The American author and humorist Mark Twain apparently once said the ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice, and to be fair to the man who created Huckleberry Finn, he probably does has a valid point.
History is important to football supporters of course, fans love nothing more than harking back to the golden age where men were men and shorts were short. The players we grew up watching as youngsters will always seem better than today’s generation, and more often than not, it is the footballers who we didn’t actually see play, that receive the most reverence. A strange breed indeed, football fans.
That is not to say we don’t have our heroes today of course, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are as revered as anybody, and quite rightly so, but they still have the icons of the past to contend with. Messi will be forever up against Argentina’s favourite son, Diego Maradona, whereas Ronaldo has Alfredo di Stefano and Eusebio to contend with.
Whatever the case however, both players will still be remembered as greats themselves long after they have hung up their fluorescent boots, their goalscoring achievements quite rightly demand it. However, it is a little known fact that there was a player whose La Liga scoring record was actually better than these two modern maestros. A British player who played for Barcelona yet is a virtual unknown, lost in history as it were.
His name was George Pattullo and he starred up front for Barça almost one hundred years ago. In fact Pattullo, who also won a Military Cross during the First World War, is the most effective British football export of all-time.
Shrouded in mystery, this fascinating story was only recently unearthed after research was carried out by Alan Pattullo and Gavin Jamieson, who then wrote an article published in The Scotsman last year.
In seems Pattullo first arrived in Catalunya during the first years of the 1900s and began playing for a local team of ex-pats in his spare-time. It was during a game for this ad-hoc team, ironically as a goalkeeper, that he first came to the attention of the fledging Futbol Club Barcelona. Down 5-1 at half-time, Pattullo was thrown upfront and was the catalyst for an amazing comeback that saw his side finish with a 6-5 triumph.
What adds to the Glaswegian’s fascinating story is the fact he was a committed amateur player and refused to receive financial reward for playing the sport, a belief which put him firmly at odds with many of his British colleagues who were being paid to turn out for one of Barcelona’s other clubs, Espanyol. One anecdote even claims Pattullo used to refund hotel and travel expenses to the the club when traveling back to Britain. How times change.
It was during the season of 1910/11 that Pattullo wrote his name into the history books (or not so it seems), scoring a phenomenal 41 goals in just 20 games, a feat which led to the Scot being heralded as the greatest player of his generation. He returned to Scotland the following year however, and resumed his career in the country’s tough coal trade.
This was obviously seen as a great loss for Barcelona and the local sports paper, Mundo Deportivo lamented: ” Barça have lost a priceless player, its fans an idol, and our goalkeepers will be more relaxed to have him far away, that most feared of strikers. Hip hip hooray for Patullo.”
Seemingly lost to the Spanish game, Pattullo made a dramatic return in 1912 when he starred for Barça in a 3-2 victory over their city rivals – a game that apparently cemented his fame in the region.
War broke out in Europe soon after and Pattullo served on the Somme with the Tyneside Scottish, earning the country’s second-highest award for bravery, the Military Cross before returning home when hostilities ended in 1918.
In 1928 Pattullo was invited back to Barcelona and was guest of honour at Les Corts to kick-off a league game between Barça and Real Oviedo, playing in the city one last time shortly afterwards, before returning to Britain.
He later tried his hand at management and had a brief spell at Mallorcan side Club Baleares before finally settling in London where it is claimed he struggled with alcoholism. The Scot’s achievements were soon forgotten, and by the end of the 1940’s he was barely mentioned in the club’s official history, when he was, he was mistakenly referred to as ‘John’. Pattullo died in 1953 aged 64 and went unmentioned until his story was recently re-discovered by researchers.
It seems strange to think that a player of such obvious talent can be almost unknown in the history of this glorious club, and also a tragic quirk of fate that his name is not mentioned among the greats of Scottish football. Maybe now however, this can be addressed and George Pattullo can finally be remembered for what he was; a decorated war hero, a custodian of the amateur game and ultimately, a supremely talented footballer.
By Ian McMullen
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona