It’s A Funny Old Life
by Jimmy Greaves

176 pages
Published by New English Library – Hodder And Staughton
ISBN  9781907637599
Price £3.50
Published 1991


With uncanny timing like that of the great goal-scorer who wrote this book, I began reading it a few days before he was sadly struck down with a stroke.  It makes it more interesting reading this book about “the second half of his life” after Jimmy had come out as an alcoholic and started a new career on “The Box” (as he slightly annoyingly continually refers to it throughout this book).

Very early on in proceedings, Greavsie identifies himself as a “Opionator” – a kind of cross between someone with opinions and a commentator.  As you progress through the pages, you find out that he is certainly not lost for an opinion !  Be it on the content of the television of the day, great sportsmen, the problems with football or people that he has come across in the world of TV.  None are spared the sharp edge of his tongue or his praise.

Some sections of the book now appear a bit contrived, with certain programmes or actors given a historical or biographical examination, which appears to be out of context with the main thrust of Jimmy giving his opinion on them.  There are a number of lists included, such as best players of the last 25 years, best teams of the last 25 years and at the end, Greaves has his own “awards” ceremony, with an A-Z of what is good and bad about TV since he took on his new role.  It gets a little bit cheesy, but if you like a pun, you will love this section.

Published in 1990, it offers an interesting view of football before the Premier League came into being and many of Jimmy’s hopes for the game (including a two year ban on transfers !) never had a chance to become reality.  An interview with Brian Clough from 1980 is as candid as you would expect, but Cloughie’s comment to the question asking what he would be doing in 1990 brought the answer, “I can’t visualise that I will still be in management.”  So that was wrong, as was Greaves’ vehement defence of newspaper claims that the Forest boss had a drink problem.  It’s all very well having an opinion, but when you are wrong, it leaves you open to criticism (other people’s opinion).

The clunky bits of the book are in stark contrast to when Greavsie gets into full flow.  His ire for certain subjects is like seeing him closing in on goal, smooth before the deadly finish.  I get the feeling he doesn’t like EastEnders (the TV soap, not the people), as he snipes at the programme throughout the book, but he also has a soft spot (at the end of his garden) for Julian Clary, Weather forecasters, the Awards system, Emlyn Hughes’ jumpers and the Lawn Tennis Association.  All feel the sharp edge of his tongue and there are some anecdotes about those along the way.

There is a fair amount of trying to put people off drinking and one section where Jimmy turns environmentalist, but there are sections dedicated to the halcyon days when Greaves glided across the turf.  The chapter about what had happened to the game he loved is quite interesting with perceptive views on referees and Greavsie then takes aim at coaches, hooligans and player loyalty.  Sometimes the master goal-scorer can pick his spot unerringly, but other times he uncharacteristically misses by a mile.  Names are dropped from great heights regularly and that can be a little jarring, but they are mostly part of his story and where they are not, it is simple to avoid paying too much attention to them.

Never afraid to give an opinion, Jimmy Greaves takes his goal-scoring mentality into the book.  He may miss a goal, but the next opportunity doesn’t get clouded by the previous effort.  The book is an interesting read and especially having the gift of hind-sight, there are some issue that it is easy to chuckle at (when you are not supposed to), but as Greaves moved on from his football career and his drinking nightmare, you cannot but have admiration for the re-invention he came up with … sort of the Alf Garnett of TV reviewing.

As he was looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren and less time getting into the papers for the wrong reasons, we all hope that he has as full a recovery as possible from his stroke and that he can enjoy his life with those he loves and owes much to.

Marco van Hip