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Thursday, 23 June 2011

Dundee FC, Jim Bellamy and the Barca Connection


FC Barcelona are undoubtedly the best club side on the planet at the moment, era defining even, and with Messi in their ranks they have a player who, at only 23, is already being considered the best ever and is a living icon. The Catalans’ links with the city of Dundee are well documented by virtue of Dundee United’s meetings with Barcelona in Europe and recent friendlies. However, Dundee FC has its own links to the current Spanish champions stretching back almost 90 years. At the end of the 1922-23 season, Dundee embarked upon their first foreign tour to Spain and recorded some notable results including a win and a draw against the Spanish Cup holders Athletic Bilbao (3-0 and 1-1); a 2-0 win v Real Madrid and two victories v Valencia (3-0 and 1-0). However, it wasn’t until the final two games of that tour until Dundee would meet their match and in which the locals would turn out in force. On the 3rd of June 20,000 people turned out- almost twice the figure for the Real Madrid game- to watch Barcelona beat Dundee 3-1. One day later and, incredibly, 28,000 would witness a 2-0 victory for the locals.

The next summer, following the successful tour of 1922-23, Dundee returned to Spain to embark on another- this time on the back of a strong league campaign, finishing 4th in the 22 team top flight. This time Barcelona provided the opposition for the opening two games. Once again the Barcelona faithful turned out in great numbers with 25,000 attending the home side’s 2-0 defeat. Four days later just the ten thousand would watch Dundee win 2-1. This second tour was ultimately more successful with just the one defeat to Deportivo La Coruna. In Norrie Price’s “Up Wi’ The Bonnets” the author highlights a rather tempestuous match against Real Madrid in which the Dundee players, the referee and even armed police had almost come to blows due to a soft penalty awarded by an otherwise disinterested referee to the home side.

These Spanish tours were successful and were no doubt one of the highlights in the club’s 30 year history. Five years after their last Spanish tour a former Dundee FC player, Jim Bellamy, took the coach’s job at Barcelona following a stint at Italian club Brescia. James Francis Bellamy was born on 11th of September 1881 in Bethnal Green and as a player he was quite the journeyman taking in Barking, Grays United, Reading, Woolwich Arsenal, Portsmouth, Norwich, Dundee, Motherwell, Burnley, Fulham, Southend, Ebbw Vale and Barking Town. Arsenal.com states that 1905-06 was his best for the Londoners where he played in 15 of the first 17 fixtures but he was relegated to the fringes in the following two seasons. Bellamy would make 29 appearances for the London club but that figure is dwarfed by the 118 he would make for Dundee FC.

Bellamy wrote himself into Dark Blue folklore by virtue of being a member of the 1910 Scottish Cup winning side and he proved integral, scoring the equaliser in the 2nd replay with Sailor Hunter later obliging with a winner to bring the trophy to Dens for the first and only time. The cup win was possibly Bellamy’s finest hour as a player but better was to come in management.

Quite how Bellamy ended up in Italy and then Catalonia from his last posting as a player at Barking isn’t clear but he was to write his name in Barcelona, and indeed, La Liga history by taking the inaugural title back to Les Corts- Barca’s home ground at the time. He wouldn’t know it of course but Bellamy started Barca on their way to their current total of 21 league titles and counting. Barcelona’s official website gives only a short bio in which it mentions his achievement:

“James Bellamy, together with Romà Forns, had the honour to have formed part of the coaching team that led Barcelona Football Club to win the first League in history.
Furthermore, the club won the Campeonato de Catalunya in the 29-30 and 30-31 seasons.”

During Bellamy’s time at Barcelona he spoke to El Mundo Deportivo- a Barcelona based sports newspaper- about his time in England, Scotland and Italy and how the different styles of football contrast. Why he is perhaps not too fondly remembered in Barcelona becomes clear in the second part of his bio on FC Barcelona.com:

“However, to his detriment, it must be said that with him as coach, Barça underwent one of the most deplorable events and its biggest defeat in all of its history, losing 12-1 in the League Championship.”

That defeat is still a Liga record. The well travelled Bellamy also managed in Germany but whether this was before or after his stint at Barca is also unclear. Bellamy died in Chadwell Heath on 30th March 1969. It would be nice to think that he looked on with admiration and pride at the successes of Dundee and Barcelona in the 50’s and 60’s.