EXCLUSIVE: Hurst hails Greaves as the 'greatest goalscorer we've seen'

EXCLUSIVE: Sir Geoff Hurst hails Jimmy Greaves as the ‘greatest goalscorer we have ever seen’ and insists the English icon deserves to finally be honoured with MBE

  • Jimmy Greaves is set to finally receive an MBE in New Years’ honours list
  • Sir Geoff Hurst fronted Sportsmail’s campaign to finally get Greavsie a gong 
  • Hurst scored a hat-trick when Greaves was sidelined in the 1966 World Cup final 
  • He insists Greaves is the greatest English striker that the game has seen 

One man’s greatest opportunity was his friend’s greatest disappointment and the lives of Sir Geoff Hurst and Jimmy Greaves have been bound together for 54 years and counting thanks to one twist of World Cup fate.

‘In terms of being intertwined it is as close as you could get,’ says Hurst, who led the Sportsmail campaign to finally secure a gong for Greavsie.

‘All because of that one instance. Jimmy was injured against the French and somewhat luckily I made my debut in the quarter-final. We did well, I performed well and he struggled to get back in.

Sir Geoff Hurst believes Jimmy Greaves was the greatest striker ever produced by England

Greaves is set to finally going to get his deserved gong when he’s honoured with an MBE 

‘It happens in all sorts of sports when one person replaces another. I’ve always thought I took my opportunity because I hadn’t been disappointed to be left out at the start of the World Cup when I was competing with Jimmy and Roger Hunt.

‘Jimmy was bitterly disappointed but not for one second was that feeling shown on a personal level.

‘The question would often come up when we did theatre shows or the Q&As about whether Jimmy and I still got on, or whether there was any animosity over what happened on that day. There was not and there never will be.’

Hurst scored the only goal of England’s quarter-final against Argentina and, of course, three in the final against West Germany. He retains his unique place in footballing history as the only player to score a hat-trick in the showpiece.

Geoff Hurst was England’s World Cup final hero, but was fortunate to replace Greaves 

Hurst insists that despite Greaves’ brutal disappointment the icon has never showed it 

The honours followed. He received an MBE in 1979, was knighted in 1998 and his life since has been defined by those few weeks in the summer of ’66.

A statue of him with Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson can be found at the end of Green Street, near the old West Ham ground in Upton Park.

On the day we met he was about to record a sketch for Sport Relief about VAR and his second goal in the World Cup final, the one which crashed off the bar and down on to the line at Wembley and was awarded after the referee consulted with the ‘Russian linesman’ Tofiq Bahramov, who was actually from Azerbaijan.

Greaves’s achievements are mightily impressive, too. No one has scored more goals in the top flight of English football than his 357 for Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham.

Only Wayne Rooney, Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker have scored more for England and not at the same rate as his 44 goals in 57 international appearances.

Hurst may have scored the most famous hat-trick but no one has scored more England hat-tricks then Greaves, the master finisher. 

Yet there have been no formal honours for Greaves until now. No statue. And this was the reason Hurst was determined to lead Sportsmail’s ‘Gong for Greavsie’ campaign, which we launched earlier this year.

There was an overwhelming reaction from our readers — not only Spurs fans. More than 32,000 signed an online petition in support of the campaign.

‘It is important Jimmy is remembered by this generation and future generations as the great player he was,’ says Hurst. ‘It’s our sporting heritage, it’s our national game, it’s the world game and you are talking about the greatest goalscorer we have ever seen.

‘He was a genius at doing one of the hardest things in the game: putting the ball in the back of the net.

Greaves scored 44 goals in 57 matches for his nation, a scoring-rate nobody has bettered 

The legendary striker was also prolific for Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham in his club career 

‘He did it at a time when the game was physically much more violent than we see today. And he started at Chelsea with a team predominantly in the middle of the table.

‘We’re not talking about Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have done it with the two teams who have dominated in Spain and are beating teams four, five and six nothing.

‘In his England games, at the top level where it was tough, his ratio is better than anybody’s, 44 in 57, it’s fantastic. There’s no argument in football terms.’

Greaves is back home after a health scare earlier this month which required a short time in hospital. The 80-year-old has been confined to a wheelchair since a severe stroke five years ago.

It limited his vision and speech and robbed him of the quick wit and sense of mischief which endeared him to his armchair audience when he returned to the public eye in the 1980s as a TV pundit and presenter, having beaten the perils of alcoholism. 

‘He was always a cheeky little imp,’ says 78-year-old Hurst. ‘At schoolboy level he would predict how many goals he would score, like Muhammad Ali when he forecast the knockout round.

The 80-year-old goalscorer (pictured with Harry Kane) was the victim of a stroke five years ago

‘He’s always had this carefree attitude and it was linked to his success as a goalscorer.

‘In golf you miss a putt and the next hole comes along and the poor players are still thinking about the putt they missed. With Jimmy, if he missed, that was gone.

‘He once missed a penalty for Spurs against us. He knocked it over the top and came back to the halfway line and we knew each other well enough at the time to talk during the game. ‘Geoffrey,’ he said, ‘sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t.’ In the nicest possible way, he couldn’t give a damn. That was his character.’

Greaves would only play three times more for England after the World Cup of 1966. What should have been his finest moment had become the greatest disappointment of his career.

His final cap was won in a friendly against Austria in Vienna, in May 1967, when he played up front with Hurst. Alan Ball scored the only goal.

The 1066 World Cup should have been Greaves’ greatest moment but it was a disappointment

When the friends were teammates again it was after Greaves joined West Ham in March 1970 as a makeweight in Tottenham’s swoop for Peters.

‘He was probably slightly past his best but it was enjoyable,’ says Hurst. ‘It was a great start. We scored two goals each on his debut, a famous game back in the days when we could go up to Manchester City and win 5-1. Ronnie Boyce volleyed the other one straight into the net from a kick by their goalkeeper, Joe Corrigan.

‘I’ve a great picture of Jimmy and me which was taken in that game. One of us had scored and we’re congratulating each other and we’re absolutely caked in mud from head to toe, as usual in those days. So Jimmy was still scoring goals. Maybe not as many as he had been doing but don’t forget he was in the Chelsea first team at 17.

‘In those days if you were a striker as brilliant as he was, you would probably expect to be finishing your career at around the age he was, which was 31.

Hurst (holding the trophy) had to watch in the final as his replacement bagged the glory 

‘I’m not sure if he had started drinking. I never knew he was a drinker or an alcoholic. I only found out when I read it in the newspaper when it dropped as a front-page story. I’d never heard any rumours about his problems.’

Greaves retired in 1971 after little more than a year at West Ham. Hurst departed the following year to join Stoke for £80,000.

‘I wasn’t as close to him as Mooro — they were room-mates — but I enjoyed his company,’ said Hurst. ‘After we finished playing, I enjoyed seeing him from time to time and I enjoyed being on his theatre shows.

‘He is someone I have admired tremendously as a player and as a person. He was always a smashing guy to be with, just brilliantly funny.’ 

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