Many may not know the name John Richard “Jack” Greenwell, and many will not know the impact he had on Spanish football. Greenwell’s story is an exceptional one. Without the Englishman, Barcelona may not have been put onto the path of glory and may not be the powerful force that they are today.
Jack Greenwell: The Englishman Who Made Barcelona Great
Greenwell was born in the town of Crook, County Durham in 1884. Like his father, Jack, he would spend time working down the local coal mine. However, in 1901 at the age of 17, Greenwell signed for his local team Crook Town. As a wing-half, he would help his side win the Crook and District League title as well as make appearances in the FA Cup. He spent 11 years with the club.
The lure of Spain
In 1909, Greenwell was a guest player for West Auckland Town as they travelled to Italy to play in the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy. It is still considered by many as the “first World Cup”. Teams from Switzerland, Germany, Italy and England took part and it was West Auckland who returned home with the trophy. They beat the then Swiss giants FC Winterthur 2-0 in the final.
FC Barcelona president Joan Gamper liked what he saw in the talented Greenwell at the tournament, but it would be a further three years before Barcelona would get their man. Jack played 88 times for Barça, scoring 10 times. He retired from football in 1917 (although he did return on occasions) to begin his real impact on the club.
Barcelona Head Coach
After the sacking of fellow Englishman John Barrow, Greenwell was approached. Soon after, his first stint in charge at the Catalan club began.
Greenwell’s philosophy was to pass the ball, something unfamiliar to players and fans in England at the time. His ideas, however, were much more appreciated in Spain. He encouraged players to pass the ball and use the ball better than those in other countries. Building attacks from the back instead of running at the opposition was rare in those days, it is a philosophy which over time has become the trademark of Barcelona.
In his seven seasons in charge, often referred to as the club’s first golden period, Greenwell and Barcelona won four Catalonia Championships and two Copa Del Reys. His six-year tenure also makes him the third longest-serving manager in the club’s history, behind only Joan Gamper and Johan Cruyff in the rankings.
In 1923 Greenwell, left Barcelona and took charge of smaller clubs UE Sants and CD Castellon. He helped these clubs who were traditionally bottom of the table sides and turned them into teams pushing for the top half of the league. In early 1928, an offer from Espanyol, Barcelona’s close rivals, was too good to turn down. They won the title and the Copa Del Rey after defeating Real Madrid in the final.
Back to Barcelona
In 1931, Greenwell returned to Barça. Since he left, his style had not been ignored and they had won the Catalunya title every year bar one. His first season back-ended in a seventh La Liga title. Financial problems led to an inconsistent second season, as well as Greenwell leaving for a second and last time.
The Spanish Civil War
Spells in charge of Valencia and Sporting de Gijon followed until the outbreak of war. Jack was forced to leave the life in Spain he adored. He left on the last refugee boat and had to leave everything he owned behind. Despite his great success in Spain, Jack was unable to find work back home in England.
Spells working in Turkey for a short time and also helping The Peruvian national team at the 1936 Olympic Games were next. This was followed by a permanent switch to Peru where, once settled, he would send for his family.
In Peru he was not only given the top job at one of the nation’s biggest clubs, Universitario, he was also put in charge of the national side. He won the league title and the Copa America at the first time of asking.
Colombian national Coach
Colombia came calling next. Unfortunately, his family would not move with him this time, deciding to stay in Peru instead of moving yet again. His time as the national side’s head coach was geared towards the 1942 Central American and Caribbean Games. These, however, were cancelled due to the war.
Greenwell took over as coach at the recently formed club Independiente Santa Fe based in Bogotà. With no national league at the time, teams played in regional competitions/cups. The team ended up runners-up in the Torneo de Cudinamarca. Praise for Greenwell was growing by the day and soon after his side defeated their local rivals Deportivo Texas 10-3. This would be his game in charge.
In 1942, at just 58 years old, Greenwell died of a heart attack. Along with working at Santa Fe, he was working on developing football in the whole country.
The last word
His popularity in Spain, where he learned to speak both Spanish and Catalan fluently, was huge. This, along with of his love of the game and his desire to show the world the beautiful game, will never be forgotten in Spain and South America. It is unfortunate that a man of his coaching talents could not find work in his home country, but England’s loss was others’ gain. And what a huge gain it was.