After Ben Stokes almost singlehandedly blasted England to victory in the latest Ashes Test against Australia, we look back at when the most natural goalscorer in Chelsea’s history did it all himself on his final appearance in the famous blue shirt.
Many of our overseas readers may well be looking at this thinking: ‘Ben who?’ For those of you not into your cricket – and, indeed, those reading this Down Under – perhaps skip over the next paragraph. After all, it is a sport where two teams can spend five days facing one another and there might not even be a winner.
The rest of you can rejoice at the recollection of one of the greatest innings ever played, as Stokes smashed England to the unlikeliest of victories against the Aussies with a quite incredible knock, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. He even starred with the ball, just to emphasis the ‘one-man band’ level of performance.
In football, there is less of an individual nature about things; of course, there are battles all over the pitch – centre-back v striker, winger against full-back, midfielders squaring off – but it’s not as concentrated. Apart from, say a penalty, there are few truly decisive moments between one player from each side.
Even so, there are still occasions when a footballer performs above-and-beyond every one of the 21 peers sharing a pitch with them. Chelsea have seen plenty of them, including in some remarkable comebacks, but our focus in this blog is on the display of a man who confessed to thinking morning, noon and night about scoring goals. That man is Jimmy Greaves.
With 366 top-flight goals from a career which ended prematurely at the age of 31, Greaves was the all-time leading scorer across Europe’s big five leagues, before being surpassed by Cristiano Ronaldo. However, it’s the other modern contender for the title of football’s best ever, Lionel Messi, who Greaves has often been likened to, for his mazy dribbles and stroked finishes, rarely putting his foot through the ball when a side-foot could do the job just as well.
Stepping up for his first-team debut as a 17-year-old, Greaves immediately looked at home in Ted Drake’s side and marked the occasion with a goal in a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, the ground he would later call home. He never stopped scoring.
Across 168 appearances for the club, he had accrued a tally of 128 goals; magnificent by anyone’s standards, but even more impressive when you consider he did this while taking his first steps in professional football.
Sadly, appearance No169 was to be his last in a Chelsea shirt, for he had caught the eye of AC Milan and was soon to be heading for Serie A for a short-lived, and ultimately frustrating, stint in Italy. But he wouldn’t leave without giving Blues supporters one final reminder of his unique talents.
Nottingham Forest were the visitors to Stamford Bridge, which saw more than 20,000 fans of the Pensioners gather to say farewell to the goalscorer extraordinaire who, with his 21st birthday still to come, had netted 39 times in his final campaign at the club.Unlike in Stokes’ one-man show, there was little at stake here, with both sides stuck in mid-table. For Greaves, however, there was an opportunity to cement his legacy.
Handed the captain’s armband, he set about adding to the five hat-tricks he had already netted that season, firing home two goals before half-time and then completing his treble to put us 3-1 ahead shorty after the break.
Forest, however, were not going down without a fight and they looked to have spoiled Greaves’ party when they drew level at 3-3. Then, in an ending that would not have looked out of place in Roy of the Rovers, the man of the hour netted a stoppage-time winner to ensure the most fitting of farewells.
It took him onto 43 goals for the season, a tally which has never been bettered by any Chelsea player, past or present, and the scenes at the final whistle were something every budding young footballer dreams of.
Hundreds of fans ran onto the pitch to hoist their hero up onto their shoulders, chairing him towards the tunnel. What a way to bow out – a true Blue hero.
‘It was a great tribute from the supporters,’ he said when reminiscing about it in the matchday programme years later. ‘Wonderful stuff, a fairy tale – a most fitting farewell.’