An email from a cousin in Canada led to a surprising revelation for Councillor John Greenwell - his great uncle had been a famous footballer and manager in his day.
John Richard ‘Jack’ Greenwell was born in Crook, County Durham in 1884 and went on to play for and manage Barcelona, RCD Español, Valencia CF, and later was the national coach for Colombia and Peru.
“What a great surprise to receive an email from a cousin in Canada that I didn’t know of,” said John, from his home in Coldstream.
“After some frantic emails back and forth it was apparent that my grandfather and her grandfather were brothers.
“I remember well, when a young lad, my grandfather telling me of his brother who went to Spain but had not realised why and how proud he was of him. I am looking forward to finding out more about a whole side of my family that until now I knew nothing about.”
Jack Greenwell’s illustrious football career started with Crook AFC. The club is celebrating its 125th anniversary next month, and Councillor Greenwell has been invited along to the celebrations.
“What an honour to be asked to represent the Greenwell family at the 125th anniversary of Crook Town AFC where the journey all began for my great uncle, whose achievements have only been bettered by Johan Cruyrff in modern times at Barcelona.”
Jack Greenwell played for Crook Town from 1901 to 1912 and won a Crook and District league winners medal in the 1901-02 season. It was the first of many medals he was to win, culminating in managing the victorious Peru side that won the South American championship in 1939.
In 1912 going to Bishop Auckland would have been adventurous for many Crook residents, but undaunted, Jack joined a group of young men heading to play football in sunnier climes in Spain and never looked back.
Playing 88 games for Barcelona, Jack scored 10 goals and won two Campionat de Catalunya. He also helped to set up a three match series in Barcelona in 1913 against his old team mates from Crook.
Crook Town historian Michael Manuel recalls the unlikely links between County Durham and Catalonia.
“In 1913 Jack Greenwell helped to set up a three match series against his old mates from Crook,” he said. “The visitors won the first match 4-2, then drew 1-1 and 2-2. That could mean Crook Town were the first English club side to beat Barcelona.
“In 1922 Crook again beat Barcelona and brought home the Trophie de Catelonia, which the club still have to this day.”
Jack became manager of Barcelona in 1917, going down in history as the first official coach to lead the club to their first golden age, winning five Campionat de Catalunya and two Copa del Rey.
Leaving Barcelona he moved to C D Castellon taking over RCD Espanol in 1927 who also won the Campionat de Catalunya and the Copa del Rey under his guidance.
The 1930-31 season was spent with RCD Mallorca, before Jack returned to Barcelona, again winning the Campionat de Catalunya in the 1931-32 season. During 1933-34 Jack was manager of Valencia, and in the 1935-36 season he managed Sporting de Gijon.
But his success in Spain was brought to a halt by the Spanish Civil War and he and his Spanish wife Doris fled to Turkey initially, then headed for South America.
In 1939 he managed the Peru side Universitario de Deportes and the national team, the university team winning the national championship.
The same year Peru hosted the South American Championship. Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil all withdrew before the competition started, leaving Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Peru formed a single mini-league. Peru were the victors and became South American Champions.
In 1940 Jack moved to Colombia and worked with the national team towards the 1942 Central American and Caribbean Games. However, the games were postponed due to the worsening world situation, and that year Jack moved on to his last team Independiente Santa Fe, dying of a heart attack in the November, aged 58.