Friday 4 September 2020

Jack Greenwell, FC Barcelona, and a 4-2 Loss to Crook Town

FC Barcelona 2-4 Crook Town is probably not a scoreline you've heard before and, to be fair, unless you are a keen follower of North East non-league football then Crook Town are probably not a team you have heard of either. As for FC Barcelona, well they are a world-famous side and as one of the biggest clubs in the world their major trophy haul is seemingly endless - If you haven't heard of them there is clearly something wrong with you. The following story linking the world-renowned Catalan side who describe themselves as més que un club and a little known once amateur nowadays probably just about semi-professional side from County Durham is one rarely told but one that is nonetheless fascinating and worthy of being covered on this here blog.

For those unaware of Crook or its football team, Crook is an ex mining village in County Durham and its football club currently plies its trade in the tenth tier of English football, step six in the non-league pyramid. Nowadays relatively unknown, even by many within the region, Crook Town AFC have had a slightly more illustrious past compared to many non-league sides having five times won the old FA Amateur Cup. Those previous successes are all relative, however, as even in their heyday the club were still small fry in terms of English football. They did, as mentioned, however, play on numerous occasions against one of the biggest names in the world football and even beat then. Ten times they faced FC Barcelona to be precise, with their first tour to Barcelona coming in 1913. Although football was still in its infancy in Spain at the time and Barcelona were not the big force that they are now, anything but, it is still amazing to think that a little known non-league team from the North East once beat them. It is an interesting story and to tell it we must first start with the story of Jack Greenwell.

Jack Greenwell, born 2 January 1884 in Crook, was the son of a miner and would become one himself whilst playing amateur football as a wing half for Crook Town before leaving in 1912 to join FC Barcelona. In an era when travelling to the next town or village along was probably considered an adventure such a move was somewhat astonishing and how it came about is a little unclear. There is, however, one possible explanation and that is the suggestion that Greenwell made contacts in Spain thanks to partaking in a football tournament in Italy. Greenwell made several guest appearances for another local side Weast Auckland Town when they played in a competition held in 1909 and 1911 known as the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy. Held in Turin and considered by many as the original World Cup as it included teams from several different countries, West Auckland won the competition both times it took place. One issue with the theory that his move to Catalunya came about thanks to connections made during his time in Italy, however, is that Barcelona never actually participated in the tournament. Italian giants Juventus did and West Auckland beat them 6-1 in 1911, but not Barcelona.

As a player at FC Barcelona, Greenwell would win two Campionat de Catalunya titles (A national league championship was not introduced in Spain until 1929) before then going on to manage the club. As manager, with his side playing a passing style of football that was very much uncommon at that time, the club won a further five Campionat de Catalunya's as well as two Copa del Rey's. His managerial career, however, extended beyond Barcelona and in fact beyond even Europe. As well as being Barcelona's second longest serving manager of all-time behind Johan Cryuff he also had spells at crosstown rivals RCD Espanyol and then Valencia CF before moving to South America. During his short spell at Espanyol, Greenwell won both the Campionat de Catalunya and the Copa del Rey whilst at Valencia he won the Campeonato de Valencia. In South America, he had spells coaching in a Peru and Colombia and coaching the Peruvian national team he won what is now known as the Copa America, the country's first and to date only one of two such triumphs (the second came in 1975).

In 1913 it was arranged, with the help of Greenwell, for his old side Crook Town to come to Barcelona and play several matches against his new club. Part of the reason for inviting an English side over was that Barcelona at that time wanted to help increase the popularity of the game of football in their homeland. The sport did not have the popularity it nowadays has and it was hoped through bringing across a team from the country that invented the game they could help increase its stature. Being not so popular, however, was perhaps an understatement as in fact the sport was actually despised by many in the middle and upper classes who thought it morally reprehensible. Despised to the point that when King Alfonso XIII announced he would attend some of the matches against Crook there was mass outrage from many and even death threats issued to him. One such death threat came from Sancho Alegre who was a prominent Catalan anarchist at the time. In the end, having weighed up his options, King Alfonso decided not to attend the matches but others did turn up and watch. Three matches took place and although only 2,000 spectators bore witness to the first the second saw that figure increase to 7,000 before reaching 10,000 for the final match of the tour. 

All played at Barcelona's then Camp de la Indústria home, there is little information forthcoming about the actual matches themselves. Although one thing that is noted about the games was the use of substitutions by the hosts. Making substitutions was something that had become common in Spain but was still a long way off in England where the idea of using substitutes was unheard of. Crook won the first match 4-2 and ended the tour unbeaten with draws of 1-1 and 2-2 in the other two matches. To this day a pennant from their trip still hangs in the clubhouse at their Sir Tom Cowie Millfield ground.

There were two further tours to Spain for Crook which involved a further seven matches against FC Barcelona. The tours of 1921 and 1922, however, saw Crook face a much improved Barcelona side that included the legendary goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora who currently lends his name to the La Liga goalkeeper of the year trophy (although it is believed he made a guest appearance for Crook in one of the games). This improved Barça side won four times against Crook with two draws and one sole win the for the visitors. These results included wins of 4-1, 5-1, and 8-1 for the hosts whilst the final match of the 1922 tour saw Crook run out 3-1 victors.

In between and after those three trips to Barcelona, Crook continued back home as a small town amateur non-league side although for a short while in the 1930s they played professionally in the old North Eastern League which included the reserve sides of Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, and Sunderland. In 1931-32 the club reached the third round of the FA Cup but lost 7-0 First Division Leicester City and, of course, there were those aforementioned Amateur Cup wins whilst in 1976 they became the first-ever English side to tour India. Currently, Crook Town play in the Second Division of Northern League which as mentioned earlier in the piece is the tenth tier of English football. Crook's average league attendance last season pre-COVID was 156, FC Barcelona's was 72,472.

Crook Town AFC Tour of Barcelona, 1913

20 April, 1913: FC Barcelona 2-4 Crook Town

24 April, 1913: FC Barcelona 1-1 Crook Town

27 April, 1913: FC Barcelona 2-2 Crook Town

Crook Town AFC Tour of Barcelona, 1921

20 March, 1921: FC Barcelona 5-1 Crook Town

29 March, 1921: FC Barcelona 4-1 Crook Town

02 April, 1921: FC Barcelona 2-1 Crook Town

03 April, 1921: FC Barcelona 1-1 Crook Town

05 April, 1921: Civil Service FC 1-2 Crook Town

Crook Town AFC Tour of Barcelona, 1922

16 April, 1922: FC Barcelona 8-1 Crook Town

17 April, 1922: FC Barcelona 2-2 Crook Town

22 April, 1922: FC Barcelona 1-3 Crook Town

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