This is a tale of three England strikers – after Wayne Rooney finally eclipsed the age old England goalscoring record set by Bobby Charlton. Just in case you hadn’t heard about it…
Charlton’s record was established in 1968, when 2001: A Space Odyssey was the big cinema box office hit, West Bromwich Albion had beaten Everton 1-0 in the FA Cup Final, and The Beatles were topping the charts with Hey Jude. Charlton had, in turn, taken the record from the then current holder, Jimmy Greaves.
And all three men are therefore now in the media spotlight. Some pointless comparisons have been made during the extracted, drawn out coverage of ‘the record’. Yes, records are there to be broken, but many have broken down and used analysis to decide who was the ‘better’ player. Charlton is considered to be the more accomplished. After all, we are told, his goals came from midfield. And he has a World Cup winners medal. So he has to be the best.
Yet the obvious point to make here is that no era can be compared like-for-like because football, along with so many other sports, has changed immeasurably over the decades. Watch video footage of England’s finest hour as they dismantled West Germany in July 1966 and one thing will strike you above everything else. The pedestrian pace of the game. When I first watched the entire game when it was shown during many commemorative repeats over the years, I was amazed.
The players had so much time on the ball, it looked almost medieval compared to the lung-bursting pace of today’s modern game. Charlton’s 49 goals? Well, he probably had time to style his famous comb-over before unleashing his trademark thunderous shots for many of them.
Rooney, for his efforts, has had to contend with a completely different style of play. His goals (and career) have also been subject to the most intense, media frenzy in years. One of the most famous footballers in the country (and the world to boot), his sporting achievements have been carried out under the immovable glare of being a pseudo-celebrity. In truth, we should applaud and celebrate the records of both men – not pitch them upsides each other like some fantastical, gladiatorial event and allow everyone with an opinion to decide who is better.
And that brings me full circle – on to the plight of Jimmy Greaves. Greaves, ironically, is arguably the most natural goal scorer of the trio. Yes, generational comparisons do mean little, but Greaves certainly has that aura about him that suggests that given an injury-free career, his prowess in an England shirt would have put the record way beyond Rooney, even in today’s fixture friendly era.
Greaves’ 44 England goals came in just 57 appearances – and he also scored 13 in 12 ‘Under 23’ games. Given the prolific talent Greaves had at his disposal, it is surely worth noting that had he earned anything like the 106 caps that the other duo have (to date), his haul would have probably stood for an eternity.
Yet it troubles me that in the frenzy to report the Charlton-versus-Rooney showdown, Greaves himself is currently undergoing far more challenges off the pitch than he ever did when donning the white of Tottenham or the red of the Three Lions. Greaves suffered a stroke in May, and there has been a weekend of publicity – no doubt timed to coincide with the ‘record’ that has seen his story widely (but not significantly) reported in the media.
The tragic element of this story is that there has been a charitable drive forward to try and raise £30,000 for the ex-England legend. This will pay for his much-needed home care treatment, yet the story went on that, being some way short of that target, those who had donated so far would have their generosity returned to them if the magical mark wasn’t met.
This course of action particularly befuddled me. In this day and age of near billion-pound transfer windows and sky high wages, £30,000 is something most top players in the country will have earned before completing a week’s training. There have been reports of Tottenham, the players’ union and others offering heart warming support to Greaves in his greatest time of need.
Yet the unpalatable truth is that, for all the gnashing of teeth and obsessive clamour there was for Rooney to eclipse the record of the great Sir Bobby, the one player whose plight should really gain the attention of the soccer world is being overlooked. It is unthinkable that with the money gushing around today’s game, a true footballing gent and authentic superstar is struggling to be supported by a sport he gave so much to.
It would warm the hearts of millions if Rooney, after finally breaking that darned record – topped up the Greaves fund in what would be a true comparable action to the stars of years gone by.