A neighbour far from ordinary

Mike Greenwood who was captain of the 1960 Rome Olympics GB football team.''Below: Mike Greenwood (left) shaking hands with the German team captain.''Bottom: Author Joshua Carback.
Mike Greenwood who was captain of the 1960 Rome Olympics GB football team.''Below: Mike Greenwood (left) shaking hands with the German team captain.''Bottom: Author Joshua Carback.

When Joshua Carback moved to Harrogate as a five-year-old, his next door neighbour became a firm friend. Little did he know that this welcoming face was once an Olympic football captain. Joshua, now 19 and living in Baltimore, Maryland, tells the story of Mike Greenwood.

OF those enjoying Team Great Britain’s return to the pitch at this year’s Games in London, none will be more attentive to their performance than Mike Greenwood. To me as a child, he was just the friendly old neighbour who came out to trim his shrubs and wave hello if we passed by on the way to our home across the street at Leadhall Close, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Mike Greenwood (left) with German team captain (S)

Mike Greenwood (left) with German team captain (S)

As a family of American migrants stationed far away from home for a three and a half year period due to my father’s work at Menwith Hill, we were more than grateful to receive his hospitality. Being only a mere five years old when I first stepped foot on English shores in 1997, I had no idea I would meet such a friend.

To my great surprise, I would later find out he was not just your average neighbour, but the football captain for Team GB in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Being around Greenwood, you would never have thought that at one point he was a celebrity. That fact in itself embodies precisely the reason why Mike is so great.

THE EARLY YEARS

Mr Greenwood was born to a family of shopkeepers in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and it soon became apparent that he was talented at sport.

Author Joshua Carback (S)

Author Joshua Carback (S)

After two years in the Army, he studied at Loughborough College, now University, and started playing football for them. In his third year, Mr Greenwood was elected team captain and also took charge of the helm of the English Universities Team, and the British Universities team as well.

A SEASON IN THE ETERNAL CITY

Mr Greenwood married his childhood sweetheart, Shirley Webster shortly after graduating from Loughborough and split his time between teaching physical education, and playing for the England Amateur team, which he captained. Typical of Mike: “The question of ever being involved at the Olympic level,” he recollected, “was a distant thought.”

Sure enough however, Greenwood was one of the initial 35 players considered to represent Team GB at the Rome games the following year. Tryouts commenced, consisting of a fortnight of evaluation matches taking place at the National Sports Centre in Bisham Abbey, right on the outskirts of London.

There the 35 tested their mettle against professional teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea, and West Ham. The final count of persons selected to go to Rome was 19, many of which were invited to tour the West Indies with the Middlesex Wanderers, and play in Trinidad, Martinique, Jamaica, and Dutch Guiana. It was announced that they would be managed by Mr Norman Creek, who had been the manager of the English Amateur International.

The final squad carried what Greenwood called, a Corinthian approach to the sport; that is “an attitude of fair play and sportsmanship,” which in his words, “means you try your best to win but with courtesy for your opponents”.

The team of course wasn’t composed of professional athletes, as it is today. They were simply amateurs, like Mike.

Even in 1960, full time professional players at leading clubs received little more than £10 pounds a week, a stark contrast to today’s stars, many of whom which make over £150,000 pounds a week. The Rome group was a mishmash of working class fishmongers, accountants, teachers, etc. – none of whom received remuneration from football sources. Once again, Greenwood’s time at Loughborough played a heavy part in his being deemed not only qualified to join the squad as their left half, but also his being named team captain.

The men immediately began their preparations, ironing themselves into a tightly knit regiment of Spartacists ready to deal with the opponents they would face, who were also aspiring to make the tournament: Holland and the Republic of Ireland. Team GB went on to beat Ireland twice, and finish with one win and one tie against Holland, clinching the top rank in their group, and qualifying for Rome.

Sadly Team GB was not to advance any further. Creek’s boys managed to hold their own in their group, beating Formosa (now Taiwan) 3-2 and tying Italy 2-2. Unfortunately, this was simply not enough to compensate for their opening loss to Brazil 4-3 at Ardenza Stadium in Leghorn on the 26th of August of that year.

The team’s march on the Eternal City was nonetheless a noble effort, given the wave of adversity that rocked their efforts from the outset. Tommy Thompson, the team’s full back, and good friend of Greenwood, broke his leg before the half in their opening match vs Brazil.

Team GB was forced to finish that match with ten players. Greenwood called this setback the low point of his Olympic experience. Still, the squad kept their heads high. They had fought quite well, especially considering the fact that the Brazilian team that narrowly defeated them included three players who would compete in the Brazilian squad that would win the World Cup in 1962, a formidable foe to say the least.

A LIFE OF SERVICE

After the games in Rome, Greenwood went on to play club football for seven years at Bishop Auckland FC and Sheffield FC, though his professional career was primarily dedicated to his Phys Ed teaching at Lilleshall Hall. His employment there endured for ten years, a time during which his wife gave birth to their two children, Nicolas, and Fiona.

The same year Greenwood left his teaching position, he was appointed to serve as deputy director of Lilleshall National Sports Centre, a residential centre that offers top notch facilities where talented young people can hone their gifts. (Interestingly enough, Lilleshall was also the training grounds for England’s 1966 World Cup Championship squad).

His time with the Sport’s Council occurred under the tenure of Government Minister for Sport Lord Moyniham, with whom Greenwood had met with on several occasions when the Minister dropped by his office in Leeds. The former mid-field maestro finished his venture into Sports Administration in 2000, whereupon which he retired.

In July 2010, a 50th anniversary reunion for all the members of the 1960 Olympic squad was arranged by the British Olympic Association (BOA). 10 of the original 19 were in attendance with their wives; sadly four had passed away, and three were in too poor a health to travel.

“Considering that so many of the squad are still prepared to come together as a team 50 years on,” Greenwood remarked on the event, “gives a clear indication as to the team spirit and friendship.

A year later, Greenwood organized another reunion on his own at Lilleshall Hall, where had had formerly been employed, a get-together which he later described in a letter he wrote to me as being after 51 years, “quite an emotional gathering.”

Greenwood and his former teammates from the games in Rome still continue to meet occasionally for dinners at some of the clubs they played for. Most recently, Greenwood was invited along with other alumni to attend a dinner held at Loughborough to celebrate the opening of a brand new football stadium. The complex was formally commissioned on May 4, with the University taking on the Tottenham Hotspur the same day to glorify the opening of a 3,000 capacity development which replaced the Holywell Park fields on the west end of campus.

Today, Greenwood continues to remain very active at 77, waxing his retirement serving the local community, and enjoying time spent with family.

AN UNDENIABLE LEGACY

At present, Greenwood’s Alma Mater continues to draw attention to itself, as it is the official training base of Team GB for the London games. The transformation of campus into the pre-games preparation site is scheduled to take place on July 1st, when the men’s’ basketball squad will check into Burleigh Court, Loughborough’s four-star hotel. Two days later, the Olympic Torch relay will pass through campus.

The premium facilities Loughborough boasts are expected to produce a “no-excuse” environment, with 1,000 volunteers on standby to provide assistance. Pearce will be able to fully occupy his football players with a round-the-clock training schedule to prepare Team GB for the group foes they have drawn: Senegal, Uruguay, and UAE, the first of which they face in Old Trafford on July 26th. The circumstances are obviously a far cry from the conditions contemporary to Greenwood’s day, which offered amateurs less time for coaching and practice.

With tribal rivalries continuing to play out in the form of Irish, Welsh, and Scottish schismatics being loggerheads with Sepp Blatter’s call for a Team GB in the first place, I think regardless where ones stands in the debate, it is well worth it to nod our attention towards a more optimistic focus as the Games approach. And to that effect, towards a man whose legacy inspires others to pursue their passions much as he did.

While the sublime tones of the Choir of Santa Cecilia, and the fanfare of the Band of the Carabinieri’s trumpets blaring “Faithful Followers of Vitorchiano” welcoming Greenwood’s squad to the XVII Olympiad have long since faded, Greenwood’s reputation certainly hasn’t. His fine conduct in the roles he has played in every stage of his life has established him as a paragon of what defines the ideal competitor: strength, humility, and fairness.

The landscape of the football world has changed much since its genesis in 1863. Frivolous debates continue to rage 149 years later over a seemingly unending list provocative developments; the Jabulani ball and the Vuvuzela, just to name a few.

Players and fans would do well to remember the example of a man who is emblematic of the very best of what football is all about. To recall, by way of Mike Greenwood’s example, what the world’s most treasured competition is meant to be: a commoner’s game, a gentlemen’s sport.

A CHILDHOOD FRIEND

Growing up next to this man, I would never have had even the slightest detection of the sort of level of achievement that he had in his youth. Mr Greenwood, as we called him, was always ready to serve our family; everything from his playing hide and seek with us kids in his gardens, to acting as a child-minder for my sister Casey when the rest of the family went to Museums she wouldn’t have been old enough to appreciate. He even chauffeured Casey to play school to help my mother out at one point.

The relationship between Mr Greenwood and my family grew stronger by the year, and we were very sorry to say our goodbye’s to him in 2001, when my father’s professional stint in Yorkshire came to a close, and we returned to the United States.

Our absence from Greenwood wouldn’t last long however. In 2003, we invited him to come over and vacation with us in the fall, staying at our home in Eldersburg, Maryland. He recalled with me during an interview that his time with us was splendid, a true getaway. We made sure to give him every opportunity to sightsee all of the best of our neck of the woods, from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, to the campus of the University of Maryland, where we saw Nicholas Cage on set filming Disney’s hit film, “National Treasure,” and where we also later attended an (American) football game.

“Everyone made me feel welcome and extended the highest level of hospitality,” said Greenwood, adding a pinch of humour he was well famed for delivering on occasion, “except the immigration officer on his high chair – he has been deleted from my Christmas card list.”

Greenwood played the part of an adopted grandfather much as he had in England; he even spent a soggy afternoon watching my club and I playing in a game of (American) football one Saturday.”

That occasion of course illuminated the fact that he isn’t just a strict football enthusiast, an all-around admirer he is of many sports.