Jimmy Greaves’ former England teammate Terry Paine described the late Tottenham striker as a natural who would be “untouchable” in the score book if he played today.
Greaves, who died on Sunday at the age of 81, still holds many records – he is Tottenham’s leading scorer with 266 goals in 379 games, while his 41 goals in 40 league appearances for Chelsea in 1960-61 remain a club record.
Greaves has also scored 44 goals in 57 appearances for England, but although the numbers help quantify his talent, Paine said they couldn’t describe him correctly.
“The word may be overused, but with it it just came naturally,” Paine told the PA News Agency from his home in South Africa.
“Any ball in the zone, any chance he got, he wasn’t a hitter, he was a placer.
“You have to remember the conditions in which he had to play, his balance was absolutely first class… On some fields, you were in the mud up to your knees and there, he skated like a ballerina.
“Think about the goals he would have scored today, especially with the offside rules as they are. There were so many times Jimmy was good on the game, but because of his speed and his sharpness, it was still over the last four and was offside.
“Today he would have been untouchable when it comes to the goal ratio.”
Paine called Greaves an “absolute gentleman” whose company was a lot like his game – easy.
“He was very down to earth, a boy from London who was having a good time,” said the great Southampton player. “I never remember that he was in a bad mood, that he always laughed, that he joked and that it was easy to get along.
“And that’s how he played the game – easy. There never seemed to be an effort with him. It just came easily on and off the pitch …
“Everything he did in the game, he didn’t need a game plan to know what to do. It wouldn’t do any good to tell Jimmy to follow the full-back or chase anyone – that wasn’t Jimmy’s game. He was unique.
Greaves and Paine were both members of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team, although neither made it to the final.
But Paine said his favorite memories with England were both coming to play alongside Greaves in 1963.
The first was a friendly against an eleven from the rest of the world which included Alfredo Di Stefano, Denis Law, Eusebio, Lev Yashin, among others – Paine scoring first and Greaves winning a 2-1 victory who told manager Alf Ramsey his England the team were on the right track.
The other was an 8-3 rout from Northern Ireland to Wembley in which Greaves again stole the show from Paine.
“I scored a hat-trick and then I thought I could make the headlines the next day, and Jimmy went on to score four,” Paine recalls with a chuckle. “It was typical of Jimmy to appear with a fourth.
“But one thing you’ve never regretted is that he made the headlines because he deserved it.”