This week in the Cutter we’re celebrating that rarest of beasts, the out-and-out goalscorer. Here we doff our cap to one of the greatest of them all, a shy man whose only thought was to find the back of the net. He thought about it often.
While many from his area had to improvise if they wanted a kickabout, fashioning a ball from old rags, Telmo Zarraonandia Montoya was privileged enough to own a real football. That was because two of his older brothers were professionals and would pass on the used and battered ones from the training fields. This undoubtedly improved an already flourishing natural talent but the youngster’s aspirations of following his siblings into the game were initially curtailed by his father.
In 1920s Asua, deep in the Basque region of Northern Spain, times were tough and Montoya Sr did not want to see another of his ten children ply their trade in a profession where there was hardly any financial reward and a sudden injury could mean being thrown back into the harsh realities of life under-qualified and ill-prepared.
It is not recorded what changed the father’s mind. It could have been young Telmido’s precocious ability convincing him otherwise. It may have been the tragic death of one of the brothers in the Spanish Civil War illustrating all-too-cruelly that life was too short and precious not to follow your dream.
Whatever the reason his beloved off-spring was finally permitted to play for a variety of local teams whereupon he began a lifetime of scoring goals. Unfortunately, though he possessed an almost supernatural instinct for finding the net there was a further problem. Young Telmido was far too timid and introverted to make the most of his God-given talent. In hindsight, with the benefit of later greatness, this has been put down to modesty; that the boy was ‘ashamed’ of his superior ability. Alas this did not stop him acquiring the nickname of ‘The Fearful’ during his early years.
Around this period Athletic Bilbao were looking to rebuild a team shattered by the civil war. The club famously have a proud tradition of only employing those who derive from the Basque region and here, fitting every criteria of their cantera policy, was a portly teen meekly scoring for fun.
In 278 appearances he scored an unbelievable 252 goals. Those were just league efforts. You can add a further 81 strikes in the Copa Del Ray too.
In 1940 he was duly signed and, on his debut against Valencia, bagged an impressive brace. His progress however was again stymied, this time by Spain’s participation in the Second World War. Telmido actively served twelve months based in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa close to Morroco and – again this is conjecture – but perhaps what he experienced out there toughened him up to such a degree that when he returned to the San Mames stadium he appeared a completely different player. Telmido had become Zarra.
For the next fifteen seasons he was as prolific a player as the country had ever known. He retains to this day the highest-scoring record in La Liga’s long and illustrious history. In 278 appearances he scored an unbelievable 252 goals. Those were just league efforts. You can add a further 81 strikes in the Copa Del Ray too.
Close-range headers, spectacular volleys, individual efforts, five-yard tap-ins…it simply didn’t matter to him how he did it, all that mattered – all he played for – was the scent of glory. He was, in the truest and sharpest sense, an out-and-out poacher.
In his fifteen years at the club he topped the league’s goal-scoring charts on six occasions being awarded the Pichichi Trophy on each occasion. Until Ronaldo recently trumped it he also held the record for scoring the most goals in one campaign – 38 in just 30 matches.
Zarra was also the man responsible for England’s exit at the 1950 World Cup finals. With both sides requiring a win to progress to the quarters he proved to be the difference will a typical close-range predatory poke past the despairing keeper. Footage of his playing days is exceedingly rare but one exists of this game. Beforehand the camera holds steady on Zarra’s face before he instinctively looks down shyly, the modesty of his youth briefly returning.
A Basque player representing the Spanish national team during that era created political problems and so arguably their greatest ever centre-forward disgracefully only amassed a paltry twenty full caps. Still, Zarra contented himself with scoring twenty goals, one for each game.
In 2006, at the age of 85, Telmo Zarraonandia Montoya passed away, a Spanish legend though not afforded anything like the international standing his incredible feats deserve. That same year a national newspaper set up the Zarra Trophy. In recent times David Villa – a 21st century kindred spirit – has won it many times. It is awarded to the scoring of goals. Naturally.