Who was ‘Pichichi’ and why does his bust stand proudly inside Athletic Club’s San Mames stadium?
His legend lives on at San Mamés, 98 years after his untimely death.
At the end of every LaLiga Santander season since 1953, the world-renowned Spanish newspaper MARCA has awarded the ‘Pichichi’ trophy the campaign’s top goal scorer. The inspiration for the name? Rafael Moreno, a striker who starred for Athletic Club back in the 1910s and who was widely nicknamed ‘Pichichi’ during his playing days.
The nickname is believed to have originated in reference to Moreno’s slight stature, but his lack of physicality didn’t stop him from terrorising defences leading the Bilbao’s side frontline between 1911 and 1921. He played in an era before LaLiga as we know it today was founded, but his legend was known across Spain. He scored 83 goals in his 89 games for the club, excelling above all in cup competition such as the Copa del Rey, which he won with Athletic Club in 1914, 1915, 1916 and 1921.
He also represented Spain at the 1920 Olympic Games in Belgium, where Spain took the silver medal. There he played alongside Ricardo Zamora, the goalkeeper who lends his name to the ‘Zamora’ Award, the trophy given to the best goalkeeper in LaLiga Santander each season.
After retirement, Pichichi moved into refereeing, but in 1922, just one year after his final game as a player, he tragically passed away at the age of just 29. It has long been claimed that he suffered a sudden bout of typhoid. In Bilbao, the people were devastated, and several tributes were held by those in and around the Athletic Club. In 1926, a bust of the player was sculpted by local artist Quintín de la Torre Berástegui and it has been present ever since in the club’s San Mames stadium ever since. Even after the ground was knocked down and replaced by the ‘new’ 53,000-capacity San Mames arena in 2013, the bust remained, and it now proudly sits by the pitchside entrance to the tunnel.
Such is the reverence for this legendary player that all clubs are keen to pay their respects to Pichichi. Over the years, a tradition has developed in which every team playing their first match at San Mames lays a bouquet of flowers by his bust. The most recent side to do so was SD Huesca, who played their first-ever competitive fixture against Athletic Club on the opening day of the 2018/19 season.
Pichichi is also remembered with a street named after him in Bilbao: “R. Moreno ‘Pichichi’ Kalea” (‘Kalea’ – street, in Basque). Few players are remembered as fondly or with such reverence as Pichichi. With a prestigious award named after him and a bust with pride of place in one of the greatest stadiums in European football, his legend lives on.