Jack Greenwell: the forgotten English coach who managed Barcelona, Colombia and Peru

Jack Greenwell: the forgotten English coach who managed Barcelona, Colombia and Peru

Nowadays it’s becoming increasingly rare for English managers to find success outside of the British Isles. Steve McClaren led Twente to the Eredivisie title in 2010 but then struggled in Germany with Wolfsburg. Further back, Sir Bobby Robson did well in the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain in the 1990s while Terry Venables won the La Liga title with Barcelona in 1985. Even further back Roy Hodgson managed in numerous European countries as well as the Finnish, Swiss and UAE national sides.

In the early part of the 20th century, many English coaches plied their trade abroad helping various fledgeling European leagues to develop. One of the most successful was Jack Greenwell who spent 24 years playing, and then managing in Spain, including eight seasons with Barcelona. He then moved to South America where he coached in both Peru and Colombia. Many football experts regard him to be the most successful English manager abroad but today he is virtually unknown.

Greenwell was born in the mining town of Crook in County Durham in 1884. His father, like the majority of men in the region at that time, was a coal miner and Jack also spent some time working down the local mine in his youth. In 1901, at the age of 17, Jack signed for his local team Crook Town, who played in the amateur Northern League and had just won the FA Amateur Cup. He spent 11 seasons with the team, as a wing-half, helping them to three third-place finishes in that time.

In 1909 he also appeared as a guest player for local rivals West Auckland Town in the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, one of the first international club competitions. The competition involved teams from Italy, Germany, Switzerland and England; the former three countries sent clubs which were amongst their most prestigious at that time: a Turin XI made up of players from Torino and Juventus, Sportfreunde Stuttgarter and FC Winterthur respectively. However, the English FA initially refused to send a team until Sir Thomas Lipton himself approached West Auckland Town and asked them to be England’s representative, to which they readily agreed.

All games took place in Turin and, after a 2-0 victory over Stuttgarter in the semi-final, West Auckland repeated the score-line in the final against Winterthur to take the trophy back to County Durham. They would go on to retain the trophy two years later thanks to a 6-1 win over Juventus, although this time without Greenwell in their side. Whilst playing in the 1909 tournament Greenwell was spotted by the president of FC Barcelona, Joan Gamper, and, in 1912, Gamper invited Greenwell to join his team.

He made his debut for Barcelona in a 4-2 friendly win over FC Espanya de Barcelona in September 1912 and scored his first goal for his new club in the 9-0 victory over Hispania Valencia in mid-December. His only competitive games for Barcelona in the 1912-13 season came in the Pyrenees Cup in which he played three times, scoring one goal in the 3-1 defeat by Espanyol (who were later disqualified) in the semi-final. In total he played 25 games that season, scoring twice.

He was joined in the Barcelona team that season by fellow Englishmen John Allack, S. Steel and J.E Smith, although none of them would appear in the dissident Campionet de Catalunya in which Barcelona competed that season due to disagreements with the Catalonia FA. They were declared winners of the league after the competition was abandoned after only four games due to disinterest from the competing clubs. By April 1913, Greenwell had arranged for his former club, Crook Town, to visit Barcelona and three exhibition games were played. The English team won the first match 4-2 – this was followed by two draws.

In the 1913-14 season Greenwell played 31 games – only two of which were competitive – scoring four times while in 1914-15 he played in 17 games, with three goals scored. Over the next two seasons Greenwell was rarely involved and played no part in Barcelona’s title win in 1916. Instead, it was players such as the Filipino striker Paulino Alcantara, defender Francisco Bru and forward Romà Forns who were instrumental in the club’s success. Rather than playing Greenwell was getting more and more involved in the coaching side, and even refereed a few matches during those seasons.

For the first four months of 1917 the Englishman John Barrow had acted as Barcelona’s first-ever Head Coach but was dismissed by Joan Gamper due to his drinking problems and unpopularity with the clubs’ players and staff. For his replacement, Gamper approached Greenwell, on the recommendation of the players, and he was happy to accept the role. His first game as coach was the 3-1 friendly win over CE Europa in July 1917, in which he also played. He followed this up with further wins in Barcelona’s last two fixtures of the 1916-17 season.

In 1918 Barcelona repeated their third place; Greenwell, however, received so much criticism from the club’s members that he eventually put in his resignation. Recently re-elected president, Joan Gamper, refused to accept it because of his great confidence in his coach. Greenwell played in only one game that season when he took over the goalkeeping role from Barça’s usual keeper Lluis Bru, in a 4-4 friendly draw against Centre de Sports de Sants.

Gamper’s confidence in Greenwell paid off the following season as Barcelona won their seventh Campionat de Catalunya, scoring 31 goals in their ten league games, which included an 8-0 win over Athletic FC Sabadell. Their only loss came in the 4-1 defeat when Greenwell decided, for some strange reason, to play star forward Alcantara in defence. In a two-game playoff against CE Europa, champions of the Primera B division, Barcelona triumphed 14-4 on aggregate. They also reached the final of the Copa del Rey but lost 5-2 to Arenas Club. At this time the Copa was more like a championship of Spain in that the winners of each regional league qualified.

In the 2-0 friendly win over Aliats at the end of May two players that would go on to become greats of Spanish football made their debuts for Barcelona. Eighteen-year-old goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora had won the title with Espanyol the previous season but, following a disagreement with one of that club’s directors, he left for their great rivals early in 1919. Josep Samitier, a 17-year-old midfielder, came to Barcelona from FC International. Jack Greenwell also played in the same match, the penultimate one in his playing career.

Barcelona retained their Catalunya title the next season, this time dropping only one point, finishing seven points clear at the top. They also won their fourth Copa del Rey with a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. Alcantara played a major part in their success with 19 goals in only 12 games. Zamora took over from Lluis Bru in goal and managed to score a penalty in the 2-1 win over International; he is still the only Barcelona goalkeeper to have scored a goal. In a friendly against Real Madrid in February, 1920, Barcelona won 7-1, still their second best ever victory over their great rivals in all El Clásico matches, the first being the 7-0 win in 1913, a game in which Greenwell scored.

After the Copa del Rey win the team were rewarded with a parade through the city, an event attended by 20,000 people. Barcelona’s success over the previous few years had led to an upsurge in their popularity and their 6,000 capacity Camp de la Industria was now considered to be too small. Early in 1922, Joan Gampar had purchased a plot of land in the Les Corts district of the city and on May 20 the new 20,000 capacity stadium, Camp de Les Corts, was opened with a friendly against the Scottish club St. Mirren. All this was taking place under the watchful eye of Greenwell.

In their first full season in their new stadium, Barcelona finished level on points with CE Europa at the top of the Campionat de Catalunya. A 1-0 loss in the deciding playoff meant their run of titles ended at four. It also meant they missed out on entry to the Copa del Rey. Therefore, at the end of the season, Jack Greenwell decided to leave Barcelona to become the trainer of newly formed Third Category club UD Girona.

In June 1923, at the age of 39, Jack Greenwell returned to Barcelona to play the final game of his playing career, four years after his previous match, in the 1-0 friendly win away to L’Avenç del Sport. In total he played in 88 games for Barcelona, the majority of which were friendlies, and managed to find the net on 10 occasions.

In September 1923 Greenwell became coach of UE Sants, from the Sants district of Barcelona. The club was created after a merger between FC International and Centre d’Esports de Sants, and narrowly avoided relegation in their debut season in the Campionat de Catalunya. In their two games against Barcelona, now managed by another Englishman, Alf Spouncer, Greenwell’s new club lost 2-1 both home and away. UE Sants managed only four points but still escaped relegation due to FC Atletico de Sabadell finishing the season with only two.

By 1925 UE Sants had risen up to third place, only three points behind the champions Barcelona and, the season after, they finished second, the highest position they achieved in their history. In their final game of 1926 they beat Barcelona 1-0, Jack Greenwell’s first victory over his former employers, but this defeat was not enough to prevent the Blaugrana’s third title in a row. At the end of the season Greenwell left Catalunya to become coach of CD Castellón, who played in the Regional Championship of Valencia.

Greenwell’s modern coaching techniques had a great effect and in his first season in charge he led them to second place. The Copa del Rey had expanded in 1926 and now allowed regional runners-up into the tournament as well as the champions. Therefore CD Castellón would qualify for the first time in their history.

In the 1927-28 Valencia Regional Championship Castellón again performed well and would repeat their runners-up position of the previous season. However, Greenwell would not be around to see them achieve it as in January 1928 Espanyol made an approach for his services and he found their offer of 12,000 pesetas a month far too good to turn down. The club had a number of outstanding players, including Greenwell’s former keeper at Barcelona Ricardo Zamora, the El Salvadoran defender Ricardo Saprissa and the young forward José Padrón.

Under his leadership the club won their first Catalunya title since 1918, finishing six points clear of second place CE Europa and followed it up with a historic victory over Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final.

By 1929 the first Spanish national league, La Liga, began, and Espanyol took part in the inaugural Primera Division season along with nine other teams. These ten teams were the strongest in Spain at that time and Espanyol could only finish in seventh place with a total of 18 points in their 18 games. Greenwell then spent one season coaching Real Sociedad Alfonso XIII (named after the Spanish king and who are now known as RCD Mallorca) in the Balearic Championship, helping them to retain their title.

Eventually, Greenwell returned to coach Barcelona, taking the place of another Englishman, James Bellamy. Since he had left the club in 1923 they had won the Catalunya title every year bar one and a number of his former star players were still at the club when he returned: Josep Samitier, Vicente Piera and Emilio Sagi. They were joined by the likes of Ramon de Zabalo, born in South Shields in England but who would go on to play for Spain in the 1934 World Cup, midfielders Patrici Arnau and José Carlos Castillo and forwards Seve Goiburu, Ángel Arocha and Joan Román.

The Campionat de Catalunya was now comprised of eight clubs and Barcelona managed to collect 23 points in their 14 games to finish three points clear of second place Espanyol. It was Barcelona’s third title in a row and Greenwell’s seventh in total. In the Primera Division they finished third, one place better than the previous season whilst in the cup they went down 1-0 in the final to Athletic Bilbao.

Financial problems would lead to a number of the club’s players leaving during the next season. After six rounds of the Primera Division Josep Samitier, who had found the net nine times, left the club he had represented since 1919 and signed for Real Madrid. Disagreements with Barcelona’s management had limited his appearances in the Campionat and Real Madrid were quick to take advantage of the situation. Vicenc Piera and Emili Sagi would also play their last games for the club

Samitier would help his new club to the Primera Division title for the second year in a row whilst his old club could only manage fourth. With Barcelona also being knocked out in the first round of the Copa del Rey after a 4-2 aggregate loss to Real Betis it was one of their worst ever season’s since their formation, and only the second time they had finished a season trophyless since 1918. Greenwell’s second spell with Barcelona would end after only two seasons as he left for Valencia in 1933.

In his one season with Valencia Greenwell added another Campeonato Regional de Valencia title to the one he had won with Castellon in 1929. Valencia also finished seventh in the Primera Division with a highlight being a 2-0 win over Barcelona. They reached their first Spanish Cup final – now going under the name the President of the Republic’s Cup due to the establishment of the second Spanish republic in 1931 – but lost 2-1 to a Real Madrid team featuring his former players Ricardo Zamora and Josep Samitier. He then spent the 1935-36 season managing Sporting Gijón in which they finished in third place in the Segunda Division, just missing out on promotion.

Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 Jack was forced to flee his comfortable life in Spain due to his sympathies with Catalonian Republicans, and returned to England along with his wife Doris, a former dancer who he had met in Paris in 1915, and their daughter Carmen. Despite his success in Spain, he was unable to find work in England and apparently took a coaching job in Turkey for a brief time, although there is little information available regarding this spell in his life.

A short time later Greenwell was approached by Alberto Denegri, coach of the Peruvian national team, who asked him to act as tactical advisor for the upcoming Olympic football tournament, due to be held in Berlin. Peru had an outstanding team at that time, one that is considered as their first golden era. Their stars included goalkeeper Juan Valdivieso and forwards Teodoro “Lolo” Fernández and Alejandro Villenueva.

Finland were no match for the South Americans in the first round. Five goals from Fernández and two from Villenueva helped Peru to a 7-3 victory and a quarter-final tie with Austria. After being 2-0 down at half-time Peru fought back with two second-half goals to take the game to extra-time. In the first half of the extra-time period Peru found the net three times, but in each case the goal was disallowed by the Norwegian referee. They then scored two legitimate goals through Villenueva and Fernández just prior to the game being abandoned due to a pitch invasion. An inquest into the abandonment laid the blame of the pitch invasion on Peruvian supporters and ordered the game to be replayed. In protest, Peru returned home and the victory was awarded to Austria.

Greenwell’s ties with Peru would result in him moving to Lima in 1938 to become coach of both Universitario de Deportes, one of the leading clubs in Peruvian football, and the Peru national team. In 1939 Universitario won the Peruvian title for the third time in their history with Teodoro Fernández finishing as the league’s top scorer with 15 goals in 14 games. Meanwhile Greenwell’s wife Doris was not finding life in Peru as expected. There were problems with Jack’s salary and so his family found it difficult to match the living conditions they had enjoyed during their time in Spain.

Greenwell’s first task as Peru manager was to coach the team in the first ever Bolivarian Games, held in 1938 in Bogotá, Colombia. The three stars of the 1936 Olympic squad, Valdivieva, Villenueva and Fernández, were also still involved in the national team and they were joined by other members of Greenwell’s Universitario side. Peru won all four of their games to take the gold medal in a tournament in which the full national sides competed for the only time in the Games’ history. The victory was achieved despite Greenwell often having to pull his players out of various bars during their time in Bogotá.

The 1939 Copa América was held in Peru, with all games taking place at the Estadio Nacional in Lima. Prior to the tournament, four teams, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil withdrew, leaving only five participants: Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Ecuador, who made their Copa América debut. The tournament format was that of a single round-robin schedule where all teams played each other only once.

Peru’s first game was against the debutants Ecuador; they won 5-2 thanks to a hat-trick by Teodoro Fernández, managed by Greenwell at Universitario, and two goals from Jorge Alcalde of Sport Boys from Callao. In their second game, against bitter rivals Chile, Greenwell used an attacking 2-3-5 formation and Peru won 3-1 with two more goals by Fernández and another by Alcalde. The same scoring pattern was repeated in the 3-0 victory over Paraguay.

In their final match Peru had to play Uruguay, the strongest South American side at the time. Both teams had 100 percent records and so the game would decide the title. In front of a capacity crowd of 40,000 spectators, Peru opening the scoring through Alcalde in the seventh minute before Victor Bielich added a second. Uruguay pulled one back just before half-time but Peru hung on to record their first ever Copa América title.

Greenwell returned to Colombia in 1940 when he moved to the Caribbean port city of Barranquilla to coach the CD Atletico Junior club in a number of friendly matches. Doris, tired of all the disturbances causing by all the moving around, stayed in Peru with their daughter Carmen and she and Jack eventually separated. Whilst in Colombia Greenwell also became involved in the Colombian national side, helping them to prepare for the 1942 Central American and Caribbean games which were due to be held in Barranquilla. However, the outbreak of the Second World War led to the games being postponed. They would eventually be played in 1946 after the end of the war.

As a result of the Games being postponed, he was able to take over as coach of the recently formed Club Independiente Sante Fe in Bogotá in 1942. At that time there was no national league in Colombia and clubs instead played in regional competitions. One of these was the Torneo de Cudinamarca in which Santa Fe claimed the runners-up spot after defeat to América de Cali. Many Colombia newspapers, El Tiempo in particular, gave Greenwell much praise for his tactical awareness and discipline.

Shortly after Santa Fe defeated their local rivals Deportivo Texas 10-3 in what would be Greenwell’s final game as a coach. Two days later, just after reaching his home after a morning’s training session he died from a massive heart attack, aged 58, and was buried in Bogotá’s British Cemetery.

When news of his demise reached Barcelona there was great sadness in a city which considered him to be a true Catalan. Even today he is remembered fondly by Barcelona FC and is still their second longest-serving manager, behind the legendary Dutchman Johan Cruyff.

Though often forgotten at home, this was a man who won 17 trophies in a career that took him from the mining town of Crook to Barcelona, Peru, Colombia and Turkey. In the pre-televised, pre-millionaire era of football, he developed tactical systems that would be used for decades to come at some of the game’s biggest clubs. Indeed, many believe that his insistence on football to be played on the floor was one of the earliest signs of tiki taka at Barcelona.

With calls for British coaches to spend more time abroad learning new cultures, new styles of play and challenging themselves in different environments, we should look back at a man who, long before Barcelona became the Messi-inspired powerhouse of today, built up the club – alongside legendary President Joan Gamper – to forge itself as one of Spain’s most successful sides.

By Jeff Lawrence

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