Champions League final: English soul at the heart of a Catalan giant

26 May 2011 01:24
ShareSpecial connection: Crook Town has a place in the very heart of the super club that is now Barcelona

There are many places at which to begin a voyage around the 111-year history of FC Barcelona. There is home, the Nou Camp stadium, with its Sala Wembley and the ominous chapel, outside which  visiting teams line up at the top of the tunnel.

Then there is the hospital on the site of the first meeting of the club in November 1899 called by a young Swiss businessman, Hans (later Joan) Gamper.

Or there is the small monument outside Madrid which records the execution of Josep Sunyol,  Barcelona president, by General Franco's troops in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

And there is Johan Cruyff's office in Zona Bonanova. You could stand there and consider if any modern figure has shaped the club more. There is so much history Barcelona have their own museum and it was packed yesterday.

But this journey starts far away, in County Durham. Out in the rolling discarded coalfields there lies the small town of Crook. Ex-mining,  ex-industry, Crook is struggling, but it still has its football club, Crook Town, and behind the tiny, dark bar at their ground, Millfield, hangs a pennant that attaches Crook Town to Barcelona's roots.

A Crook man, Jack Greenwell, was responsible. He had guested for West Auckland when they won 'the first World Cup', the  Lipton Trophy, in Turin in 1909. Greenwell was in the side that included Alf 'Tot' Gubbins.

It is not known how Barcelona made contact but in April 1912 Greenwell played his last game for Crook Town and moved to Spain. He would play 88 times for Barcelona and in 1913 invited Crook over for a series of friendlies. In one Crook won 4-2, which prompts the question: were Crook Town the first English team to beat Barcelona?

Key figure: In April 1912 Jack Greenwell played his last game for Crook Town and moved to Spain. He would play 88 times for Barcelona

Although a man called John  Barrow was appointed in 1917 as Barcelona's first manager, he lasted four months. Greenwell succeeded him and lasted six years. That was his first spell. Greenwell would return in 1931 having managed Espanyol and  Mallorca. In total, only Cruyff  managed Barcelona longer than Jack Greenwell.

As Crook Town's chairman  William Penman said: 'You can imagine, we are very proud that a little club like this in the Northern League was in at the beginning of a club like Barcelona.'

Proud heritage: Crook Town Football Club chairman William Penmen (right) and Crook Town historian Michael Manuel with memorabilia from the time Crook Town played Barcelona in Spain

There are no links now but Crook have that precious pennant. They also have, from 1923, the Barcelona Cup with the Barca crest inscribed on the trophy. Greenwell had invited Crook Town back after World War I. Crook triumphed again.

Greenwell was one of eight  Englishmen who would manage Barca - Vic Buckingham, Terry Venables and Sir Bobby Robson having done so since 1970. The club proudly refer to their 'English soul' but then they could not ignore the fact that among those founding members with Gamper were Englishmen such as Walter Wild and Ernest Witty, men who would play for and run the club.

Dynasty: Johan Cruyff (left), the manager of Barcelona when they last won the trophy at Wembley, introduced the philosophy used to this day by the club

Yet Football Club Barcelona quickly became a Catalan institution. From Crook to Cruyff, along the way it also became a cause.

That 'More Than A Club' motto was actually not coined until 1968 but Gamper had spoken of the club as 'a means of social integration' at the outset and by 1932 it was being said: 'Our club's popularity undeniably includes elements that are not related to sport.'

Gamper had committed suicide by then, Sunyol was killed soon after and, when La Liga resumed in 1939, there was a directive from  victorious Franco and Madrid: 'The club would cease to be a vehicle for anti-Spanish sentiment.'

Brits abroad: Terry Venables and Sir Bobby Robson have both managed Barcelona

Not quite. That just pushed a feeling underground and made the club stronger. But it has not always been easy and for periods Barca have toiled in Real Madrid's shadow.

There have been direct conflicts too, such as when Barcelona 'signed' Alfredo di Stefano in 1953, only for him then to join Real. This is described in Barca's museum as 'a strange federative manoeuvre with Francoist backing'.

Di Stefano would help establish Real as the foremost club in European football, while Barcelona went from 1960 to 1974 without winning a single La Liga title. It would be 1985 before they achieved the next, and not until 1992 did Barcelona win the European Cup - at  Wembley, with a beaming Seve  Ballesteros waiting at the top of the famous old steps.

What 1992, 1974 and today's achievements have in common is Cruyff. Unlike Di Stefano, Barca clinched this signing Buckingham had been Cruyff's manager at Ajax. One of the greats on the pitch, when Cruyff returned as manager in 1988 he transformed the way Barcelona thought and played and attendances, which had slipped sometimes below 30,000. 'Yes, that really happened,' Cruyff said.

Integral: Pep Guardiola was the key component of the Barcelona engine room when they beat Sampdoria in the 1992 final

As Xavi noted on Monday: 'He (Cruyff) changed the idiosyncrasy of the club. He introduced the  philosophy to keep the ball, to play in triangles, to attack. That philosophy remains to this day. We're all students of Cruyff and his school of thought.'

Pep Guardiola was central to  Cruyff's team at Wembley in 1992, a team who won La Liga four years in succession. The student has become the meester, as it's known in Spain, and Barca have just won three  successive league titles. There have been two Champions Leagues since 2006, with the chance of a third.

These are Barcelona's golden years. Of the club's 21 league titles, 11 have come since 1991. Real Madrid have won six in that time.

Asked if Barca can build the sort of European dynasty Ajax, Bayern Munich and Liverpool were known for, Xavi replied: 'This is our third final in six years. For us this is  historic. We intend to carry on and to be like the teams you have said. We see no reason why not. We have a great team and coach here.'

Roaring success: Xavi has taken over that mantle from his manager and will need to be stopped should United maintain any chance of glory

Cruyff has called the style of play under Guardiola 'a kind of wonderful tyranny' and the man who once said 'you have to die by your own ideas' heaped praise on Frank Rijkaard and Guardiola: 'To polish an idea, a particular way of understanding football, which is sometimes unique, like the one that Barca have, can never be credited to the one who started it, but to those who improve on it.' 

They have been polishing the Barca idea for more than a century. There are critics, in Madrid of course, and those who refer to 'Bar$a', and Cruyff has voiced his displeasure at the replacing of the UNICEF name on the jersey with that of the Qatar  government. But the idea of FCB is why in 50 countries, from Kosovo to Cuba, there are supporters' clubs.

And in Crook. Even Jack Greenwell must once have tapped into what this club trumpet as: 'Barca and its Universal Calling'.

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Source: Daily_Mail