman who knows about these things once said, if there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it. The thought of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club in the draw for the Champions League is simply mind-blowing. It’s not something that I dared to hope for, even as the season reached its later stages. I’ve not really talked too much about it in TOMM, as frankly I was doing the old ‘game at a time routine’, partly because that’s the right way to go about it, for fans and the team, partly to obscure the terrifying, exhilarating prospect that it might actually be possible. It’s only in the last two weeks that I have allowed myself to look at the numbers, at the status of other teams, hence the ‘7 points from 3 games’ mantra to which I  adhered with such religious zeal that when the moment finally came, it passed me by (see my last piece).

So this past few days, I’ve been all Brady Bunch hallo clouds hallo sky what a wonderful world. It feels so good, I don’t want it to stop. That’s the beauty of a successful end to the season, there’s nothing to get in the way until mid-August. Not that I know much about successful ends to seasons, not lately anyway. I have a good memory, though.

On the boards and in the blogs, there’s some dissatisfaction with yesterday, and I respect that. There’s talk of rebuilding the squad, who we should go for, and that’s important. But later. Not now. Enjoy it. Enjoy the moment with every fibre of your being. Relish every ounce of joy, relive every game, as many moments as you can recall, who you were with, where you were, the nine goals or the Dawson block, Danny from thirty and Gareth from three, or Benny falling over for no reason. All part of this rich season. Trust me: I’ve been around for a while now and these moments don’t come around too often. The new term will be here soon enough, so don’t wish away the time.

Another reason to be cheerful is the plaudits that belatedly we are receiving in the press. I’ll review the season in the blog over the next week or so, but Harry has won the Barclay’s Premiership Manager of the Year (although surely Roy Hodgson will win an award), our players are being praised and suddenly everything is good about Spurs. Our attacking style, our finances, we are the club others want to be.

Of particular satisfaction for me is the attention rightfully due to a good few of our players who for different reasons have not always been in the limelight. The effort and application shown by Michael Dawson is nothing short of heroic. It’s all very well praising his form, absolutely and he should be considered for England, but we know the determination and dedication behind it. Only we truly appreciate his bloody-minded focus on seizing his chance, coming back after injury to a background of mild doubt about his long-term future at the top. Only we can really see how the passion burns inside. One of ours.

Tom Huddlestone, clumsy and awkward on the move with the grace of a panther on the ball. Forgetful and wayward, at other times he passes like no other in the league. He too has come of age. Simply, the team plays better when he’s there. So many games, so much frustration, now he’s taken his chance, not a sudden opportunity like Dawson’s but one of consistency. He’s a starter now and that brings the best from him. One of ours.

And finally, the mighty Ledley King. They all want to praise him now but not so long ago, he was a forgotten man, written off by so many, a crock condemned with sympathy, but not here. Can’t train, can’t run, but he wants to be there so he’s changed his style to the most economical of strides, gliding over the surface. The knees may be gone but the mind is a diamond, sparkling and clear. He just knows what to do, and when. Only we have felt his pain, his agony as he troops off dispiritedly, so often, then back he comes in a week, month maybe, but back he comes. Only we know how good he is, a true Tottenham great. One of my all-time Spurs favourites. One of ours.

Thank You, and I Love You All

Not a good day for me. Granted, Tottenham Hotspur won through to fourth place in the league and qualified for the Champions League, but nothing else went well.

An astonishing, remarkable, stratospheric achievement, its magnificence shining across time and the universe like a supernova. And you were alive to see it, maybe you were there, you lucky so and so, let me shake you by the hand. It may not have quite the historical impact of the death of Kennedy or the fascination of Lady’s Di’s car crash, but in the decades to come you will remember exactly where you were when Spurs made it to the CL. Me, I will don a satisfied smile, lift my grandchildren onto my lap and looking into their wide, innocent eyes truthfully be able to answer: “Under the Dr Marten’s stand at Upton Park”.

Yesterday morning I woke early and wrote a short piece for the blog. I couldn’t sleep and had to note it all down – this place is called Tottenham On My Mind because it always is. It was the usual blather, a bit of analysis wrapped in an over-ripe call to arms, the core of blood and sweat with the romantic tinge plus a hint of destiny that is the way I see these big games.

Then in a moment it was gone. I toggled, it deleted. The first time wordpress has let me down. Busy day at work, no time to start again, or inclination for that matter. In the scheme of things it’s nothing, a half-life as long as it takes to drop from the first page of Newsnow, but it knocked me sideways for most of the morning. Mind you, concentration was difficult enough as the hours passed and kick-off approached.

Ah yes, kick-off…. My wife and her family support West Ham. We handle it in a manner befitting our intelligence and maturity. We don’t talk about it. Spurs – West Ham matches do not exist once I walk through the door, and as regular readers will know, I expend enough energy despising Chelsea so the Hammers don’t bother me too much in that sense. They are long-standing, loyal fans and until recently had season tickets, but then life changed, for the worse frankly, so they seldom go these days.

A while ago, they spotted an end-of-season testimonial for their long-serving youth manager and booked the tickets. She is disabled and I’m the only person who could take her, so with her daughter and grandson, off we went. The Wednesday prior to the last weekend of the league seemed a pretty safe bet, at the time…

Another time I’ll tell you about my lifetime of effort to watch Spurs, the promises broken, arrangements altered, relationships harmed, weddings missed. So trust me when I say, this was not the moment to add to that long list. So the 90 minutes passed for me in the disabled section of the main stand, in the front row but as my wife is also quite small, she couldn’t see properly over the advertising hoardings and so enjoyed the bizarre spectacle of seeing a game from the knees up.

My lovely daughter kept me well supplied with news via text and all in all, I think I handled it pretty well. I felt like throwing up with nerves for the entire time but resisted, so well done me. The final score came through as we were walking out and amidst the crowd of beery Hammers, I punched the air in silent delight.

Home late but it was hard to sleep, what with all the excitement. I switched on the TV and – Sky Plus had failed. So no comments or analysis today dear readers. I’m watching the meagre highlights as I write – couldn’t sleep again – but I don’t really care. On a day like this, how can any Spurs fan be down.

One final consequence of obsession. Deprived of the endless stream of drivel that the pundits spout, I was left to my own thoughts. Since the United game, I have fixed in my head the following mantra that I repeated over and over, my comfort blanket – 7 points from 3 games and no one can catch us. It’s in our hands, 7 points from 3 games.

So ingrained has this become that I even repeated it after the game, just one more point I told them, ignoring the exultant texts that I was receiving. Then, late at night in the silence of the dozing car, on a lonely motorway, it suddenly dawned on me that we had actually made it. I’m aware that this sounds bonkers, but genuinely I had not done the math. Perhaps subconsciously I did not believe that we would defeat City. I was so focussed and fixated that at the moment of our glory, I was still wrapped in anxiety about this coming Sunday.

No time to rhapsodise further, in print anyway. Just a reminder that on February 10th we lost 1-0 at Wolves in an appalling performance that signalled, surely, the end of our hopes of success. Since then – remarkable, astonishing, magnificent, glorious, wondrous. To every single one of them, thank you.

If you see a slightly portly bloke walking around central London today, wearing a suit, battered Spurs baseball cap and a navy cashmere scarf, come up to me and say ‘hallo’. To anyone who works with me and is going to my meeting today, well look out because I’ll be on fire. And to all Spurs fans out there, wherever in the world you may be, have a grand day, enjoy every last second and I love you all. If I knew where you lived, I’d come round and give you a hug personally.