He’s the Irishman credited with rescuing Barcelona. A former captain of both Ireland and Manchester United, Patrick O’Connell went on to manage Real Betis and Barca where he saved the Catalan giants from extinction. Yet his remains were buried in an unmarked grave in Kilburn, North London, an area synonymous with Irish emigrants and their broken dreams. Now thanks to years of work by the Patrick O’Connell Fund, at last ‘Don Patricio’ has a dignified final resting place.
Patrick O’Connell was born in Dublin in 1887 and, in a storied football career, starred for both Manchester United and Ireland. Having hung up his boots, O’Connell moved into management and found his way to Spain where he achieved outstanding success. He led Real Betis to La Liga title in 1935 which attracted the attention of FC Barcelona. With the 1936–37 season suspended because of the Spanish Civil War, O’Connell spearheaded a trip to Mexico for a series of exhibition games which took the club finances out of debt, securing its future.
Patrick O’Connell’s life inspired a group to come together with the goals of raising funds to build a memorial befitting his name in football at his graveside, and erect a monument to his memory at his former club Belfast Celtic at the Park Centre in Northern Ireland.
The group, including members of O’Connell’s family, launched the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund at the Belfast Celtic Museum. Some of football’s biggest names have contributed memorabilia including the late Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, and current Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill.
Former Northern Ireland and Real Mallorca striker and current La Liga Sky Sports Analyst Gerry Armstorng is the fund’s ambassador. Armstrong, scorer of the famous goal for Northern Ireland against Spain in their victory at World Cup 1982, donated the shirt he wore that day, signed by the team.
Thanks to years of fundraising, Patrick O’Connell’s grave has been renovated and his life recognised.
“We are all just delighted this forgotten legend now has a proper resting place. We thank all those from Ireland, the UK and Spain who supported this project.”
– Fergus Dowd of the Patrick O’Connell Fund
O’Connell grew up in Mabel Street in Drumcondra. His footballing life began in the Irish capital, then found its way to Belfast Celtic before a move cross-channel in 1909 took him to Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City and eventually Manchester United. O’Connell made 34 First Division appearances for the Red Devils for whom he was named captain in 1914. In March of that year, O’Connell skippered the Irish team in one of his six international appearances, and while playing with a broken arm, ten-man Ireland drew against Scotland to win the Home Championship.
O’Connell’s time in Spain was the subject of a TG4 documentary by Tobar Productions ‘Paddy Don Patricio’.
In August 2015, a mural to his memory was unveiled on the Falls Road in Belfast.
Follow on Twitter: @PatricioFund