Saint and Greavsie: Why Jimmy Greaves was loved as a broadcaster, not just a footballer

While Jimmy Greaves' goals explain the hero worship and the respect, they do not fully explain why he was loved by a nation; Greaves died on Sunday, aged 81

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Gary Neville paid tribute to legendary striker and broadcaster Jimmy Greaves, who died on Sunday aged 81.

For a child of the '80s, it was difficult to believe that this avuncular figure wise-cracking his way through half an hour of afternoon television had once been England's greatest-ever striker. But for many it is this version of Jimmy Greaves, the football pundit, that abides.

That transformation into national treasure after overcoming his alcohol problems adds poignancy to the obituaries following Greaves' death on Sunday, aged 81. It provides an attractive redemptive arc to his journey. The hero who conquered his demons.

The stories have quite rightly put the focus on why he first found fame - it is the story of the greatest goalscorer these islands have yet seen. But while those goals explain the hero worship and the respect, they do not fully explain why he was loved by a nation.

Jimmy Greaves during the Royal Mail Stamp Launch at Wembley Stadium on May 8, 2013 in London, England.
Image: Jimmy Greaves during the Royal Mail Stamp Launch at Wembley Stadium on May 8, 2013 in London, England

That came later. That is the story of Saint and Greavsie.

He was the counterbalance not just to straight-man Ian St John but to the more staid offering over on BBC, Football Focus having predated it. Greaves introduced fun, an awareness of the absurdity in a game both funny and old but a game, nevertheless.

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Tottenham supporters recall their memories of Greaves, the club's record goalscorer

Nostalgia brings a tendency to frame the past in its greater context and imbue meaning. This was a changing time for the game. The show first aired in the wake of Heysel in 1985 and came to an abrupt end with the advent of the Premier League in 1992.

As such, the sense of place and time feels significant, but for the viewers who lived and loved the show, it was not the overriding emotion. It is the sheer fun that endures.

"What a strange old sport, the winner dipping their cox in the water afterwards," said Greaves, reflecting on that day's University Boat Race. That line sparked the customary nervous laughter from St John as he attempted to swiftly move things along.

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Sky Sports' Graeme Souness pays tribute to former Tottenham, Chelsea and England forward Greaves

Childish, perhaps, but it summed up the charm, the sense, as a youngster, that you are hearing something that you should not be hearing. That is always appealing. And if St John did not know what Greaves was about to say next, how could the audience?

There were the silly hats, flashing bow ties and references to Scotland with its supposedly dodgy goalkeepers. Even the show's own prizes were mocked. "I bet that's a good read," said Greaves of the 1992 England football annual.

Some of the clichés might now be regarded as tired but they are clichés because of Greaves' ubiquity. Six million viewers switched on, remarkable by today's standards. He had his own Spitting Image puppet - the ultimate proof of 1980s notoriety. A household name.

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Harry Redknapp pays tribute to Greaves and says the striker was a 'fantastic footballer and a great person' off the pitch

Upon his passing, the outpouring of emotion has been as remarkable as the statistics that will ensure his name is remembered long after we are all gone. That emotion is because of Jimmy Greaves, the broadcaster and the man, as well as Jimmy Greaves, the goalscorer.

'It was a special show'

Sky Sports' Gary Neville:

"My experience of Jimmy Greaves was on television with Ian St John. I don't usually post pictures of people that I don't know on social media when they pass away because I don't know them, but I felt like I knew Jimmy Greaves. He was a massive part of my childhood.

"I saw Jamie Carragher post something out earlier and a number of players of my era who grew up with Saint and Greavsie and it was special. I've always watched live football and it takes a lot for me to watch a non-live football show. It's the only show I would consistently make sure I was in the house to watch every single week.

"I absolutely loved it - football, personality, character, humour - it was a huge part of my upbringing and enjoyment of football. That was down to Jimmy Greaves. He massively helped with my understanding of the game and he touched everybody.

"When I watched Jimmy Greaves on television, there was always humour and enjoyment. People remember him as a footballer but also as a broadcaster."

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