Jimmy Greaves missed the 1966 World Cup final, never won the league, was not knighted yet he was still an all-time great

Jimmy Greaves, who has died aged 81, ought to have been one of English football's great immortals but had to settle for being an all-time great.

At the start of the tournament, if you had told Greaves the 1966 World Cup final would end with England's centre-forward scoring a match-winning hat-trick, the arch poacher would have been absolutely delighted. As it is, he watched from the stands having decided staying away would have been unfair on his team-mates.

The 1966 World Cup was the last without substitutes, and only those who played in the final got winners' medals. It was 2009 before FIFA relented and minted them for the likes of Greaves and Norman Hunter, even more disgracefully this January before he was awarded an MBE.

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An ever-present at the last tournament and in the group stage, Greaves needed 14 stitches in his shin after the match against France. Geoff Hurst played and scored against Argentina in the quarter-finals and although Greaves quickly declared himself fit the rest is such famous history it does not need repeating.

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Quite what effect it had on 26-year-old Greaves we will never really know.

Just three caps later he retired from international football in 1969 too proud to be a bit-part player for a team he scored 44 goals in 57 appearances for but played club football until 1979-80, sliding down the pyramid into semi-professional football as he fought his demons.

England's greatest team had a drinking culture Greaves was an enthusiastic part of and it caught up with him in the next phase of his life. He reinvented himself as a broadcaster only for his last chapter to be equally tragic.

In 1978 Greaves shamed himself into action, telling a national newspaper: "If I carry on drinking I will kill myself."

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“I probably go through half a bottle of vodka before the pubs open in the morning," he said. "And when the pubs open, I hit them.

“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."

Greaves gave up the booze and carved out a career as a jovial TV pundit, often alongside Ian St John. During the 1990 World Cup he made studio appearances wearing T-shirts carrying corny slogans punning on the match he was covering.

That bubbly personality on top of his redemption made the May 2015 stroke which left him wheelchair-bound and his speech severely impaired even more cruel.

Multiple campaigns to have him knighted garnered tens of thousands of supporters except where it mattered.

The sad parts of the story need retelling as a cautionary tale in a sport where off-field vices are as dangerous as ever, but the many good ones have to be celebrated too.

From the moment he scored on his Chelsea debut aged 17 Greaves was one of the game's great goalscorers.

Sold to AC Milan for £80,000 in 1961, he tried too late to back out of the deal and was never happy, yet still scored nine goals in 14 appearances before returning home to a Tottenham Hotspur side in its golden era under Scarborough-born manager Bill Nicholson. As at Chelsea and Milan, he scored on his debut although this time a hat-trick.

He won the FA Cup in his first season, the European Cup Winners' Cup in his second.

Then came 1966 and all that, and at West Ham United (two goals on that debut), alcohol started to beat him. He did not go near a football ground for two years before playing for Brentwood and Witham Town and Chelmsford City, then Barnet and Woodford Town after a spell in the alcoholics' ward of Warley Psychiatric Hospital.

Often numbers do not tell the full story but in the case of goalscorers they can.

Greaves scored 357 goals in 516 games in English football's top division. In Europe’s top five leagues, only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have outscored him.

He never won a league title, never became a sir and never played in England's finest hour but make no mistake, Jimmy Greaves will always be a footballing legend.