Historical Football #14 – The Globetrotting Man From The North-East

Historical Football returns with a look at Englishman Jack Greenwell, a miner’s son from Crook in the North-East who went on to achieve glory around the world…

The differences between Crook Town and Barcelona could not be more apparent. One is a global brand, reaching far and wide with their collection of superstar talent and a philosophy and set-up that is the envy of nearly every club around the world. The other is a small club that is barely known outside of the North-East. However, they are linked by one man. A man born a miner’s son who would turn Barcelona from a small Catalan club into a force in Spanish football. That man is Jack Greenwell.

Born near Crook on the 2nd of January 1884, Greenwell developed an interest in football at a young age and made his debut for Crook Town in 1901. An accomplished wing half, Greenwell would help Crook win the English Northern League in his first season with Town and would also star as a guest when West Auckland won the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy in 1909. He would remain in the North-East until 1912 when he decided to leave for Spain and young side FC Barcelona.

Greenwell’s spell as a Barcelona player would be relatively successful winning two Catalan championships in 1913 and 1916, striking up a very good partnership with a young forward named Paulino Alcantara. Greenwell would retire from football after the successful 1916 season and thought he would be gone for a little while. However, Barcelona’s manager, fellow Englishman John Barrow, managed to draw the ire of pretty much everyone at the club and was sacked towards the end of 1916. President Joan Gamper appointed Greenwell full time at the start of 1917 and the rest was history.

It wasn’t all glory for Greenwell though. He experimented with players out of position, notably Alcantara at the back, and results suffered as a result. With the expectant Catalan public demanding more he eventually returned Alcantara up front with deadly consequences. Barcelona’s side under Greenwell became a winning machine with the likes of Alcantara and Ricardo Zamora firing the club to five Catalan championships and two Copa del Reys. One of the key reasons of Greenwell’s success was his popularity with his players, many of whom were teammates of his and recommended him to Barcelona president Gamper. Alcantara was a close friend and his immense popularity saw him manage the club for seven successive seasons, second only to a certain Johann Cruyff, with Greenwell’s success often credited as the club’s first golden period.

Greenwell was beloved at Barcelona
Greenwell was beloved at Barcelona

Greenwell left Barcelona in 1923 to take charge of smaller clubs UE Sants and CD Castellon whom he turned from bottom feeders to teams pushing the top half of the table. He then had a spell at Barcelona’s great rivals Espanyol where he won a Catalan championship as well as the club’s first Copa del Rey. He left Espanyol in 1929 for a year in charge at Mallorca before returning to Barcelona in 1931.

Greenwell’s second spell in charge of Barcelona was nowhere near as successful as his first and he only won one Catalan championship in his two years back at the club. He left in 1933 to take over Valencia and, while La Liga form was patchy, he managed to win the regional championship and reach the final of the Copa del Rey where they lost 2-1 to Madrid CF (the forerunners to Real Madrid) who had a side containing old friend Ricardo Zamora in goal. He left after a year though and had a year spell with Sporting Gijon that ran until 1936.

Jack Greenwell’s life changed drastically in 1936. With the Spanish Civil War now raging in the country, Greenwell was considered a Catalan sympathiser where General Franco’s nationalists were unleashing terror. Inside a volatile and dangerous country with fear for his life, Greenwell left Spain to continue his management career in Turkey. There are barely scraps of information about Greenwell’s time in Turkey but it did not last very long. With Europe on edge as Nazi Germany moved into Poland in 1939, Greenwell left Europe all together with the impending war and headed to South America and more specifically Peru.

Greenwell’s decision to move to Peru may seem random but he had been in contact with the country previously. He was asked by the Peruvian FA to help then-national team coach Alberto Denegri with tactics ahead of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin where the Peruvians were controversially eliminated in the quarter finals. So when Greenwell arrived in the country in 1939 he was appointed manager of one of the nations biggest clubs Universitario and the national team. Greenwell would lead Universitario to the league title that year and would lead Peru to a historic Copa America (then South American Championships) win on home soil. It made Greenwell an instant legend in Peru and also made Greenwell the first Englishman to coach a side to an international championship and the first (and, to date, only) non South American to win the Copa America.

Greenwell helped Valencia to the Copa del Rey final
Greenwell helped Valencia to the Copa del Rey final

His success in Peru lead to Colombia asking Greenwell to take charge of the national team in 1940 ahead of the 1942 Central American and Caribbean Games (which were eventually cancelled due to the war). He left his post as national team manager in 1942 to take charge of club side Independiente Santa Fe whom he lead to the final of the Torneo de Cundinamarca where they lost to America de Cali. This would be Greenwell’s last major final as in late 1942, just two days after Independiente beat local rivals Deportivo Texas 10-3, Greenwell suffered a massive heart attack and died on his way home from a morning training session. He was just 58 years old.

Greenwell’s popularity in Catalunya was immense, his fluent Catalan and Spanish endearing him to the public and friends even more. His love for the game was incredible too as when he was asked why he went to Colombia who were not FIFA affiliated nor even had a national league he simply asked,

“did the people of Colombia not deserve the beautiful game just because FIFA deemed so?”

A man with a giant love for the game that took him for a small North East town to Spain to Turkey to Peru to trying to develop football in Colombia, Jack Greenwell was a man that took a chance on heading abroad to fulfill his passion and succeeded. That he is not as revered in England as he is in Catalunya or Peru is a tragedy and one that should really be actively pursued at being changed by the FA.

As for Greenwell, he will always be a man that lives in history and there is no more appropriate tribute to a man than that.

Further Reading



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