When I was a kid, everyone wanted to be Jimmy Greenhoff. Adults did, too. And everyone remembers where they were when they heard Jimmy was to leave Stoke City. For those not old enough to be around at that time, it was huge news. A massive disappointment that I have never seen the likes of since.
I was in my nan’s living room in Cobridge. I’d been throwing a woolly, home-made pom-pom against a wall and volleying it when it bounced back into imaginary goals. Guess who I was trying to be?
The news then came on the radio. I was heartbroken. It’s ironic that as we poured Jimmy a cup of tea in an Alsager hotel, Stoke City are now managed by another unbelievable volleyer of a football.
It was an absolute honour to meet and share an hour with the great man.
Tell us a bit about yourself growing up and how you got spotted….
I grew up in Barnsley. I was a good kid, went to grammar school but was absolutely football mad. I supported Barnsley and was the first one in the ground on matchdays. Football-mad I was. I was a right half, or the old number 4 as they called them, back in the day.
I was playing for Barnsley schoolboys, the town team. We won the Schools Shield and so obviously the longer we went into the competition the more chance there was for scouts to see us. Scouts weren’t allowed to contact you until you left school back in those days. Don Revie was manager at the time.
You were successful at Leeds – why did they sell you?
Well, to be totally honest, I wanted to go. It wasn’t a case of them wanting me to go. I wasn’t getting enough game time and I was always the one who I felt wasn’t definitely going to be in the team. So I felt it was time to go – I wanted regular football.
So you went to Birmingham and scored 15 in 36 – yet Stan Cullis said you weren’t scoring enough?
Yeah, that’s right, but I actually scored 12 in the first 9, too. He called me into his office first thing on a Monday morning. I thought he was going to offer me a new contract to tie me up for a few more years, and he told me I wasn’t scoring enough goals. I thought he was joking.
Stan Cullis then said “Jimmy, when was the last time that you scored?” – don’t forget that this was on a Monday and I said “Er, Saturday against Huddersfield, boss!”. As a wing-half I was never going to be prolific as a goalscorer. I’d chip in, but my role and my game was about far more than that.
So, in 1969 you moved to us. Tell us about the transfer.
I’d heard rumours about other clubs wanting me at the time in the papers. Just before the season started, Waddo came over with Albert Henshall and I got the call to go to St Andrews as there were a couple of fellas interested in signing me. I wasn’t told who.
So I went down – I must admit, Stoke weren’t my first choice at the time, but we had a chat and I asked if he’d start to look at putting a younger team out at Stoke. I didn’t want to be bought to do the running for other players. I wanted to play my own game. Waddo said that he would, and we shook hands on the deal.
So I went back home and I’d only been in the house 20 minutes or so and the phone rang. It was a Daily Mirror reporter called Bob Russell and he asked if I’d signed for Stoke. I told him “no” and he said “don’t, Everton are coming in for you. They’re on tour though.” A bit later I got a call and it was Alan Ball who also said Everton wanted me. Managers wouldn’t call you, they could get into trouble for that.
I asked my wife (Joan) and she told me to do what I wanted. I had already shook hands with Waddo, so that was that.
Everton went on to win the league that year, but the great thing about it was that I stuck to my word and Waddo stuck to his. The make-up of the team at Stoke immediately became much younger. Conroy, Mahoney, Pejic and others came in to the team. It turned out to be the best move I ever made.
The club’s finest ever day: You went off with a shoulder injury in the League Cup Final, didn’t you?
Yes. I did my shoulder after about 20 minutes and I should have come off, but what do you do? No way was I coming off that early, as it’s a cup final plus you always think you can do better than whoever is on the bench. I remember falling on it again and I did go off. I wanted to stay on but I wasn’t running too well.
As for the day, I don’t remember the lead up to the day of the final too well, but I remember a lot about the day. Like Micky Bernard’s backpass to Chris Garland – I turned to Waddo on the bench after he brought me off and said to him “if we lose, I’ll never speak to you again!”. But when the final whistle went, I gave Waddo the biggest kiss ever. Indeed, that kiss was on telly.
The players and supporters were closer back in the day, weren’t they?
Correct. We always came out before away games with any spare tickets for the fans. Waddo insisted on it and we were happy to do it. He especially made the point of doing so on your longer journeys, to the likes of Norwich, Ipswich and for London matches.
It was a big thing to Waddo. We socialised a lot with the fans. We always had lunch as a team in the Social Club and fans would be in there, too. It was great.
It’s not about money. We’d still do it now I think. John Ritchie’s night out with us was always going down to the Social Club. He had his own pint pot behind the bar, there. Imagine that now!?
Of all the clubs I went to, it was at Stoke that the players had the greatest bond with the fans. Let me tell you two lads here, we used to play for the fans. Make sure that goes in the magazine, lads – we loved the fans.
When Alan Hudson came to Stoke, we’d speak before games and we just wanted to get out on that pitch and entertain the fans. The one-two’s we did we loved doing, but we know we maybe did a few too many as we always wanted to entertain.
Your on-pitch relationship with Huddy – how brilliant was that?
We were simply on the same wavelength, but me and George Eastham had a great understanding, too. What a player George was. Huddy was telling me that when Waddo went to sign him from Chelsea he told him that he was being signed to replace George Eastham. Huddy said what a fantastic compliment that was, and said it virtually made his mind up to sign for us.
How much did the Arsenal semi finals affect you?
The semis were heart-breaking.
To be honest, every time Arsenal are mentioned there’s a little bit of a……. <Jimmy pulls his face>. I love it when they come to Stoke nowadays and the crowd goes mad and they’re all doing ‘the Wenger’. I want to do it myself! I love Stoke beating them.
Lucky, lucky Arsenal.
Those semi finals, I wanted to win so badly. We were destined not to beat them in those matches. The thing that was really annoying was that everyone in those days wanted to play at Wembley as they only played the final there – not anymore. You hang your boots up and they start playing semi finals there!
Onto Europe, Jimmy. What do you remember of the Ajax games?
I remember them at our place playing offside all the time. We should have been able to handle it, but by playing offside they stopped us from playing, really.
Over the two legs we were excellent and we should have beaten them. That showed just how good Stoke City were at that time – we should have beaten one of the great European sides!
You were renowned as probably the best English volleyer of a football. Did you practise it a lot?
Yes I did.
It started at Leeds. Every day I practised volleying. They’d say “save your legs and go inside, Jimmy”, but I always wanted to practice volleying and perfect it. Possibly my best one was playing for Port Vale against York. It was a night game and there wasn’t many there.
The famous one for Stoke against Birmingham was a right footer and the one for Vale was a left footer.
I did used to get a bit of stick from some Vale fans, especially one bloke who kept shouting abuse at me. Fair play to Vale’s Russell Bromage, their left back – he went over to the bloke and told him that I was on the same wages as the other Vale lads and to shut up! I played for all three local teams – I never wanted to upset any Stoke fans and hope I didn’t.
We were in the Social Club at the ground for lunch, as usual. As I said before, we were a close bunch and always ate together. I got a message that the gaffer wanted to see me on the pitch. I found it strange as we didn’t have a game.
So I walked out down the tunnel and there Waddo was – in the centre circle, looking up at the Butler Street Stand. I said “Crikey gaffer, what a mess that is, eh”.
Waddo replied “yes it is Jimmy, but it gets worse: we had an emergency board meeting and I was informed that it wasn’t insured and that we need to sell someone to pay for it”.
I didn’t ever want to go. I was told that Sir Matt Busby had phoned and Man United wanted me to go to speak to them that afternoon. I was all confused and so I went over to them on the Monday. I didn’t sign on the Monday, didn’t sign on the Tuesday, didn’t sign on the Wednesday…..that tells you something.
So I called an Extraordinary Board Meeting at Stoke and we were all sat there: The gaffer, me and the directors. I told Waddo and everyone I didn’t want to leave.
“So what’s this all about, Jimmy?”, asked someone
“It’s about me telling you that I don’t want to leave”, I replied
After a while someone got up and said “To be honest Greenhoff, we think you’re past it”.
I was only 30. They didn’t mean it, but it was a way of getting me to go. So I stood up, looked at Waddo and said “I’m really sorry gaffer, I’m signing for Manchester United”.
I never wanted to go. It doesn’t take much looking into, does it? I still live in Stoke – that’s how much the club, the people and the area means to me. I’d already thought that I would finish my career at Stoke. I’d like Stoke fans to know that everything I have said about how I love the club is true. I mean every word.
(we know for a fact that when Jimmy does pre-match speaking at Old Trafford he always says that he didn’t want to leave Stoke and it’s the one football club he truly loves – DUCK editors)
So you had to play against Stoke then?
Yes, the first game I played against Stoke was at Old Trafford. I remember Alan Bloor giving me a dead leg after 20 minutes, ha, ha!
As for the game at Stoke – I was early at the Victoria Ground that day as I lived in Alsager. I met the United bus by the entrance and all the players came off and I met Tommy Doc.
He took me to the top of the tunnel and we looked out onto the Victoria Ground pitch and he said “I’m not playing you today, Jimmy”.
I replied “Why boss?” and he said “You’re not sending ‘em down, Jimmy”.
Stoke were pretty much down anyway to be honest, but I did actually think “that’s one of the nicest things I’ve seen in football, boss”.
The Doc knew what the supporters at Stoke thought of me.
I also remember when I was United’s player of the season in 1978/79 season and the trophy was presented by Sir Matt Busby… at Old Trafford… on the pitch before a game against Stoke City! The Stokies gave me a great reception – they were the loudest in the ground as I received that trophy. That reaction meant so much to me.
Peter Osgood – if he had chosen us over Southampton would we have won the league?
Huddy knew Peter Osgood well, and I saw Ozzie after the deal had been done at a Holiday Soccer Camp. Osgood said to me that not joining Stoke was the biggest mistake he had ever made.
And so to the national team….
I was actually picked to play for England in a midweek game, but I was picked to play for Stoke against Derby at the Baseball Ground too, and that was at a time when you had to play for your club before your country.
I did end up getting picked when I was 34 and at Man United, to play against Northern Ireland in Belfast, but I got injured. There might be a bit of truth in the feeling that lesser clubs, not just Stoke, sometimes get overlooked. But I wasn’t bitter, as I was brought up to think that your club paid your wages every week and were your bread-and-butter, England didn’t and weren’t.
Me and Huddy actually played as over-age players in an under-23 game against Hungary. The crazy thing was that I was played on the right and Huddy on the left! How daft was that?
Do you regret not spending more time in management/coaching?
No, I should never have even really got into it, to be honest. I quickly realised that.
…and that was it. We finished our coffees and teas having a laugh and a joke about how it was HIS goal in the FA Cup Final when Lou Macari whacked it against Jimmy for the winner (“that shot of Lou’s would have spun out to the corner flag if it hadn’t hit me!”) and how after he famously scored in a semi-final he went and kissed a toothless Joe Jordan (“I cringe at the face I pulled after I scored, and then the first player on the scene was Joe Jordan, so I gave him a big smacker”). Jimmy also raved about more current players like Peter Beardsley and even our own Charlie Adam, a player who he really likes (“I could play in the same team as Charlie, I really could”).
It’s obvious to anyone just how much affection Jimmy Greenhoff has for Stoke City Football Club. Has a Potters’ player ever been held in the regard that Jimmy was?
The name GREENHOFF will forever live in the memory of every single Stoke fan who saw him play association football. What a player! What a man! What an honour to interview him!