Remembering Jack Greenwell, key forgotten figure of Bogotá football

A memorial to Jack Greenwell in his hometown in England
A memorial to Jack Greenwell in his hometown in England

Some years ago I penned a piece about the “unknown” British football coach Jack Greenwell who plied his trade all over the world before an untimely demise in Bogotá in 1942.

Imagine a life which began in 1884 in County Durham, Northern England and ended in the downtown Hospedaje Centenario on Bogotá’s Calle 16 with periods in Spain, Turkey and Peru in between. The distances, when you consider the era, were immense and travel was a luxury, certainly not the costly folly of a coal miner’s son.

Several years after I began this investigation, one which led me to the Bogotá Archives in Las Cruces, to the British Cemetery in Mártires, to a meeting with Greenwell’s granddaughter Doris in a shopping mall in Toronto, Canada and an interview with Harold Stephenson, a Greenwell-enthusiast and resident in the very house where Jack was born in Crook Town, there has now been some closure in that this journeyman footballer has finally been recognized in his home town 74 years after his death.

The quest to ensure that this football legacy is protected and remembered still has some way to go but due to the tireless efforts of Stephenson, Crook Town now has a centrally located commemorative plaque and a bench to honour Greenwell.

The sizeable and remaining challenges are to ensure that Barcelona, Peru and potentially Bogotá’s red half, Santa Fé commemorate the work of this tireless footballing free spirit.

Wind back the clock though.

It had always been my plan to investigate Jack Greenwell’s life and times in Bogotá and potentially in Peru but the turns and curiosities of life meant that this pursuit became little more than a welcome pastime for when there was a spare moment.

And so, while I felt, for some reason, a kinship with Greenwell due perhaps to the obvious shared nationality, my research trailed off after having gifted a notarized copy of his death certificate to Doris from Bogotá’s Notaria Segunda. It was as if by handing over this document of closure to his family, my work was done.

It was then in early 2016 that I was contacted by Harold Stephenson who had teamed up with a local Crook Town historian to have Greenwell recognized and honoured in his home town.

Would I offer contacts and words of advice? Of course, as if I could be of more help than those in County Durham.

In the office of Santa Fé in Bogotá, the press officer did little more than add me to an infuriatingly consistent mailing list informing of the lineups prior to each game in the Dimayor. At an exhibition about football in Colombia at the Museo Nacional, the beautiful game ostensibly didn’t exist until 1950 and the arrival of Mountford, Franklin and Mitten (the Bogotá Bandit) exiling themselves from the English leagues, tempted across the Atlantic by better pay.

No one knew anything. Even my hardcore Santa Fé friends know little. Their glazed looks spoke volumes as I waxed lyrical about the English birth of their club.

It was infuriating. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the unveiling of the plaque in Crook Town this past August, but I definitely felt part of what was going on. While to us, Jack Greenwell had not been forgotten and his story plays an important role in the history of the global football movement, the feeling is that together, we are performing a public and historical conservation project.

Greenwell’s is a story which needs to be shared and considered as there must be more just like it, incredible lives which have effected change and remain unknown due to having taken place in an era prior to the global communication revolution.

What would be made of Greenwell had he lived to see 76 years of age and 1960? His story would be widely known and his legacy intact, barring any bizarre career implosion, and we would be celebrating a global figure.

As it is, the unfortunate truth is that he represents a footnote in the expansion of the beautiful game. This first step, the recognition of Greenwell in his place of birth, is the first step and a major one at that, towards pushing this phenomenal football brain, by all accounts, to where he belongs.

Remember, Greenwell was winner of 13 awards in Spain with Barcelona, Espanyol and Valencia, Peruvian champions with Universitario of Lima and triumphing in the Copa America with Peru before coming to Colombia.

So, let me take advantage of this space made available to me and suggest that we take up the mantle here in Bogotá, those of us in the expat community along with interested fans of Santa Fé, to build on what Stephenson has achieved in Crook Town, and petition the relevant authorities to explore the possibility of a tangible act of memorialization and recognition for Greenwell in Bogotá.

Does this sound doable? I am open to hearing suggestions of where to begin.


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