January 20, 2021, marks 100 years since the birth of Telmo Zarraonaindia Montoya, known as Zarra, a legendary Athletic Club footballer who set records that still stand to this day.
Centre-forward in one of the most successful teams in rojiblanco history, Zarra joined Athletic from SD Erandio in 1940 and went on to spend 15 seasons as a lion, winning one Liga, five Copas and one Copa Eva Duarte.
What’s more, Zarra was a profilic goalscorer. He won the Pichichi award for First Division top goalscorer six times and by time he left Athletic in 1955 he had scored 335 goals in 354 games across all competitions.
Zarra is still the Club’s record goalscorer and he was an integral part of one of the most talented forward lines Athletic have ever produced, playing alongside Rafael Iriondo, Venancio Pérez, Panizo and Piru Gainza.
Athletic Club has decided to pay tribute to Zarra and we spoke to two Club Members that were there when he made his Athletic debut on October 6, 1940.
In the video below, we interview Ana Lekuona Agirre, 98, and José María Abaitua, 96, who remember the legend and recount some of their favourite Zarra memories.
The homage is complete with photos and videos of Zarra, taken from the Athletic Club Museum, where the striker has pride of place with other red-and-white greats like Pichichi, Piru Gainza, José Ángel Iribar, Julen Guerrero and Eli Ibarra.
Born in the town of Erandio, Zarra came from a footballing family. His father was the station chief of the local train station, and was not altogether too keen on Telmo taking up the game, but two of Telmo’s brothers were also professional footballers and a young Zarra could not resist the sport.
Zarra was playing for local side SD Erandio, when Athletic Club signed him. As Ane Lekuona and Josemari Abaitua remember, Zarra came to Athletic after scoring seven goals for a Biscay XI against Gipuzkoa in a 9-0 win at San Mamés.
He went on to have a storied career at his boyhood club Athletic and after he left in 1954-55 he continued to play as an amateur at SD Indautxu and Barakaldo CF.
On his LaLiga debut for the Lions he scored twice at Mestalla in a 2-2 draw with Valencia, the first of 251 goals in the competition.
Zarra was a striker in the purest sense, his utmost concern was scoring goals. He was quick, powerful, clever and one of the best headers of a ball the sport has ever seen.
“Football is about scoring goals, and there was nobody better at scoring goals than Zarra,” his teammate Gainza once said.
One of Zarra’s most memorable performances in the red and white came in the 1949-50 Copa Del Rey Final against Real Valladolid. Zarra scored in the 14th minute but the match was tied 1-1 at full-time.
In extra-time, Zarra picked up the game by the scruff of its neck and netted three more goals to make sure Athletic brought the trophy home.
It was another example of Zarra’s impressive ability to find the back of the net. Even Alfredo Di Stefano described the lion as “one of the best strikers I’ve ever seen”.
He scored six goals in a game once, five-goal hauls five times, four in eight different matches and he bagged a total of 18 hat-tricks throughout his career.
Telmo made 20 appearances for the Spanish national team, scoring 20 goals. The most celebrated of which came against England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.
Zarra embodied the spirit of Athletic Club, his dream was to play for his boyhood dream and he achieved just that.
“The best a person could wish for is to be an Athletic Club player,” he once said.
Beyond his life as a footballer, Zarra is also well remembered by the Athletic family for being a great person.
He received a testimonial tribute in 1997, with Athletic Club taking on a LaLiga XI at San Mamés.
Zarra passed away on February 23, 2006. There is a bust of his figure at Lezama and he remains a role model for current and future generations of Athletic Club players.
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