Jack Greenwell was a Durham miner who not only played an influential role in the development of FC Barcelona but also remains the only non South American manager to win the Copa America.
Born in Peases West near Crook, County Durham he followed his father down the mine when he left school. He was an amateur player of distinction playing for his home town club Crook Town but it was an invitation to play as a guest for West Auckland in an early international competition, the Thomas Lipton Trophy, in Italy in 1909 which was to change his life. Whilst playing in the tournament which the English team won, Greenwell was spotted by the president of FC Barcelona, Joan Gamper, and in 1912 Gamper invited Greenwell to join his team. He quickly settled in Catalonia, becoming fluent in both Catalan and Castillian Spanish and marrying Doris, a dancer from the Moulin Rouge risqué cabaret.
He played for four seasons up to his retirement in 1916, and then on the recommendation of the players, Gamper appointed him manager.
At the time Spanish clubs only completed in their regional championship, with the winner going onto play in the Copa Del Rey. In a six year spell in charge Greenwell led Barcelona to four Campionat de Catalunya and two Copa del Rey. This was to become known as the club’s first golden era but it was not without controversy.
Greenwell had a radical football philosophy which emphasised the need for passing in favour of dribbling. He also wanted to develop players so they could fit into any position in the team, a salient move in an age before substitutes. This would lead to his teams building from the back and can be seen as a fledgling tiki taka style for which the club are now renowned. However when he took Paulinho Alcántara, who was Barcelona's star striker, and played him as a centre back there were protests and calls for Greenwell’s dismissal but Gamper stuck by his man as the club established themselves as the premier club in Catalonia.
Greenwell moved onto smaller Catalan clubs UE Sants and CD Castellon in the mid 1920s before moving to Espanyol where he again won the Campionat de Catalunya and the club’s first ever Copa del Rey in 1929. He then returned to Barcelona to win a fifth Campionat de Catalunya and also managed Valencia, Gijon and Mallorca. By now a high profile symbol of Catalonian Nationalism, Greenwell was forced to flee Spain due to the civil war in 1936.
He was appointed as a tactical advisor to Peru in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Reaching the quarter-finals, the Peruvians came back from a two goal deficit to Austria, to take the tie to extra-time. They then had three goals disallowed but went onto score twice only for a pitch invasion to force an abandonment. This was blamed on Peruvian supporters so a replay was ordered which Peru refused to contest and so they returned to South America.
Greenwell went with them and became manager for the inaugural Bolivarian Games in 1938 which Peru won. He then combined running the national team with managing club side Universitario, winning the national championship in 1939.
Peru then hosted the 1939 Copa America which was contested on a league format. In the final match in Lima Peru faced Uruguay, the strongest South American team of the era. With both teams having previously won all their games, this was effectively a final. In front of a capacity crowd of 40,000 spectators, Peru won 2-1 to lift the Copa América for the first time.
Greenwell then accepted an offer to work in Colombia, who were not affiliated to FIFA. Asked why he would isolate himself he replied “did the people of Colombia not deserve the beautiful game just because FIFA deemed so?”
He died of a heart attack in 1942, two days after he managed Santa Fe to a 10-3 win over local rivals Deportivo Texas. On his person were found two items he carried constantly: an image of St. George killing the Dragon, which he referred to Catalan style as St. Jordi, and a small piece of cloth of the blaugrana colours.That Barcelona remained so important to him reflected his length of service as their manager which at seven seasons remains second only to Johan Cruyff. The latter was a football icon that completed the club’s transition into a global phenomenon, the former a Durham miner that started the process.