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The true identity of Athletic Bilbao’s last Englishman is finally unearthed

Earlier this month, Spanish football historian Lartaun de Azumendi published a 43-Tweet-long thread to explain a remarkable discovery he had made about Martyn Veitch, the man usually cited as the last foreigner to play for Athletic Bilbao before they introduced their famous Basque-only policy.

His discovery quite literally changed the history books, as several days later, Athletic Bilbao updated its website to reflect Lartaun’s discovery. The thread was in Spanish, but as a professional translator specialising in sport, I’m always on the look out for interesting stories that would interest English readers, so I asked Lartaun if I could translate it.

Although I have published a version on Twitter, I recommend reading it on here, where I’m free from the shackles of the 280-character limit. Enjoy!


A 43-tweet research thread explaining why Athletic Bilbao never had a player called Martyn Veitch.

Who was Veitch? And what’s the story behind Athletic’s last foreign player before the club adopted its Basque-only policy in 1911? It’s a story we knew (almost) nothing about, until now.

My research began when I saw the name Martyn Veitch (sometimes written as Martin Veitch, with an i) and thought that something didn’t seem quite right. I wasn’t sure why, but I had a good hunch.

In 1909, Athletic Bilbao director Teodor Seebold travelled to Britain to boost his squad by signing an outside right called Fred Pentland. Although Pentland turned down the offer, Seebold did manage to sign four other players for the 1910 Copa del Rey:1 Graham, Cameron, Burns and Veitch.

British signings were common among Spanish clubs at the time. The players were cheap, and since they were amateurs they were more than happy to spend two months earning money in Spain. Some were good, some average, some awful. Veitch was one of the better signings, and thanks to him and local player Remigio Iza, Athletic lifted the 1910 Spanish Cup.

Of the four British signings, Veitch was the only one who would return to defend the title in 1911, when Athletic reached the final again, this time at the Jolaseta Stadium, just outside Bilbao. Two other foreign signings – Sloop (or Hesloop in some sources) and Martin (or Martins) – had played alongside Veitch in the first round against Fortuna de Vigo,2 but a Real Sociedad protest forced Sloop and Martin to withdraw from the Cup.

All three fell foul of the rule stating that foreign players had to have lived in Spain for at least six months, but Veitch was allowed to play on because he had featured in the previous year’s Cup. He contributed to Athletic’s successful title defence by scoring in all three rounds.

Athletic Club’s 3-1 win against Español3 was the final competitive game in which a foreigner (Veitch) donned the famous red and white strip. After that, the Basques decided that only home-grown players could represent the club in future.

The foreign legion did have one last hurrah, with Veitch and Sloop (aka Hesloop) returning later that year for a friendly on 17 April, but the Cup Final was the last competitive match. Never again would a foreigner play for Athletic Bilbao.

Veitch left the same way that he came, vanishing without a trace. Well, almost: we know he returned to San Mamés a few years later with English Wanderers F.C.4 But that’s all we know (but read on to find out more!) So who was Martyn Veitch? Was I right to be suspicious about his first name?

I suspected he wasn’t really called Martyn or Martin because the three Brits who came to Bilbao for the 1911 Cup were called Sloop, Martin and Veitch. Nearly all the texts about the club’s history listed the names in that order. Since the texts were in Spanish, they would appear as “Sloop, Martin y Veitch”, so it was easy for an author to leave out the y, the Spanish word for and.

Sadly, the football history books are full of information copied from previous authors, so errors and mistakes are perpetuated from one generation to the next. I figured the Spanish word y had probably been omitted here and there, making it seem like there’d been a player called Martin Veitch.

I decided to investigate. Realising it would be hard to hunt down our champion, I researched the surname Veitch. The name is a dialectal form of Vacher, derived from the Old French vachier and the Italian vaccaro, meaning a cattle herder.

Other than those who emigrated to Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, most of the Veitches lived in Scotland and northern England. That’s about as much information as I could find, so I continued my research into the English Wanderers, a club that Veitch had played for in a match at San Mamés in the spring of 1914.

The English Wanderers were an invitational team that occasionally toured Europe. They only selected players who had been capped by the England national amateur football team, so Veitch must have played for England Amateurs.

Nevertheless, before venturing down the England Amateurs route, I decided to investigate the English Wanderers and landed on a French website that mentioned a certain “A. Veitch”. Not Martyn then! A. Veitch netted the Wanderers’ third goal in a 4-1 win against a team representing France’s USFSA5 championship on 1 November 1913.

According to the match report, A. Veitch normally played for Stockton and had represented England Amateurs against none other than Germany and Holland.6 This didn’t sound like the modest player who won two Spanish Cup titles on short-term contracts with Athletic. But in the accompanying team photo…

…the player in the far top-left of the Wanderers’ team photo looked remarkably like a slightly more aged version of Athletic Bilbao’s Martyn Veitch. It was him!

An excerpt from a British newspaper shows that, seven months later, Stockton F.C.’s A. Veitch was part of the English Wanderers’ two-match tour of Ghent, where they beat the Belgians 8-1 and 2-0. Once again, A. Veitch appeared on the team sheet. But what did the letter A stand for?

A fortnight later, the English tourists headed to the Spanish Basque Country for a four-match tour: the first two against Athletic Bilbao, at San Mamés, the final one against Racing Club de Irun,7 in Irún, and the third one against a combined team formed by players from both clubs, also at San Mamés.

Surprisingly, the local press barely mentioned Veitch on his return to face the club he helped lift two Spanish Cups. José María Mateos did refer to him in La Gaceta del Norte, but, alas, only by his surname.

Athletic lost both its matches, 5-3 (a brace for Pichichi and a goal for Zuazo) and 6-0. The combined outfit fared better, grinding out a hard-earned 2-2 draw. But in the final game, Racing Club succumbed 4-0 to the tourists. The photograph shows Seve Zuazo beating the English goalkeeper in the opening encounter

The photo shows the English Wanderers team that lined up for the first game at San Mamés. A. Veitch is second from the right on the bottom row.

As I explained earlier, A. Veitch’s home club was Stockton F.C. Based in Stockton-on-Tees, around 6 miles from Middlesborough, the club formed in 1882 and played in the Northern League.

Veitch joined Stockton after leaving Bilbao and spent three seasons at the County Durham club (1911/12 to 1913/14) before the outbreak of World War I. He was part of the 19128 FA Amateur Cup-winning team, playing at left-half. [Translator’s note: Note, in the image, how they used to inform fans of a change to the line-up!]

“The Ancients”, as Stockton were known, faced Eston United (team photo below) in the final at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park. The match ended one apiece.

Both teams fielded the same starting eleven in the replay five days later, at the same venue, with A. Veitch once again playing at left-half. Stockton had already won two FA Amateur Cups, in 1899 and 1903, but had also lost three other finals. The photo shows the 1911/12 squad.

Playing in their traditional black and red colours, Stockton opened the scoring through Sutherland, the same forward who had scored for them in the first match. It proved to be the winning goal, with Stockton edging out Eston 1-0 to lift the trophy.9

It was Veitch’s third Cup win, after his Copa del Rey successes in 1910 and 1911. But the man recorded in the history books as a forward called Martyn Veitch was now a half-back called A. Veitch. The photos show the FA Amateur Cup trophy and a runner’s up medal awarded to Eston United.

But we still don’t know what the A stood for, so I had to head down a new avenue. If A. Veitch had played for the Wanderers, he must have been capped by England Amateurs. I found Veitch (standing, third from the right) in the team photo for an England Amateurs game against the Netherlands on 24 March 1913.

But Veitch had already made his debut three days earlier, when England Amateurs thumped Germany 3-0. More importantly, his full name finally appeared on the team sheet. Martyn Veitch was actually Andrew Veitch!

His second match, against the Dutch, was a closer contest, with England Amateurs losing 2-1, despite Vivian Woodward scoring a second goal in the space of three days. That would be the end of Andrew Veitch’s brief stint with the amateur national team.

His football career in general, like that of thousands of young footballers at the time, was cut abruptly short by the outbreak of World War I. Just two months after the Wanderers’ tour of the Basque Country, the Great War ravaged through Europe, turning the lives of young footballers across the continent upside down.

According to a brief published on 30 November 1914 in The Daily Citizen, 17 Stockton F.C. players were conscripted, including Andrew Veitch and two other internationals.

In reality, however, Veitch had already decided that his country needed him. His military record shows that he signed up voluntarily weeks earlier, on 4 September, in Newcastle.

When he enlisted, Andrew Veitch was 27 years old. His height was measured at just over 6 ft (the UK average at the time was 5 ft 5 in) and his weight at 144 lbs (over 14 stone). He was described as having a fair complexion, with blue eyes and light brown hair. Veitch was recorded as belonging to the Church of England. Sgt. George Foggin signed to say he was fit for service in the Army.

We can assume Veitch was a modest man: as a professional surveyor for a mining company he would have qualified to join the army as an officer, but instead, he chose to become a rank-and-file soldier.

Private Andrew Veitch (regimental no. 46930) of the 20th Company of the Royal Engineer Signals Corps headed to France on 21 April 1915. A long journey lay ahead of him on the Western Front.

Veitch’s corps belonged to the 20th (Light) Division, which fought on the battle lines in France. Most of the fighting was part of the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres.

For more than three and a half years, Andrew Veitch did not miss a single one of the battles in which his company took part. He remained in the army until 6 June 1919, some seven months after the Armistice,10 when he was discharged.

He went home as a civilian almost five years after enlisting, returning to his parents Andrew and Albina, his brothers Willie and Walter, and most importantly, his wife Josephine (née Pickering), whom he had married on New Year’s Eve, 1914, in Medomsley.

Josephine gave birth to Stanley on 27 January 1927 and the family spent most of their time in Medomsley (County Durham), Hemsworth (near Pontefract) and Conwy (North Wales). Our story’s protagonist was born on 15 August 1887 in Castle Cary, Somerset and died in Conwy in August 1970.

I’d like to think that Athletic’s last Englishman, who wore the famous shirt when football was new to Bilbao, heard about his team’s Copa del Rey triumph in 1969, a year before his death, and felt proud of a club that, after his departure from Bilbao, won another 17 Spanish Cups during his lifetime.

Acknowledgements: A big thank you to Cliff Thornton, in Essex, as well as to Twitter users @DanHillHistory, @Groundtastic and especially @gurimousen for their kind cooperation during my research.


  1. Two Copas del Rey took place that year. The one that Athletic entered was not the official one. Click on “1910 Copa del Rey” for more information.
  2. Real Club Fortuna de Vigo was one of two clubs in Vigo that merged to form Celta Vigo in 1923, the other being Real Vigo Sporting Club.
  3. The club only began using the Catalan spelling “Espanyol” in 1931, during the Second Spanish Republic. It reverted to the Spanish spelling “Español” after the Spanish Nationalists won the Spanish Civil War before, once again, adopting the Catalan spelling in 1991, which it has used ever since. In the Spanish text on Twitter, the author tagged the club, so the word used the modern spelling that appears in the club’s official Twitter account. Since I am not constrained by Twitter, I decided it was more appropriate to use the spelling that the club used in 1911.
  4. Not the same club as the earlier Wanderers F.C.
  5. The league organised by the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques was just one of five independent championships that took place in France in the 1912-13 season. It was the oldest of all the championships, having begun in 1894. From 1908 to 1913, USFSA players were banned from representing the French national team, but the league had its own representative team.
  6. The match report, in French, says “la Hollande” (Holland), not the strictly more accurate “les Pays-Bas” (Netherlands).
  7. A predecessor of Real Unión Club de Irún, which now plays in Spain’s Segunda B division. Real Irún was formed following the merger of Racing Club de Irún and Irún Sporting Club in 1915.
  8. Although the original tweet says 2012, I have corrected the error.
  9. Although the Spanish tweet says “FA Cup”, it was actually the FA Amateur Cup.
  10. Although the original tweet referred to the end of the war, the war did not technically end until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles the following year (hence why some war memorials say 1914-1919).

2 thoughts on “The true identity of Athletic Bilbao’s last Englishman is finally unearthed

  1. Thank you. I always wondered about my namesake, being also a lover of Spanish football.

    By the way, Veitch is a relatively common name in the North-East of England and in Scotland. Colin Veitch was the most successful captain ever for Newcastle United. As well as being a musician, writer, union leader, war hero and journalist, he played for England and was a friend of George Bernard Shaw.

  2. Or your non-namesake, as it turns out! Glad you enjoyed the article, and sorry that your name is no longer listed in Athletic Bilbao’s record books!

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