Jack Greenwell – The Original Journeyman of Football

While the world has its eyes on the new FC Barcelona manager, Kinshuk Biswas revisits an almost forgotten anecdote in the archives of international football and recounts the remarkable story of the globe-trotting enthusiast who got the ball rolling close to a century back

Tito Vilanova recently resigned as the manager of FC Barcelona, after only a year in charge following the success of the Pep Guardiola years, to continue his battle against cancer. The appointment of Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino as the new manager has been the subject of headlines all over the media. Management of Barcelona has always been in the news because of the club’s philosophy and history. Let us today look at the life of its first full-time manager who made his mark globally.

Jack Greenwell - Barceona Total Football

19th century Barcelona seemed light years away from Crook, a small village in County Durham district in the northeast of England. It was in Peases West, just north of here that on January 2, 1884, John Richard Greenwell was born. His father was a miner as the entire region was a coal mining area. He was popularly named Jack and started working at the mines himself at the age of 14. It was a hard life punctuated by his passion – Football. Jack played in inter-mines tournaments and was asked to join Crook FC when he was 17. Mainly an old-fashioned wing-back, he could use both his feet and had a good football sense. He was drafted as a guest player in the West Auckland Town FC in the 1909 Thomas Lipton Cup which was one of the earliest international club tournaments. His team won the trophy. He played his last match for Crook in 1912 and joined Barcelona. Very little is known about how he joined Barcelona. However, it is believed that Joan Gamper, the founder of FC Barcelona had seen him play in the Thomas Lipton Cup and managed to persuade him to move to Spain. In those days, people were afraid of moving to big cities in their own country and this man left his home and moved to a country with a different language and culture. It may seem insignificant in the age of big international transfers but we should remember there was no air travel or television those days and it took seven days to travel from London to Barcelona. He struck up a good understanding with a young player named Paulino Alcántara and the team went on to win the Catalunya Championships in 1912-13 and 1915-16. Jack had met and married a Jewish lady named Doris Rubinstein in Paris in 1913 and they had a daughter named Carmen in 1915. Jack retired after the victorious 1916 season. John Barrow was appointed as the first ever full-time manager of Barcelona. He was not liked by the players, supporters or the officials and was sacked after just four months. Greenwell was appointed as the official coach of the club by Gamper, immediately after his retirement on the recommendation of the players.

John Richard “Jack”Greenwell (l) and Paulino Alcántara Riestrá (r)

Greenwell managed Barcelona for seven continuous seasons from 1917 till 1923. Only one person has managed the club longer – the legendary Johann Cryuff. The duration of Greenwell’s management was the first golden age of the club. The team won five Catalunya Championships and two editions of the Copa del Rey. There were calls of his dismissal when he was experimenting using players in different positions early in his management career. He was trying to evolve a system where any of the team members could play in any position in case of injuries as there was no concept of substitutions back in the day. It could be speculated that he was trying to create a system similar to Total Football which came more than 50 years later. This gives us an insight into the great footballing mind this man possessed. Greenwell spoke fluent Catalan and Spanish and was a very popular figure at the club. Great players like Ricardo Zamora, Josep Samitier and Franz Platko loved playing under him. Alcántara was a close friend and confidant. He left Barcelona to manage smaller teams like UE Sants and CD Castellón whom he improved from lower table relegation scrappers to the top half of the league. In 1927, he joined Barcelona’s local rivals RCD Español. He led them to a seventh place finish in the inaugural La Liga in 1928. The La Liga disappointment was forgotten when the team won the Catalunya Championships and the Cop del Rey in 1929. He was reappointed as Barcelona manager in 1931, post his stay at RCD Mallorca, guiding them to a sixth Catalunyan championship. He managed Barcelona for a total of 492 games when he left to manage Valencia CF in 1933. His stint at Valencia was not that successful except a Spanish Cup final loss to Madrid CF, the forerunner of Real Madrid in 1934. Incidentally, his old players Samitier and Zamora played for Madrid. He then managed Sporting de Gijón in 1935-36.

After 1936, Spain was in the throes of a bitter civil war. Greenwell was considered an ardent supporter of Catalunyan nationalism. The nationalists led by General Francisco Franco were unleashing a reign of terror in Catalunya. In this charged and dangerous atmosphere he moved to Turkey to continue his football management career. His daughter lived with his mother in South Wales. Very little is known about Greenwell’s time in Turkey. But the looming spectre of war in Europe saw him seek employment 6000 kilometres away in Peru, South America. He was asked to help the Peruvian national team manager Alberto Denegri with tactics for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Peru was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Austria in highly controversial circumstances. In 1939, he was made manager of the Peruvian national team and Universitario de Deportes club. The Copa America in 1939 was held at Peru. The hosts met Uruguay in the final which they won 2-1. Jack Greenwell thus became the first Englishman to manage a national team to win an international tournament. He is till date the only European manager to win the Copa America. He is also the first foreigner to win a trophy managing a national team.  He is still considered a revered and cult figure in Peruvian football.  So many records yet very few people in his home country know about him.

Crook Town photo before Greenwell’s last game with the team

After his exploits in Peru, Greenwell moved to Colombia in 1940 to take over the management of the national team for the Central American and Caribbean Games of 1942. The Games were postponed due to the war. He then joined the Independiente Santa Fe club. Colombia did not have any league or FIFA affiliation at that time. Greenwell guided the side to the final of the Torneo de Cundinamarca where they were beaten by America de Cali. On October 5, 1942, Santa Fe defeated local rivals Deportivo Texas 10-3. Two days later, while returning home after a morning session he had a massive cerebral haemorrhage and passed away before any help could arrive. It is said the entire city of Barcelona wept when they received the news of his demise. Paulino Alcántara said he had lost his soul.
It is not the achievements of Jack Greenwell which make him an all-time great in my opinion. It is his love for the game. He was often asked why he was in Colombia, a country not even recognised by FIFA. His answer was a counter-question; did the people of Colombia not deserve the beautiful game just because FIFA deemed so?  Two things he always carried with himself, an image of St. George killing the Dragon, although he preferred the name St. Jordi like the Catalans do, and a small piece of cloth, of Barcelona team colours, in his pocket.
A true legend who left behind a sparkling legacy. Not just a man, he was ‘More than a Man’!