By Andy West
Until now, the identity of Barcelona’s first manager has been shrouded in mystery.
The club’s official records refer to him only as ‘B. Barren’, noting that he was an Englishman who was in charge for a brief period in 1912.
New research has revealed the truth about this footballing pioneer, with a story that goes back to the coalfields of Durham and the first ‘World Cup’.
Here is the tale of Barcelona’s first coach, Miles Coverdale Stocks Barron.
Early Barca’s British influence
Futbol Club Barcelona was founded in 1899 by Swiss athlete and businessman Hans Gamper, who stayed at the helm for more than two decades and later adapted his first name to the Catalan version, Joan.
Gamper was highly ambitious, and he quickly developed Barca into a force on the burgeoning Spanish football scene, winning the Spanish Cup in 1910 and funding the construction of a new stadium.
But Gamper realised that his team was still well below the level of leading clubs around the continent and – like many early innovators in Spanish futbol – he turned for inspiration to the source of the modern game: British football. He initially raised standards by recruiting a series of players, including Alex Steel (formerly of Manchester City and Tottenham) and Billy Lambe (ex-Brighton and Hove Albion), with the latter also serving as player/manager.
That, however, was not enough to satisfy Gamper, who was also keen to appoint a full-time manager and administrator to run the team’s affairs off the pitch rather than entrusting those important duties to a player.
At this point, most probably through another of his British recruits, Jack Greenwell, Gamper was introduced to Miles ‘Sidney’ Barron.
‘World Cup’ winner heads to Barcelona
The full story of Barron’s involvement with Barcelona has been researched by Gavin Jamieson of Lapwing Publishing, who told BBC Sport: “Born in 1871, Barron was a surveyor, the son of a colliery manager from Durham.
“He was never a footballer but had been a company secretary for a few amateur teams in the north east, and was a very good organiser of European trips.”
Those European exploits were Barron’s greatest attraction to Gamper, who was aware that Barron had been the manager of West Auckland Football Club, an amateur team of coalminers from County Durham.
West Auckland – with Greenwell as a key player – had gained fame in 1909 when they defeated FC Winterthur from Switzerland to win the inaugural Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, later dubbed the first ‘World Cup’, and then retained the trophy two years later with a 6-1 victory over Juventus in Turin.
But West Auckland, whose triumphs were turned into a TV movie starring Dennis Waterman in 1982 (‘The World Cup: A Captain’s Tale’), soon fell into financial trouble and, just a year after that glorious win over Juventus, the club disbanded.
That, however, meant that their manager Barron was available, and after travelling to Barcelona to meet Gamper in the autumn of 1912, he was appointed the club’s first full-time coach.
One of Gamper’s priorities was to test his team’s playing strengths and promote his club by arranging games against top-class foreign opposition, so Barron – as well as managing Barca – was tasked with putting together a team from England to visit Barcelona for a series of friendlies.
Barron returned to his native north-east to assemble a squad, including players from his triumphant ‘world champions’ West Auckland FC. They travelled to Barcelona for three games over Christmas 1912 under the new name West Auckland Wanderers, with all expenses paid by Gamper.
A famous victory
The three games attracted a lot of local attention among fans and media, with a sell-out crowd flocking to Barca’s recently opened Camp Del Carrer Industria stadium for the first game on Christmas Day.
“When the West Auckland team arrived in Barcelona, they were treated as celebrities by a football crowd that was witnessing their own team’s transition from amateurs to professionals. To play against a team from England was seen as a major test ,” said Jamieson.
“The first game was a thrilling 3-3 draw, with two of Barcelona’s goals coming from their British players, Alex Steel and Frank Allack. They played again the following day, and Wanderers proved their class by winning 4-0. But the final game was played on 29 December and this time Barcelona got the win their fans craved: Steel scored both goals in a 2-0 victory, and Barron had coached Barca to a famous win over their illustrious visitors from England.”
Gamper was delighted with his new coach and tried to persuade him to stay, but Barron instead opted to return home to his family and his full-time job as a surveyor for the collieries. Sadly, external events then intervened to prevent him from making any more impact in the world of football.
“With the onset of the First World War, Barron was commissioned into the Royal Engineers,” explained Jamieson. “While serving in Salonika he, as with so many Allied soldiers, contracted malaria and this would affect his health for the rest of his life. In 1924, at the age of 52, he succumbed to the disease and passed away.”
Barron’s time in Barcelona was brief, but his legacy would prove to be long-lasting – especially after his former player, friend and fellow County Durham native Greenwell decided to stay in Barcelona.
Greenwell ended his playing career with the club and was then appointed manager, becoming one of the most important figures in Barca’s history by overseeing a glorious era in the early 1920s and enjoying the longest stint of any Barcelona manager except Johan Cruyff.
Greenwell’s place in Barca’s record books is already well known and now Barron’s tale can also be added.