As Jimmy Greaves celebrated his 80th birthday there were nationwide calls for him to be knighted – but it could have been so tragically different.
England’s finest goal scorer admits four words on the Sunday People’s front page decades ago saved his life.
“Drink is killing me”, screamed the 1978 headline. That jolted Jimmy into action before it was too late.
The striker, who hit 44 goals in only 57 England games, turned to us to tell a searingly honest account of his alcoholism. And the former Chelsea, AC Milan, Tottenham and West Ham star has not had a drink since.
On Thursday the legend turned 80 and this week more than 20,000 fans added their calls for the Queen to make him Sir Jimmy.
Friends told how Greavsie, who would go on to enjoy a seven-year spell as a TV pundit beside Liverpool great Ian St John, grew to realise that going public with his illness not only saved his life but many others as well.
His pal Terry Baker said he has never forgotten seeing his copy of the People with Greavsie’s cry for help.
Terry, speaking after a feature-length documentary called Greavsie, aired on BT Sport, told us: “I remember walking into my grandmother’s house when I was a young man and seeing the front page story.
"It was heartbreaking, to me and loads of Jimmy’s fans.
“Years later, when I got to know him really well, he told me that the story was going to come out anyway so it was best he did it himself.
“He was pretty heartbroken that it was going to be in the public domain. He hated the fact it had happened and he hated when it came out with all the publicity that surrounded it.
"But he came to realise that it was the day that probably saved his life, because it really shocked him and he didn’t want people to know about the state he’d got himself into.
“That was the day that woke him up and made him see sense.”
At the time of the interview, Greavsie asked his eldest daughter Lynn to drive him to Warley Hospital in Brentwood, Essex, but they stopped on the way.
Terry said: “He went to a pub near the hospital where he was a voluntary patient. He had a pint and a brandy, and said, ‘What with all the publicity and the other things I’m ashamed of what has happened.
"This is my last ever drink.’
“Unlike a huge number of other alcoholics, that was his last ever drink.
“In order to become sober he pretty much abandoned his social life. He stopped going out to pubs and made sure he wasn’t around drink. To this day he has not had a drink, even with everything that has gone on with his health.
“When we were out on the road doing dinners together, if there was a nice-looking dessert he’d sometimes get me to taste it to make sure it hadn’t been cooked in alcohol.
“I’ve got more admiration for him now than when he was the greatest goal scorer in England.”
In the Sunday People interview, Greavsie, who became a columnist for the paper up until the day he had a massive stroke in May 2015, said: “I have to face up to the truth.
"If I carry on drinking I will kill myself.
“I probably go through half a bottle of vodka before the pubs open in the morning. And when the pubs open, I hit them.
"I drink beer in the pubs, not spirits. Then I carry on with vodka after they close.
“I’d say I drink a minimum of a bottle or a bottle-and-a-half of vodka and about 12 pints of beer a day.
“I am a very sick man. I am a social drinker who went off the rails, without realising it.
“I hope people will understand and have the compassion to realise this is a serious illness.”
Terry said: “He goes out once a week with his son Danny. He goes to the barbers and they have breakfast somewhere.
“He’s in a wheelchair permanently and he’s struggling. But he’s still there smiling when he can.”
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