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A Forgotten Football Story in Bogota: The Jack Greenwell Legacy

Don’t take this the wrong way; I don’t get the Colombian football league. I can’t deal with an Apertura and Clausura and that the combined scores over several seasons are amalgamated to ensure that the big clubs never get relegated just, well, doesn’t seem fair.

But, when it comes to historical research about the beautiful game in Colombia, Bogota in particular, that involves an Englishman and an unknown history, I’m all in.

Jack Greenwell

Winner of 13 awards in Spain with Barcelona, Espanyol and Valencia, Peruvian champions with Universitario of Lima and triumphing in the Copa America with Peruvian national side before arriving in Colombia and coaching Independiente de Santa Fe in Bogota, Jack Greenwell of Crook Town, County Durham is arguably the most successful English football coach to have ever plied his trade overseas.

This begs the question, why does he remain an almost forgotten footnote in the archives of international football? There is so little recorded about Jack Greenwell’s time in Bogota, a mere two months, which perhaps makes the story even more enticing.

A rudimentary Wikipedia search brings up the obvious details, but this information is sufficient alone to snare even a fair weather football fan or historian.

My research led me to discover that Greenwell was resident in the Pension Centenario (Cra 8a con Calle 16), a downtown area of Bogota that has clearly seen better days and of course has undergone a great deal of change since the 1940s.

A Trip to the Bogota Archives

Wedged between the Garcias and Guzmans, there it was the surname Greenwell in the Bogota Archives. And then, to my surprise, the building where he lived survives while much around it was leveled in 1948, although, its use has evolved from guesthouse to that of bedsits, bookshops and the ubiquitous chicken eatery.

By my reckoning Jack Greenwell is absent from the football hall of fame due to the nature of his unceremonious demise in Bogota on the 7th of October 1942 just as he was making a name for himself in the capital, but before he could have his name cast into the hall of fame of Independiente de Santa Fe where he was coaching at the time.

Perhaps known only to a handful of die-hard Santa Fe hinchas, John Richard Greenwell known to everyone as Jack was the very definition of a journeyman football coach. It would be doing this native of County Durham a disservice to try and liken him to any contemporary figures since in reality no one comes close. Who can claim to have played in England and Spain and coached in Spain, Turkey, Peru and Colombia? Who else has a record with Barcelona only bettered by Johan Cruyff?

Jack Greenwell’s Story

A coal miner’s son, he began his playing career in his hometown of Crook and then moved on to Auckland Wanderers before making the amazing step of establishing himself with Barcelona, where he made 88 appearances between 1912 and 1916 and scored 10 goals.

Greenwell had two stints as coach of Barcelona and in between spent time with Castellon, Espanyol, and Mallorca. He also helped organize the Spanish national team for the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, and then post 1933 he coached Valencia and Sporting Gijon before leaving the country in 1936 for Turkey due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Little is known about Greenwell’s stint in Turkey and the next we hear of him he has turned up in Lima coaching Universitario and preparing the Peruvian national side for the 1939 South American Championship — in which they were victorious.

From Peru to Colombia

It was in 1938 that Greenwell savored his first experiences in Colombia, leading Peru to win the inaugural Bolivarian games in Bogota. The Peruvian side defeated Colombia 4-2 and notched up a startling 18 goals in 4 games. The journeyman from Crook Town must have seen something in Colombia because he was back again in 1940 to help organize and prepare the Colombian national side for the Juegos del Caribe in Barranquilla.

The Caribbean city of Barranquilla must have been almost a homecoming for Greenwell since there was a large British community there at the time, and this city with its railways and port had been a key point of entry for the beautiful game to Colombia.

Whether he considered his two year tenure in Barranquilla a success or not we cannot know for the Juegos del Caribe were abandoned for obvious reasons given the global geopolitical situation and he was drawn to Bogota with a job offer from the Federacion Deportiva del Guayas. This job never materialized and it was then that the directors of Santa Fe came calling.

Greenwell at Santa Fe

Hired initially for a six month period in 1942 by then Santa Fe President Enrique Santos Castillo (father of President Juan Manuel Santos, yes that one!), Greenwell made his mark straight away with journalists from the national newspaper, El Tiempo, praising his discipline and tactics. Leading Santa Fe to their first amateur title for the state of Cundinamarca, Greenwell’s last game was a resounding 10 – 3 win over local rivals Deportivo Texas at the Alfonso Lopes stadium in the Universidad Nacional on October 5.

On October 7 having finished his morning training session in the Quinta Mutis in western Bogota Greenwell was driven home by Rafael Urdaneta Holguin along with other Santa Fe players to his digs at the Pension Centenario just below the Septima avenue. According the obituary published in El Tiempo, scarcely had Greenwell reached his room when he was taken gravely ill and various other residents of the Pension called for medical assistance. Before the Doctor arrived Jack Greenwell had passed away, his Registro de Defuncion or Death Certificate, suggesting an aneurysm.

Buried in the British Cemetery in Bogota, a reflection of Greenwell’s life is not only astounding in its achievements but also the historical timeline in which he inhabited.

I spent several hours in the British Cemetery (Calle 26 No 17-19) thoroughly scanning each tombstone to try and locate Jack Greenwell’s, but to no avail. His final resting place was not to be found nestled between members of Bolivar’s Albion Regiment, natives of Kirkcudbright and Woking, Presidents of industry and banking. There were handfuls of weather-damaged slabs that could quite reasonably belong to Greenwell.

70 years ago, aged 58, Jack Greenwell passed away and his mastery of the beautiful game goes unrecognized by the vast majority of football fans. It has not been an easy task – the hierarchy at Santa Fe seemed ignorant of his tenure with them - that of tracking down his final resting place and his short life in Bogota, it has been a trail that has taken me through the city archives, early Bogota Notary offices – where he is listed as entrenador de Foott Booll - and unsuccessfully to the British Cemetery.

But, hopefully, this can reawaken some interest in the history of the game here in Colombia and in this journeyman coach that really made his mark globally in aiding leagues in their infancy get off the ground.

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Richard Greenwell Sunday, 01 September 2013

Having worked in Bogota and Cali for he a bank of London and South America in he 70's and later visited many times on business when Counsellor Commercial at the Australian Embassy in Caracas I found this information intriguing. Born in Buenos Aires, but also an Australian and Britih citizen, I am a football fanatic, I played in Depotivo Cali's stadium whilst with the bank, and watch Millionaios a few times. Currently residing in England and. Life long Arsenal supporter.

Guest
Doris Hahn Saturday, 21 September 2013

Wonderful article and more amazing each time I read it!

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Guest Friday, 24 October 2014

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