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It captures him to a T. Look: eyes locked on the ball,
His face a mask of grim determination, he’s
Opening up like a cheetah chasing a springbok,
Showing the defender a clean pair of heels,
Who, lunging in, shows a studded sole in return.
It will gash his shin and need fourteen stitches.
It’s England v France at Wembley in July 1966.
They’re hosting the eighth World Cup competition.
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Geoff Hurst will take his place and grab his chance.
Alf Ramsey will decide not to change a winning team.
He will score a hat-trick in the final versus West Germany,
Become an English hero and a knight of the realm in 1998.
Jimmy will finally collect an MBE in 2021.
What a player he was! We were watching Match of The Day
On the BBC. It must have been in the late 60s,
Because the picture was still fuzzy black-and-white.
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Spurs had a free kick just outside the penalty area.
And twenty-one wild emotions were facing off
Over the defensive wall. “Come on, ref! Spurs players
Are muscling in!” “Their wall isn’t ten yards away!”
Only one man heard the referee’s whistle in the melee.
He stepped up with cerebral serenity from a short run
And placed the ball in the corner of the net,
While the goalkeeper was still shouting the odds.
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It was his intellect that set Jimmy Greaves apart.
But in the seventies his decline began.
He started to drink. And the more he drank
The lower he sank. Was a snowball of regret,
Resentment and self-doubt rolling around and
Growing in his mind? Did he wonder why Fate
Stole his chance to be England’s World Cup hero?
Would they even have won with him in the team?
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Were the snow clouds already louring as he sat out the final,
Suited in the July heat? Was his face ashen at the end amid
The ecstasy on the bench at the horror of his extinct dream
As the eleven men in red and white achieved immortality?
There was Nobby Stiles’s jig and Bobby Charlton’s tears.
Bobby Moore, chaired by the team, raising the Jules Rimet trophy
In his right hand. While the other squad members would only make
It into the footnotes of football history and the odd pub quiz.
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Ten years later I would stand on the terrace at Fulham F.C. for a
Testimonial match. On the team sheet were many players well
Past their prime. One of them was Jimmy Greaves. His hair was
Thinner but longer. He had a droopy moustache and sunken eyes.
But neither time nor alcohol had ravaged that great football brain.
With one touch he scored the greatest goal I have ever seen.
As of old he turned and ran back up the field for the restart.
There may have been a brief smile and a wave. But that was it.
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He beat the booze and found fame as the funny half of
Saint and Greavesie On TV. Always deadly serious on the pitch,
His on-screen barrow boy, cheeky chappie charm served him well.
Until football moved up-market. But as much as I enjoyed it,
It still grated on me. His erstwhile skill merited better tokens than
One-liners and a Spitting Image puppet Saying, “It’s a funny old game.”
It deserved to be preserved in joyous aspic in red and white on sweeping
Sward. With The Boys of 1966. At Wembley. But it wasn’t meant to be.