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England legend Jimmy Greaves was ahead of his time and a true pioneer for mental health awareness

WE LOVED him for Saint and Greavsie, his Spitting Image puppet, ‘It’s A Funny Old Game’ and all that.

And his football, well that almost goes without saying.

Spurs and England legend Jimmy Greaves sadly died on Sunday aged 81


Spurs and England legend Jimmy Greaves sadly died on Sunday aged 81

After news of his death on Sunday morning, many of us said plenty about Jimmy Greaves, goal machine and national treasure.

But it is important to recognise the true depth of the man, too.

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Many people are aware that Greaves was a recovering alcoholic for more than half of his life — yet it is not widely understood quite what a pioneer he was in discussing addiction and mental health.

Perhaps it was that Greaves was not evangelical about such issues, as many who have been through such life-changing experiences quite understandably are.

Perhaps it was because his comedic TV persona allowed him to be typecast as some kind of clown. And, hell, he was funny. It’s just that he was far more than that.

But I like to think it was simply that Greaves was decades ahead of his time, in speaking so honestly and bluntly about subjects which have only very recently lost their stigma in wider public discourse.

When Greaves first wrote and spoke about his alcoholism, just a year after his final drink, back in 1979, the impact was huge.

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And yet, with hindsight, it is almost certainly true that, as a nation, we weren’t fully ready for such conversations.

That year, Greaves released an autobiography ‘This One’s On Me’ and the following year was also the subject of a TV documentary ‘Just For Today’, in which he discussed his descent into addiction and the early stages of his recovery.

You can dip into either today and feel genuinely staggered that the man was talking more than 40 years ago.

At the time, Greaves’ words would surely have inspired some fellow addicts. They would have changed lives and they probably saved a few, too.

But discussing mental health would not begin to lose its taboo status for more than three decades after that.

Tony Adams, another great footballer so affected by alcoholism, opened his Sporting Chance Clinic 21 years ago — supporting sportspeople with mental and emotional health problems.

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The clinic has helped many thousands but, until fairly recently, stigma remained.

He was loved for his part in TV show 'Saint and Greavsie' with Ian St John


He was loved for his part in TV show ‘Saint and Greavsie’ with Ian St JohnCredit: Rex

Many who needed help would not seek it, and many others in the competitive world of sport would remain ignorant and disdainful.

However, Greaves understood always. He had an uncommon empathy for fellow addicts and he would rarely indulge in knee-jerk criticism of others being vilified for crimes and misdemeanours either.

It wasn’t just his own addiction that Greaves could discuss so frankly.

Yesterday, I watched a clip from 1981 on Twitter, of Greaves being interviewed by the late, great journalist Ian Wooldridge.

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There, he discusses his experience of missing the 1966 World Cup final with honesty, clarity, depth and supreme self-awareness.

It couldn’t have been much further away from the ‘funny old game’ routine. Again, that interview feels a whole generation ahead of its time.

I collaborated with Greaves on a newspaper column between 2008 and 2014 and the man had a wonderful turn of phrase and an extraordinary gift for telling anecdotes.

I often told him that if he hadn’t possessed such genius as a footballer, he’d have made a damned good journalist.

Football paid tribute to the goalscoring legend on Sunday


Football paid tribute to the goalscoring legend on SundayCredit: Getty

To which he replied that such a career move would hardly have meant him drinking any less.

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Most of those columns were breezy and nostalgic but those I remember best were the serious ones.

Soon after Greaves had performed a short theatre tour with Paul Gascoigne, the grimly predictable news was widely reported that Gazza had fallen off the wagon in fairly spectacular style.

I wasn’t sure whether Jim would want to discuss it, particularly as he had spent a lot of recent time in Gascoigne’s company.

Yet he immediately dictated — and this was dictation not ghostwriting — a bleak, stark, fearful piece about the nature of alcoholism, his pessimism for Gascoigne and his enduring grief for his dear friend George Best.

It was probably the best piece of copy I ever filed and I had virtually nothing to do with it.

We are now, thank heaven, in an age of increasing enlightenment and openness about mental health.

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Greaves was there in 1979. But as any opposition defender would tell you, he always arrived before you expected him.

Bootiful last tribute

IF they’d handed out Golden Boots for the top goalscorer in the English top-flight during the 1950s and ’60s, Jimmy Greaves would have won six in 11 years.

I am indebted to a friend for this idea, but am delighted to float it — how about they re-name the Premier League Golden Boot award in Greaves’ honour?

And especially as this nation was so bad at recognising the great man during his lifetime, making him wait until he was 80 for so much as an MBE.

Clock ticks on Al’s Toon stay

ALLAN SAINT-MAXIMIN is a genuine gets-you-off-your-seat, worth-the-entrance-fee-alone type of footballer.

And so you simply cannot imagine him sticking around for much longer at Newcastle United while, in the words of manager Steve Bruce, that club is simply “ticking along”.

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Allan Saint-Maximin could leave Newcastle if they continue the way they are


Allan Saint-Maximin could leave Newcastle if they continue the way they areCredit: Getty

It’s Jess a bit odd

IT WAS amusing to see Jesse Lingard banging home a late winner for Manchester United at West Ham and then not celebrating.

United are the club he loved as a boy and has played for all his career — but he refused to celebrate because of a loan spell at the Irons last season.

It also says much about the nonsense of allowing loans between Premier League clubs.

But at least Lingard played for West Ham.

In 2014, Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan refused to celebrate a goal against Aston Villa — a club he never played for — as his old boss Paul Lambert tried to sign him for Villa a few months earlier.

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Jesse Lingard didn't celebrate his late winner for Man Utd at West Ham


Jesse Lingard didn’t celebrate his late winner for Man Utd at West HamCredit: AFP

No fancy talk, Pep

THE Pep Guardiola versus Manchester City fans thing seemed like a load of unnecessary old tosh.

Everyone knows City do not have the vast fanbase of Manchester United or Liverpool, including Guardiola — and there is nothing more tedious than fans of well-supported clubs banging on about how ‘big’ they are.

Also, everyone knows how expensive tickets are for European and Cup ties on top of season tickets.

City fans probably don’t even want their ground filled by thousands of glory-hunters either.

So, please let’s move on from this one.

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Pep Guardiola called on more Man City fans to attend games


Pep Guardiola called on more Man City fans to attend gamesCredit: EPA

Ron’s still paying the penalty

WHEN Cristiano Ronaldo re-signed for Manchester United, many mentioned his long-lost reputation for going down too easily.

But having watched him at West Ham on Sunday, even though he genuinely should have won at least one penalty, the only conclusion must be Ronaldo does still go down too easily.

Cristiano Ronaldo was denied a penalty on Sunday when he appeared to be brought down


Cristiano Ronaldo was denied a penalty on Sunday when he appeared to be brought downCredit: PA

Nu no chance

IT took Tottenham 72 days to appoint Nuno Espirito Santo as Jose Mourinho’s successor.

Having watched Spurs being obliterated by Chelsea in the second half of Sunday’s derby — and hearing Nuno speaking of the ‘positives’ — you have to wonder whether he will remain in his post for as long as 72 days of this Premier League season.

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Nuno Espirito Santo's Tottenham side were demolished by Chelsea on Sunday


Nuno Espirito Santo’s Tottenham side were demolished by Chelsea on SundayCredit: Rex

MARK CLATTENBURG claims that behind the smiley persona, Jurgen Klopp is a ‘sour loser’ and a ‘strange bloke’.

You might believe the former Premier League referee is a publicity-seeking rent-a-quote. But plenty of refs and rival bosses would privately tell you the same of Liverpool’s manager.

CHILDREN with cardboard placards begging for a player’s shirt.
Modern-day penny-for-the-Guy beggars.

I don’t care how young they are. And you can lay some of the blame on their ‘responsible adults’.

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But, quite frankly, they can do one.

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