I HAVE searched the internet out of curiosity if there is any monument in honor of Paulino Alcántara. There isn’t, not even in his native Concepción, on the island of Panay. He is not a completely unknown character, but he still does not get the recognition that his achievements deserve, recognition that he does get in the Spanish football club where he achieved most of his sporting achievements — FC Barcelona.
His full name was Paulino Alcántara Riestra, and he was born in October 1896. His father was a Spanish soldier, and his mother was an Ilonga. At the age of 3, he left for Barcelona. His football talent was discovered by Joan Gamper, the Swiss founder of FC Barcelona, who saw him playing when he was just a youngster.
The number of successes that Paulino Alcántara achieved as a footballer was truly extraordinary: He is, to date, the youngest player to have played with FC Barcelona, even though he was barely 15 years and 4 months old when he made his debut. He was FC Barcelona’s top scorer until Lionel Messi surpassed him in 2014. He scored 399 goals in 395 games, although he probably scored more in his career, since during the years 1916-1918 he played for the Bohemian Sporting Club of Manila (he came to Manila to study medicine). He played for the national teams of Spain and the Philippines, and participated in the biggest humiliation that the Japan national football team has suffered to date, which lost 2-15 to the Philippines in Tokyo. He also represented the Philippines playing table tennis.
As a footballer, he was then called “romperredes,” meaning “netbuster,” because of the unusual force with which he was able to hit the ball. The FC Barcelona website recalls that “his ability to hit the most powerful of shots crossed borders on 30 April 1922 when, in a game between Spain and France, he hit a shot so hard that it ripped right through the net. For many years after , children from Barcelona would recall that moment and would wish to do the same as the man from the Philippines.” He received several tributes in his life from the club. Later he was part of the club’s board, and in 1951 he even trained the Spanish national football team.
He retired from football in 1927, at just 31 years old, with the aim of working as a doctor. His specialty was urology. Football was not then the most popular sport in Spain nor did it provide as many economic benefits as it does today. The Spanish football league, roughly formatted as it is today, was launched in 1928. Back then, boxing and bullfighting were much more popular in Spain.
The Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 caught him on vacation at the beach with his family; he married and had two sons. Thanks to his dual nationality, he was able to escape to France, but very soon he voluntarily showed up in Pamplona to work as a doctor in the ranks of Franco’s troops. His political affiliation surprised the rebels themselves since he had not been a member of any political party or shown any ideological preferences. In the Spanish army he reached the rank of lieutenant and participated in several battlefronts. He was able to leave the army in 1940 and returned to his work as a doctor until his death in February 1964. At his funeral, the coffin was carried on the shoulders of some distinguished FC Barcelona players.
An additional curiosity is that Alcántara was the first footballer to write a memoir, curiously titled Mis memorias y consejos prácticos para el entrenamiento (My memories and practical advice for training), published when he was still a player, in 1921. Unfortunately, I have not been able to consult a copy of that work, but a biography in Catalan generously lent to me by my friend Chaco Molina, to whom I give my most sincere thanks.