It may have been 100 years since he first set foot in Bilbao , but mention the name Fred Pentland and Athletic Bilbao fans will fondly recall the story of Englishman Pentland with a trademark bowler hat and cigar. ‘”The Bomber” was not the first English coach to lead the Basque club, but he left them his indelible mark on their history and can also claim to have played a crucial role in helping them achieve their greatest historical victory.In his first spell with Athletic, Pentland counseled his side to the 1923 Copa Del Rey; on his return, he won the tournament four times in a row – from 1930 to 1933 – added two La Liga titles and presided over a 12-1 thrashing of Barcelona, the Catalan club’s heaviest defeat. His team played an innovative brand of attacking, possession-based football, a philosophy that would spread throughout the game.Fred Pentland has outlasted the passing of time, as stated by the museum director of Athletic’s Space Race Asier Arrate.Born in Wolverhampton, England, Pentland was an exterior right who became an English international and had his finest career spells with Blackburn and Middlesbrough, before moving into coaching with the German Olympic team in 1914. As war broke out in 1914, he was detained in a camp near Berlin, organizing football competitions between the prisoners, before going on to become the first director of football in the camp.Arrate’s first findings in English soccer were at Racing Santander, but his reputation as a manager attracted Athletic to his team in 1922. “Athletic made us a very good offer,” says Arrate. “They wanted to invest in a good coach. It was a non-professional football club, so we were looking for a prestigious coach.He held firm disciplinary measures for his players and helped to establish a structured, professional sport. Pentland insisted on exceptional attention to detail, with the story that during his first training session he showed his players how to tie their laces properly, but he was also very well liked by all his teammates.He had an engaging personality, was highly optimistic, and very clever. He was writing in the magazines about sports a few years later. Pentland encouraged his players to develop their passing game through lines of communication that differed from the conventional standard at the time.He definitely helped us believe in what we were doing as a team, and it helped bring to fruition and helped to cement that winning mentality. That is the most important thing he fostered.
He also played a vital role in introducing a more professional approach at a time when most clubs in the country were amateur, telling board members to strive to pay players if they really wanted to compete.
Pentland left the club in 1925 and twice coached Atletico Madrid, either side of a spell at Oviedo, and was also part of Spain’s management team when they became the first country outside the British Isles to beat England, winning 4-3 in 1929.The following year, he returned to Bilbao to celebrate the most successful season in Athletic’s sports history. “People in Bilbao understand Athletic became a well-oiled machine thanks to the former coach,” said Atxa. “There are very concrete and tangible signs that derive from the British.”Mr. Pentland was the stereotypical English gentleman with the bowler hat and the umbrella and the cigar. Everyone will tell you he was a very warm character, very sociable. You would see on the street and he would say hello to fans – he was very approachable. “He clicked with the people here because we like to have fun. We like to eat, we like to drink, and I think Happy are exactly what he had, and that’s what we had.””You hear his name on the street and know it’s a man with a bowler hat and cigar,” says Angie, who counts members of Pentland’s family among his group’s followers. “He maintains the reputation of being a myth or a legend.”