In the presence of a boyhood hero I am impressed by the charm, gentle, self-effacing humour and undeniably sharp wit. I have read the book, “Greavesie” and found it fascinating, filled with detail and, in some places, particularly when dealing with alcoholism blindingly honest and filled with character, but to hear the man speak …
It’s the Garrick Theatre in Lichfield, we have what are becoming our regular seats (booked early, Friends Discount and mid auditorium, slightly above the level of the stage where vision and sound are optimum). The lights, red, blue and red dim after the obligatory “mobile phones off” public address, there is a short introduction and the man himself walks on.
He’s on his feet then for the next hour and twenty minutes, going through a routine, jokes and cheeky jibes with a smattering of coarse, but harmless rough language. It’s laddish rather than offensive and seems so natural it escapes notice after a while and delivered with a roguish rapidity that is fascinating in a tone that at first seems overly slow, but is soon professionally paced; enabling thought to keep up with the monologue. It is the same show, but freshly delivered, slightly different anecdotes and the additions and omissions are irrelevant. The references are topical: the European Championships, Piers Morgan and the style one-on-one conversational. He quickly establishes a rapport with the –mainly male, audience that is a credit to his nature and the breadth of what he is talking about.
This is Jimmy Greaves, the former Tottenham (spurs) and England forward, famed for his second to none (in England) goal scoring record (three goals, apparently for every four professional games he played (at the highest levels)) in the last of his “theatre tour” shows. As boy I remember Spurs making all of the headlines, some years earlier they had completed the League and F.A. Cup double: a remarkable feat, were famous for playing open, stylish football and signed the man who became the goal scoring legend I watched last night. The photographs of him in various games, invariably scoring a goal, or getting congratulated after one (at least one in some cases), was it Brylcreem that kept the hair in place (?), the sharp features, confidence looking at the or past the camera, the crowd – always in tones of back-page black and white.
He talked knowledgably, intelligently, articulately and artfully about a game for which he obviously has great passion, which made him famous while almost certainly leading to his addiction to alcohol, the characters from his own heyday and some anecdotes from matches or life in general. There was a twenty minute interval and he is back on stage: some more talk, then in conversation with members of the audience, showing speed of thought and wit that would have been at home in the dressing room and gets genuine applause here.
But my abiding feeling is that he was fine with the fame, but never gave himself the credit for his achievements, shrugging it off ( he said it himself in response to a question during the show) as something completely natural, “a gift”, something he trained at, but did not need to work hard to maintain, something simply instinctive. How different in comparison many of today’s “stars” seem, with agents and hyperbole and media attention – perhaps it is a s well that the Greaves career was ending as these trends came into place: the fascination with celebrity as opposed to achievement.
However as he himself confessed, while struggling at the end of a glorious career he was given a second chance by Midlands TV and this was a an area he had to work at, from which perhaps his knowledge of current media comes, the endless easily summoned store of jokes and his apparent attachment to this region. I remember the “Saint and Greavesie” shows for their humour, banter and the expansion into other sporting areas (the ride on the back of Barry Sheene’s motorbike at seriously high speed around some race circuit for example). But there is something else engaging about listening to someone this at home with their lives recounting stories and memories that I find reassuring; but I find that while I enjoyed it very much I cannot define it – and maybe that is exactly the point.
I was in the presence of a legend, not disappointed but enlightened by the assurance he showed and the light he brought to the theatre.