BY Vince Cooper
BARCELONA have become known as the epitome of the ‘pass and move’ team. The fluidity of their style has become a key component of the way the Catalan club play their football.
This type of play is seen as very Latin and far removed from what was the ‘traditional’ English ‘dribbling’ approach to the game. So who would have thought that the man who can lay claim to setting the ‘Barça way’ in motion was a miner from County Durham?
Like his father before him Jack Greenwell, born in 1884, worked in the mines and he combined this with playing as a wing-half for local team Crook Town in the Northern League. In 1909 he was invited by West Auckland to guest for them in the first staging of the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy in Turin, Italy.
The new trophy featured teams from Italy, Germany, Switzerland and England. The English F.A. had refused to authorise a team to take part but West Auckland agreed to participate after a personal plea from Sir Thomas Lipton.
The Statue in honour of West Auckland’s success in the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy
West Auckland captured the trophy, later immortalised in the television film ‘The World Cup: A Captain’s Tale’ (in which Greenwell was portrayed by Struan Rodger) by seeing off Stuttgart in the semi-final and then beating FC Winterthur of Switzerland 2-0 in the final. The club would return, without Greenwell, to take the crown again two years later, beating Juventus 6-1 in the final
Greenwell clearly made an impression on the continent and three years later, he played his last game for Crook against Stanley United, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win before moving to Spain and signing for Barcelona. He was joined by three other Englishmen, John Allack, S.Steel and J.E.Smith although the four weren’t initially allowed to play in Catalan Championship matches but would appear in competitions such as the Pyrenees Cup.
The recruitment of the four players was by no means the first English involvement with Barcelona. In fact, Englishmen Walter Wild and brothers John and William Parsons were among the club’s founders.
An early Barca team group
Greenwell made 88 starts for the club over five seasons and also arranged for his former club to visit Spain in 1913 when they played a series of three matches against Barcelona. The North-Easterners went undefeated, winning once and drawing twice.
Whilst he won two Catalan titles during his time as player-coach with the club Greenwell’s real impact came when he hung up his boots and was appointed as head coach in 1917.
Barcelona president and founder Joan Gamper had originally appointed another Englishman, John Barrow, as the club’s first-ever full time occupant of the role but fired him after four months amid reports of heavy drinking and unpopularity with players.
Gamper had already shown his liking for English coaches, having appointed Jack Alderson, a friend of Greenwell to the player-coaching role in 1912.
Greenwell in his player-coach days
When Alderson was lured back to England by Newcastle United, Greenwell was made player-coach and the move into the full-time manager’s role was gradual. He rarely played during his last two seasons on the books but took a greater role on the coaching side.
His first season at the helm, 1918, saw Greenwell receive more than his share of criticism from club members and he tendered his resignation at one point. Gamper refused to accept it and persuaded him to stay on.
In charge of a group of players whose names would become etched in the club’s history, Greenwell developed his own style of play, based on building attacks from deep and keeping possession, very much in keeping with what became Barcelona’s trademark style of play.
The 1921-22 season was when Greenwell’s Barcelona reached their peak. They won every game in the Catalan League except one draw, winning the championship by seven points, and also romped to an easy success in the Copa del Rey, beating Athletic Bilbao 2-0 in the final.
Barcelona v Crook Town
In 1922 Crook Town returned for a second visit. The results were markedly different with Barcelona winning three of the four matches played to give a good indication of the progress that had been made under Greenwell.
Ricardo Zamora and Paulinho Alcántara
Ricardo Zamora, Josep Samitier and Sagibarba, along with star striker Paulinho Alcántara were among those who formed the nucleus of the first great Barcelona side, guided by Greenwell to the pinnacle of Spanish football with four Catalan titles and a pair of Copa del Reys during his seven-year spell in charge. At this time the Copa del Rey was seen as the pinnacle of the Spanish game being competed for by the winners of all regional leagues.
The half-Filipino Alcantara had made his debut in 1912 as a 15-year-old. He scored a hat-trick in a 9-0 win over Catalá and remains the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer. He played regularly alongside Greenwell, scoring 55 goals in 47 games before returning to the Philippines with his family in 1916.
He desperately wanted to return to Spain, and the club just-as-desperately wanted him back but his parents refused to allow it until, in 1918 he contracted malaria and refused to take the prescribed medication unless he was given permission to return.
So Alcántara moved back to Spain and rejoined the club with his new manager initially making the surprise move of employing him in defence. This led to complaints from the club members, ‘Los Socios’ and Greenwell relented, pushing the player back up the pitch and into his natural position.
Alcántara was renowned for his powerful shot and he was scorer of the ‘police goal’ in 1919. In a match against Real Zaragoza a policeman had encroached onto the pitch. A shot from the player hit the policeman so hard that both policeman and ball ended up in the back of the net. This was an example of the thunderous shot that earned him the nickname ‘Trecaxarxes’ or ‘The Netbreaker’.
Alcántara’s second spell with the club resulted in a tally of 145 goals in 130 games before retiring at the age of 31 to take up his profession of Doctor on a full-time basis. He was given a testimonial match in 1927 with Barcelona playing Spain.
Having fought with the ‘Black Arrows’ during the Spanish Civil War, he returned to football later in life, enjoying brief spells as a coach for both Spain and Catalònia.
In 1923 Greenwell, after continued disputes with the powers-that-be, left Barcelona and took charge of another club in the city, Unió Esportiva Sants before moving to Valencia to take charge of Castellón then returning to the Catalan capital, and joining Espanyol.
The 1929 Copa Del Ray – ‘The Water Final’
He led Espanyol in the inaugural La Liga season and brought them out of the shadows of their cross-city rivals, winning the Catalan championship and their first-ever Copa Del Rey in 1929, beating Barcelona in the semi-final and Real Madrid 2-1 in Valencia’s Mestalla in a match that became known as the ‘Water Final’ due to the torrential rainstorm it was played in.
Greenwell then spent a season with RCD Mallorca before being lured back to Barcelona for two seasons, leading the team to another Catalan championship, although they failed to eclipse Athletic Bilbao, led by fellow-Englishman Fred Pentland, for the national crown. He then tried his hand with Valencia and then Sporting Gijón for a season each.
As fighting in the Spanish civil war intensified Greenwell and his second wife Doris who he had met at the Moulin Rouge in Paris (his first wife, Florence having tragically died in childbirth), sent their daughter, Carmen, back to live with her grandmother in Wales. Florence followed and, after 24 years in Spain, and as fighting grew in intensity, Greenwell departed at the last possible moment, allegedly leaving behind all of the family’s belongings.
So, the Greenwells were back in England but Jack’s achievements in Spain carried no weight with clubs at home and he found it impossible to get a job in football. He had looked for work in Paris and spent some time in Turkey but after working as an assistant with the Peru team at the Berlin Olympics the family headed to South America.
By 1939 Greenwell was in Peru where he took on the dual role of coaching Universitario Deportes and the Peru national team. He led the club team to the national title and the country to victory in the South American championship, the Copa America. Held in their homeland the 1942 championship became a five-team tournament after a number of countries withdrew, including Argentina and Brazil.
Greenwell in Peru
The competition was run as a mini-league and Peru won all four of their matches, beating also previously-unbeaten Uruguay 2-1 in the final match to claim the crown. Greenwell had won yet another place in history as the first, and still only, European to lead a team to victory at the prestigious tournament.
Next stop was Colombia where he worked with the national team and with Independiente Santa Fe. By this time Greenwell was alone having separated with his wife and family who stayed behind in Lima and then moved to Canada to further the children’s education. It is said that Mrs Greenwell was not enamoured with life in South America where salaries were paid irregularly and the family were not offered the same lifestyle they had become used to in Spain.
In 1942 whilst being driven home from a training session in Bogota Jack Greenwell suffered a heart attack and died. He was 58 and left behind a footballing legacy few could match.
Greenwell’s honours list is impressive to say the least. As a player he won a Crook and District League, the aforementioned Sir Thomas Lipton trophy and a pair of Catalan championships. As a manager he won six more Catalan titles (five with Barcelona and one with Espanyol), three Copa Del Reys. a Valencia Championship, a Peruvian title, the South American championship, the Bolivarian games and the Torneo de Cundinamarca. Not bad for a boy from Crook!
But there was clearly much more to Jack Greenwell than winning titles. He effectively invented a new style of play, which has served Barcelona and many others well over the years. Many times he would, as with Alcántara, convert ball players into defenders, giving the team a ball player at the back, something unheard of at the time.
Greenwell might have been the first, but he was by no means the last Englishman to take charge of Barcelona. In between his two spells Alf Spouncer, Ralph Kirby and Jack Bellamy also had time as chief coach whilst much later of course, Vic Buckingham, Terry Venables and Sir Bobby Robson were at the helm giving the club a strong Anglo thread
A plaque honouring Jack Greenwell’s achievements
But it was Greenwell who led the way with his techniques and tremendous success. He was a true pioneer of the game and deserves to be remembered as one of the great English mainagers.