Dundee FC: Athletic’s First Scottish Opponents

Dundee FC: Athletic’s First Scottish Opponents

The Dark Blues visited Bilbao for two matches in 1923, becoming the first Scottish side to face Los Leones

On May 20 1923, Dundee FC became the first Scottish team to take on Athletic Club. They played two friendlies in consecutive days at San Mames, the Dark Blues' starting point for a wider tour of Spain in which they also played against Real Madrid, Valencia CF and FC Barcelona. Athletic also have the privilege of being Dundee's first foreign opponent. 

The Scots won the first match 0-3 while the second was a 1-1 draw. Reports of the time described Dundee as "a formidable team” and “the best visiting side to have ever played at San Mames”. The Dark Blues came with a fine track record, they finished seventh in the Scottish First Division in 1922/23 and had managed three consecutive fourth-place finishes in previous seasons.

What’s more, The Dee, led by then coach Sandy MacFarlane, came to The Basque Country with a strong squad that included Scotland internationals such as Dave Halliday - who scored an incredible 38 league goals the following season - David McLean, and Irish footballer Sam Irving.

Just a week beforehand, Athletic had been crowned Copa champions after defeating CE Europa 1-0 in the final. In fact, the opening match against Dundee also served as a tribute to our head coach, Fred Pentland, who received the gate receipts as a bonus for winning the trophy

The Dark Blues overpowered Athletic in the first fixture. They went 0-1 up in the first half and scored the other two in the second 45 – although local match reports also claimed both second-half goals should have been ruled out for offside. However, there were no doubts about the Scots’ prowess, with all journalists singling out their effective short-passing style.

Los Rojiblancos learnt their lessons for the second encounter, which took place a little over 24 hours after the first. The Lions went ahead early on when Felix Sesumaga converted a penalty. Dundee had a chance to level from the spot in the second half but Manuel Vidal saved it. The visitors upped the pressure as the game went on, but Athletic defended resolutely and thought they might take the win until Dundee equalised on the stroke of full-time.

Dundee were the first of five Scottish clubs Athletic have faced so far in our history. In total we have played 12 matches against Scottish opposition, seven being friendly matches and the other five European clashes.

European Competitions

Athletic twice played against Scottish opponents in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, taking on Dunfermline AFC in 1964/65 and Rangers FC in the 68/69 season. Curiously, Sir Alex Ferguson lined-up for the Scottish sides in both ties.

Los Leones met Dunfermline in the third round of the 64/65 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The Zurigorri won the first leg 1-0 at San Mames and The Pars were 1-0 victors in the return fixture at East End Park. The tie required a play-off to see who would go through and after a coin-toss it was decided that the third match would be played at San Mames. Athletic advanced to the quarter-finals with a 2-1 victory. 

In 68/69, the Lions then played Rangers FC in the Fairs Cup quarter-finals. The Glasgow-based side won the first leg 4-1 at Ibrox, with Ferguson opening the scoring. Javier Clemente netted Athletic’s only goal of the match. The Zurigorri won 2-0 at San Mames but ultimately fell short.

Friendlies and Billy McNeill One-Club Man Award

We have twice faced Motherwell FC in exhibition matches, the first a 3-1 win in 1927 and the second a 3-2 defeat in 1960. The Lions also lost 0-1 against the Gers in 1974 during a pre-season friendly tournament in Barcelona.

In March 2011, Celtic FC became our most recent Scottish opponents when they came over to Bilbao for a mid-season friendly, which finished 0-0. Athletic and Celtic fans share a strong bond and sat together as they watched the match at San Mames.

What’s more, legendary Hoops captain Billy McNeill was named our 2019 One-Club Man, with his daughter Susan and former teammate John Clark coming to The Cathedral to collect the accolade in Billy’s name.