Wayne's World: Rooney Scores Millions Over England Heroes
Jimmy Greaves is still England’s third-highest scorer with 44 goals, at least until Saturday’s European qualifier against Slovenia when Wayne Rooney could theoretically leapfrog the former Spurs legend with a brace.
But while Rooney was training with the national squad this week, Greaves, now 74, was busy selling his World Cup winners medal at auction for a little less than $70,000.
It’s a considerable amount and a decent enough nest egg for one of the game’s greatest ever pure strikers.
But thinking about Rooney and Greaves – separated by one goal in the all-time scorers list - I couldn’t help but think how differently the lives of modern players will map out compared to the greats of the past.
Greaves’ England days were behind him when I last watched him as a boy in the terraces at Upton Park in East London in 1971 where he was serving out the waning days of his career with West Ham. His match pay that day was $150.
Rooney, who wisely admitted this week that while he stands a good chance of passing Bobby Charlton’s international scoring record of 49 he will never surpass his standing in the game without winning a World Cup, earns $437,000-a-week!
It’s a safe bet that the likes of Rooney, Sterling or Cahill would never need to sell their medals if they are fortunate enough to get even close to winning one. It’s not a problem their contemporaries have had to worry about for a very long time. Many of them - included England's second-highest scorer Gary Lineker (48) - have retired in recent years without any England medals but with very healthy bank balances.
For Greaves, the whole thing is rather tinged with disappointment, not least because he was injured in the earlier rounds, losing his place at Wembley in 1966 only to watch his replacement, Geoff Hurst, become the one player ever to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final in the 4-2 victory over West Germany. Greaves received his medal years later after a campaign for members of the entire first team squad to be honored.
Nevertheless, the players in that legendary side have been canonized by generations of England supporters and yet just three members of Sir Alf Ramsey’s victorious team still have their medals – Bobby Charlton, his brother Jack and Roger Hunt.
The others have sold what must have been among their most valuable possessions for the simple reason that they needed the money.
The first player to sell was full back George Cohen, who suffered illness and financial problems after he retired at 29. He got $126,000 for his medal in 1998.
The other back, Ray Wilson, who went on to become an undertaker, got the same price for his medal in 2002. That same medal went up for auction this week for more than $214,000.
Goalkeeper Gordon Banks and midfielder Alan Ball sold theirs for $195,000 and $258,000 respectively so they could pass the cash on to their heirs.
Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst all sold their medals to their old club, West Ham, for $237,000 apiece and Nobby Stiles sold his to Manchester United for $252,000.
Few would begrudge these English sporting heroes the right to capitalize on one of the few opportunities they had left to profit from their fame. But then you think about Rooney’s $437,000-a-week salary and you wonder how much love has to do with professional soccer these days and how much has to do with money?
Wouldn’t you manage a smile occasionally if you were banking that kind of money?
The fact that top players and managers earn such astronomical salaries is crazy enough. But for the majority of England’s most successful team ever to be forced through financial circumstances to sell their precious World Cup medals is nothing short of scandalous.