Barcelona’s Scottish Hero: The forgotten story of George Pattullo

by Iain McMullen

In the build up to their 2008 Uefa Champions League clash against Glasgow Celtic at Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s official website published an article charting the careers of ten Scottish footballers who had played for the club during its 109 year history.

Top of that list, and the most recent Scot to turn out for the club, was Steve Archibald, the hugely talented Glaswegian who joined Barca from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 1984.  Archibald spent four productive seasons in the Catalan capital, scoring a respectable 25 goals in 55 games, before moving back to England in 1987 for a loan spell at Blackburn Rovers.

You have to go back more than one hundred years to find the next Scot to play for Barcelona however, and while little known to fans today, this player was one of Spanish football’s first great goal scorers.

His name was George Pattullo and he starred up front for Barça at the turn of the second decade of the twentieth century. Furthermore, Pattullo, who also won a Military Cross during the First World War, is statistically the most effective British football export of all-time.

Shrouded in mystery, Pattullo’s story was only recently unearthed after research by journalists Alan Pattullo and Gavin Jamieson, who subsequently wrote an article published in The Scotsman in 2011.

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 Glasgow-born player’s fascinating story is the fact he was a committed amateur and refused to acknowledge that somebody should 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 in the history books, 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 a previous career in the country’s tough coal trade.

This was obviously seen as a great loss for Barcelona and the local sports paper, el 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 played for Barça in a 3-2 victory over city rivals Espanyol – a game that apparently cemented his fame in the region.

War broke out soon after and Pattullo served on the Western Front with the Tyneside Scottish, earning the country’s second-highest award for bravery, the Military Cross, during the Battle of the Somme. He returning home at the end of hostilities 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 after before returning to Britain.

Pattullo 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 re-discovered in 2011.

It seems strange to think that a player of such obvious talent went almost unknown in the history of this glorious club, and also a tragic quirk of fate that his name has not been mentioned among the greats of Scottish football. Thankfully this is now being 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.

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