It might be hard to credit that Lionel Messi has scored 52 goals in just 54 appearances for Barcelona this season. However, what is more difficult to imagine is that his feats could ever become lost in time. Rather, it seems impossible.
Yet this has been the fate of George 'Jorge' Pattullo, the Scot whose goal-scoring exploits 100 years ago actually surpass those of Messi. In 1910-11, Pattullo scored 41 times in only 20 appearances. Almost 20 years later he was still regarded as the finest goalscorer the club had known. In an edition of Xut!, which literally translates from the Catalan as Shoot!, from April 1928 he is described as the "most effective centre forward" in a Barcelona history which by then had comprised nearly 30 seasons, and included contributions from such enduring club greats as Paulino Alcantara and Pepe Samitier.
When Pattullo made his debut in 1910, Barcelona, the club who led the way in mutual ownership, had just 400 members. Today, the figure stands at 173,071. Few will have heard of the Scottish striker who once scored six times in a single game for the club.
However, in an article due to be published in the June edition of Bara magazine, one which they hope will profile a fourth European Cup win, the Scot is hailed as the club's most influential British import of all-time. This claim, made in a publication sent out to all the club's members in Catalan and Spanish, follows original research by The Scotsman, and which has been supplemented by extensive further work carried out by Gavin Jamieson after the release of Spanish newspaper archives.
With all due respect to the likes of Steve Archibald, Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker, their stories lack the mystery and undoubtedly the heroism of a Scot who has befuddled historians - he is chronicled as 'John Patullo' in Barcelona club journals - as well as goalkeepers since arriving in Barcelona on coal trading business in the first years of the last century, harbouring sporting ambitions which did not stretch far beyond the tramlines at Real Club de tenis, Barcelona's first tennis club. He certainly could not have held ambitions of "founding a dynasty of great goal scorers", as he is praised for doing in the article in Bara. Indeed, in the game which brought him to Barcelona's attention, he had played for a team of ex-pats against a university side as goalkeeper.With his side 5-1 down at half-time, he switched to centre-forward and turned the game on its head with five goals, in a 6-5 victory.
One of the first mentions of Pattullo in La Vanguardia, still Catalonia's leading newspaper, comes after he won the Garriga tennis Cup in August 1910 - handed to him, according to La Vanguardia, by the "distinguished, gorgeous young ladies who presented prizes". In the same summer he also triumphed in the doubles championship, partnering Ernesto Witty - whose brother Arthur had become one of FC Barcelona's first president.
These were high times, lived out in blissful ignorance of a war that would make such frolics seem trivial in the extreme, although Pattullo never lost sight of why he played sport. Like many of his generation who fought in the war, he had a keen grasp on what mattered in life. Even before being awarded a Military Cross for bravery while serving with the Tyneside Scottish battalion, he bridled at the thought that hero status could be earned on the sports pitch, just as he was affronted by the thought someone might be given money for kicking a ball.
He was a committed amateur at a time when Spain was having to confront the issue of professionalism. Barcelona, recently named as the highest wage-payers in sport, resisted at first. The stance sent many of Pattullo's British team-mates scurrying across the city to Espanyol and provoked lively debate in publications of the time. It also made for a spicy encounter between the teams in 1912, in the semi-final of the Copa Pirineos - one of the earliest international club tournaments, open to clubs in the Pyrenees area, and a forerunner of what is now the Champions League.
It was a high-stakes city derby which Pattullo, in a narrative which might have inspired writers of Roy of the Rovers stories, was persuaded to make the journey from Scotland to take part in, although he later refunded the cost of his hotel, explaining that "I am and always will be a sporting amateur".
Pattullo had already said his farewells a year previously, following a prodigious first season. In May 1911, El Mundo Deportivo announces that Pattullo is returning to his homeland of Scotland: "Barca have lost a priceless player, its fans an idol, and our goalkeepers will be more relaxed to have him far away, that most feared of strikers. Hip hip hooray for Patullo."
However, in March 1912, rumours swept the city that he had been enticed back, following a personal request made by director Joaquim Peris de Vargas. "He waited several days for the reply," reported El Mundo Deportivo, in a feature on Pattullo published in 1928. "At last, on the Thursday before the match, he received a telegram. All it said was 'I will be there on Friday'. It was sent from London and did not carry any signature.Later Pattullo would explain that he had not signed it to avoid the possibility of Espanyol discovering his return, as he knew the ex-Espanyol player Green worked in the telegram office.
"But word spread. Those from Espanyol knew and Gibert, the then famous Espanyol goalkeeper, kept watch at the Francia train station and confirmed on the Friday night, after having watched him step off from the express train from Paris, that Pattullo was back."
The role the Scot then played in the famous triumph - he scored twice in a 3-2 victory, including the winner in extra-time - should have established him in folklore, and did for a time. In 1928, on his first return to the city, he was invited to take the kick-off prior to Barcelona's match with Real Oviedo. The following year he appeared in a veterans' team in a testimonial game for goalkeeper Luis Bru. But by the time a book was published to celebrate the club's half-centenary in 1949, he was afforded only a single sentence. Even that included a grave error. He is described as English - "el ingles Patullo".
Born in the shadow of Hampden Park, in Glasgow's Albert Road, he died a lonely, unhonoured death in Putney in 1953, pre-deceasing his own mother by a year. John Lovell, Pattullo's great nephew and only surviving close relative, recalls from his home in Australia that "there was talk of alcoholism".
After the war, Pattullo settled in Newcastle, but, hampered by the effects of exposure to mustard gas, he never played senior football in Britain. Instead, on medical recommendations, he returned to Spain, and to Mallorca, in 1930 to manage briefly at a club called Club Baleares, now known as Atletico Baleares. He also married on the island at the age of 46, but this union - to Margrethe Plenge, which produced no children - had broken up long before his death, in the city where Barcelona take on Manchester United tonight, at age 64.
A quarter of a century earlier he has been feted by the Barcelona public on one of his infrequent returns to the city where he made a name that was quickly corrupted before being lost in the annals, buried beneath the weight of achievements racked up by his successors in the blaugrana.
Renewed interest, sparked by this newspaper's original feature on Pattullo four years ago, has poured further light on the subject, and revealed his story to be far more significant than even we, hampered by official records which had erroneously given Pattullo's christian name as John and which miss out what in Spanish is a redundant second t in his surname, had allowed ourselves to imagine. It has proved revealing, too, for this writer, who can suddenly claim to be (very) distantly related - Pattullo's father was second cousin to my great-great grandfather - to a genuine Barcelona great.
Further research revealed that John is in fact George - or, variously, Jorge, Jordi, Jose or Georges in newspapers of the time.This re-christening of the Scot meant identification would later become an issue as memories faded and protagonists in the story passed on. It meant the details of an incredible life were lost. Confusion was assured when Barcelona, on a plaque which displays the names of Scots to have played for the club, listed him as 'John Patullo' in a seven strong roll of honour which includes, of course, Archibald, who became the next Scot to play for the club more than 70 years later.
Even in the mostly authoritative book Tales from the Nou Camp, in a chapter entitled "Barca's True Brits", the author, Jeff King, reports that "after scoring an incredible 41 goals in the 1910-11 campaign, Patullo fled to England". He mistakenly adds that he was "never to be heard of again". King does, however, quote Frederick Witty, son of Arthur, as saying "My father always said he was the most incredible player", adding that Witty's "crepuscular eyes light up at the mention of Patullo's name".
Time moves on at a remorseless pace at the world's biggest club. However, some things remain the same, including the blue and claret colours in which Messi will play at Wembley this evening. The badge on his chest was designed by Carles Comamala, one of Pattullo's team-mates. The Scot's efforts helped the club win the Catalan championship in 1910-11. Like Messi, he was a cover star of his day. Stadium, which described itself as "an illustrated magazine for sports and society", hired the then eminent photographer JE Puig to capture the player, producing a striking image of someone later described, in El Mundo Deportivo, as "tall, blonde, thin but strong, well structured, correct looking and with a face that today we would call photogenic". Another article does, however, note his "orejas grandes" - his big ears.
The same paper in 1932 refers to the three "golden strikers" of Barcelona, representing the three "ages": Pattullo; Alcantara, Samitier. However much football - and Barcelona - has changed in the time since, he simply cannot be refused a measure of greatness. His deeds have convinced Barcelona to re-assess the Scot's influence. They acknowledge Pattullo's part in galvanising the team in these early days, while also exciting the fans at Camp de la Industria - the 'old camp' - and inspiring a next generation of players.
Indeed, in Alcantara's memoirs, on page 84 and in a chapter entitled "How and where I learned what I know", the player who has scored the most goals in Barcelona's history salutes the Scot: "Another of my teachers was Patullo, the famous creator of the Barcelona half turns - la media vuelta".More than 60 years before Johan Cruyff arrived in the city, a Scottish striker had employed the tactic for which a Dutchman gets credit.
Pattullo was also known for his volleys, according to Alcantara: "Wishing to emulate the celebrated player's speciality, I picked up the ball and threw it against the wall, then, without letting it touch the ground, shot it back in a direction that was as perfect as possible."
Now, writing in Bara, Manel Tomas, the head archivist at FC Barcelona's Centre for Documentation and Studies, has made a case for Pattullo to be considered the greatest player from these shores to play at a club with considerable ties to Britain. He is certainly the one with the most impressive goal-scoring record and remains third - behind Miquel Gual and Joan Gamper - in the club's highest goalscoring charts, based on a goals-to-game average.
Re-awakening a legend, Tomas concludes: "Taken in perspective, he can be considered the best British player to ever have played for FC Barcelona." In London tonight, Jorge can rest in peace.
Additional reporting by Gavin Jamieson