Did you know that Orient were the first professional football club to tour Spain? Back in 1914 the O’s set off on their Spanish adventure, and the story’s told here by Rory MacQueen in an article which first appeared in the pages of the club’s fanzine ‘Leyton Orientear’…
Some very interesting old newspaper cuttings reached me recently from the historian, Neil Kaufman (via Steve Cedar in Barcelona).
They are taken from editions of the Hackney Spectator dated May and June 1914 and are reports sent back from Clapton Orient’s four-match tour of what was then the footballing heartland of Spain: the Basque country.
According to the Spectator, the O’s were the first professional team to visit Spain: “for a long time Spain has fed on Nunhead, Shepherds Bush and Crusaders pabulem, but now something stronger is required to stimulate the football appetite of the folk of old Bilbao.”
Billy Holmes’ Clapton Orient team had just finished sixth in the second division, six points off promotion winners Notts County and Bradford Park Avenue. Top scorer was Richard McFadden with 16 goals in 33 matches.
Reigning champions Athletic Bilbao were Spain’s premier club of the era. Founded in either 1898 or 1901 (depending on who you believe) they dominated the pre-professional Spanish football scene, and had built their impressive San Mamés stadium a year earlier – the first purpose-built football stadium in Spain – following their fourth Cup win.
The second match there, in the presence of King Alfonso, was against the aforementioned Shepherds Bush. Bilbao were often managed in their early days by English trainers (Howard Kendall in 1987-90 was just keeping up an old tradition) and their continued use of the English ‘Athletic’ in preference to the Spanish ‘Atlético’ is a sign of how much respect they have there for the many Englishmen who played important roles in the early days of the club.
Athletic’s claim to never have had a non-Basque play for them also looks a bit dodgy when you see ‘Alfredo’ Mills was vice-captain in 1903-4. Orient played their first two matches of the tour in San Mamés.
The first was watched by an impressive crowd of 7,000, and the correspondent of the Spectator was surprised to notice so many women among the number: something which even now grabs the attention of many English fans that go to watch a match in Spain.
The O’s went behind early on but two goals from William Jonas put them 2-1 up at half time. Two goals from Bob Dalrymple and a third by Jonas, answered only by Patricio’s second of the game for Bilbao, gave the Orient a convincing 5-2 win after 90 minutes.
The reporter was unimpressed by Orient’s play in general, however, as “they were trying exhibition football. The game was exciting but not good. Bilbao have a great deal yet to learn and one thing is the knack of passing on the run with the side of the foot. The game is young in Spain and Bilbao is going very well and later will go a great deal better.”
Their centre half Belaustegigoitia (who went on to be capped three times for Spain, scoring once) is singled out for special praise, but the difference between professionals and amateurs seems to have been noticeable.
The Orient team was as follows: Hugall; Hind, Evans; Forrest, Van den Eynden, Gibson; Parker, Dalrymple, Jonas, McFadden, Tilley.
A few days later Orient returned to the same ground, but the filthy weather which Bilbao is famous for kept the crowd down to around 3,000.
Clapton Orient were leading 1-0 at the break through Dalrymple, then added another three (two from Fred Parker and another by Dalrymple) after the break before the match had to be abandoned after 70 minutes with the score at 4-1, owing to a “torrential downpour”.
The Orient squad enjoyed a few days of cultural tourism before playing again. The players were treated to a game of pelota (a traditional Basque sport described as “an elaboration of the school handball game”), a basketball match, a few rounds of boxing and some local mountains.
‘Spider’ Parker acted as bookie for Derby day and made a profit of 9s 11½d. The players went to a bullfight, and the article contains a paragraph musing on how the recently-arrived sport of football will soon challenge the centuries-old supremacy of the bullring in Spain.
They made the acquaintance of a former Orient amateur player then living in San Sebastián. The writer comments that the city’s Cathedral is “very fine” but that few have visited as it is “not quite in our line”; however the cider was 3½d for 19 glasses and very good indeed.
Richard McFadden tried to have his own bullfight but only succeeded in getting his raincoat sniffed by a “very aged and time-worn cow.”
The match in San Sebastian was against Club Ciclista de San Sebastián (nowadays known as Real Sociedad).
They were newer, smaller and less successful than Bilbao but had won the Cup in 1909 and were no mugs.
Clapton Orient won 1-0 with a goal from Jonas, but were run all the way by a strong-sounding San Sebastián team who boasted, in the correspondent’s opinion, the best goalkeeper in Spain.
Their outside right was a man called Senna, a Spaniard who had recently played for Clapton Warwick in the Stoke Newington League.
The hard work of the home team impressed everyone, though “unfortunately the methods here and there were a trifle too robust, the use of elbows apparently being quite a recognized form of defence”.
It would appear that the official was not of the highest calibre: “we sincerely hope that the referee could not understand some of the comments of Orient players for he would have bundled half the team off the field”.
Orient had two goals disallowed in questionable circumstances but the author graciously concedes that “it is a moral victory to run the first professional side that has visited Spain to one nil”.
The Orient team is listed as being the same as the first match in Bilbao with the absence of the injured Gibson. Whether they played with 10 men or the replacement player was simply overlooked I expect we shall never know!
The final match was in the border town of Irún, though I don’t know if it was against Irún Sporting Club or Racing Club de Irún. At any rate, the two merged the following year to form Real Unión so I guess it doesn’t matter. I suspect it was Racing Club, who had won the Cup in 1913.
Around 1,000 spectators braved more appalling weather to see the O’s win 4-2 with goals from Forrest, Jonas, McFadden and Dalrymple on a bog of a pitch. The team was the same as the first match with the exception of Dougal Willis who replaced Gibson.
Fortunately the refereeing was of a higher standard too – “decisions were given with promptitude and most correctly. The Irun chaps played a splendidly keen game and there was not a foul worthy of mention throughout. The ground was under water in parts, but the Orient men thoroughly enjoyed their mud scramble”.
And after the tour? Well since the professional Spanish league began in 1928-9 Athletic Bilbao have been champions eight times and have never been relegated from the top division – an achievement matched only by Real Madrid and Barcelona.
They were only beaten on away goals by Juventus in the 1977 UEFA Cup final, and have won 24 Spanish Cups – more than anyone apart from Barça.
Real Sociedad were Spanish champions in 1981 and 1982 and Cup winners in 1987.
Real Unión de Irún won the Cup in 1927 but obviously didn’t adapt well to professionalism and now languish in a regional league.
The following season Bilbao appointed one William Barnes as manager and were Spanish champions again, while Clapton Orient finished ninth in Football League Division Two.
The year after that, forwards William Jonas and Richard McFadden died, with their team-mate George Scott, in the Battle of the Somme.
In total, of the 12 players who represented Orient on the 1914 tour of Spain, eight are on the club’s roster of players who served in the Great War.
I’m quite happy to believe that some of these giants of early Spanish football learned something from Jonas, Dalrymple, McFadden et al.
The Spanish golden boot winner is, to this day, known as the ‘Pichichi’: named after the Bilbao player from 1913 to 1921 who is arguably the most legendary Spanish centre forward of all.
He wore the number eight shirt in both matches between Bilbao and Orient but failed to score in either.