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Patrick O'Connell (1887 - 1959):
Football player and manager

Patrick O’Connell was born at 11 Jones Terrace, Drumcondra, Dublin 3 though the family moved to 87 Fitzroy Avenue in Drumcondra when Patrick was a boy.

Patrick O’Connell honed his football skills on the working class streets of the North Inner City in Dublin. He joined local team Liffey Wanderers as a teenager winning the Empire Cup (the All-Ireland Junior Cup) three years in a row 1904-1906. Patrick worked in Boland’s Mills from 1901 and by age 14 he was a foreman showing his leadership skills. In 1908 he was signed professionally by Belfast Celtic FC who at the time were the biggest club in Ireland. He starred for Celtic scoring their first ever hattrick versus fierce rivals Linfield FC at Windsor Park. Patrick made such a good impression in his first season he was signed by Sheffield Wednesday FC, then in the English first division, for the princely sum of £25. O’Connell spent three seasons at Hillsborough, the club’s stadium, and became an Irish international making his debut versus England in Dublin in 1912 - the first time the nations met internationally. He joined Hull City soon after and became captain of his country for the British Home Championship of 1913-1914. In 1913 Ireland played England at Ayresome Park, Middlesborough, and Patrick captained the team to a 3-0 victory. Ireland beat Wales at Wrexham and in the final game versus Scotland, Ireland clinched the title with a 1-1 draw at Windsor Park, Belfast. During the first half of the Scotland match; Patrick broke his arm but played on for the whole second half as there were no substitutions in those days. The 1913-1914 British Home Championship was Ireland's first ever football title.

In 1914 Manchester United FC brought Patrick to Old Trafford breaking the British transfer record, spending well over £1,000. It was such an astronomical fee United paid Hull City in instalments. Patrick O’Connell was the first Irishman to captain the club in 1915 and remained at Old Trafford until 1919. Following this Patrick played for Dumbarton from 1919-1921 and finished his playing career with Ashington AFC in Northumberland.

His managerial career began in 1922 as player-manager of Ashington leading the club into the Football League Third Division North. He accepted an offer from Racing Santander in Spain in 1923 to become their manager; he was recommended by Fred Pentland who was leaving for pastures new. From 1923-28 Patrick and Racing Santander won five regional titles to become the most successful team of the time in Northern Spain. In 1928 Patrick and Santander were founding members of La Liga and played in the first La Liga Championship. La Liga in Spain was now one of the biggest leagues in European Football. In 1929 Patrick became manager of Real Oviedo finding and nurturing Isidro Lángara, the club’s greatest ever player and winner of multiple Piscine awards (fitness and wellness) in Spain. Lángara was the first man to be top scorer of the Premier divisions in three different continents: Europe, North America, and South America; the countries being Spain, Mexico, and Uruguay. In 1931 he became manager of Real Betis FC at the time when Betis were a second division team with a ground capacity of 7,000 people and an average attendance of 1,500. By season 1934-1935 they were Kings of Spain pipping Real Madrid by one point to win their one and only La Liga title to date. In Seville where Betis play he is known as “El Mister” and “Don Patricio” for his achievements. He is the only Irishman ever to win the La Liga championship and he and the team are honoured with a sculpture in the Real Betis Museum in the centre of Seville. (The initiative for this came from Ireland to be executed by Dublin sculptor Joe Moran.) Following this triumph Josep Sunyol then President of FC Barcelona offered O'Connell the job of manager of the Catalan giants. In his first season Patrick won the championship of Catalan and the club were runners up to Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey. Whilst holidaying in Ireland in the summer of 1936 Patrick O'Connell received a telegram from FC Barcelona stating that the Spanish Civil War had broken out and they understood if he didn't return - but return he did.

Patrick kept the club afloat in a city that was being bombed on a daily basis, under siege from Francoists as the war raged. During this period he led the club to winning the Mediterranean League in April 1937 - a league played in by teams who supported the Republican cause. Patrick and his team could only travel to away matches by night and by train for fear of death. FC Barcelona the club see this as a La Liga title and the trophy is in Camp Nou museum. Josep Sunyol was assassinated by Francoists in August 1936 and FC Barcelona were facing financial ruin and possible extinction. Patrick and his team got an offer from a Manuel Mass Soriano, a Mexican businessman, to tour the Americas following the Mediterranean League win. At the time Patrick had no physiotherapist and he convinced Angel Mur, then grounds man, to come on the tour in that role. Angel Mur stayed on as physic from 1937 to 1973 when he was replaced by his son Angel Mur Junior who was physio of the club from 1973 until 2006.

The tour was a huge success. The team sailed from St Nazaire, France on a ship called the Mexique on May 23, 1937. FC Barcelona and Patrick sailed with little or no food. FC Barcelona landed on Mexican shores on the 7 June 1937 and were met by Mexican President Cardenas who had laid on a buffet for Patrick and his team. Patrick had also traveled as an honorary consul of the last Republican Government of Spain and the ship was sponsored by the Mexican President. FC Barcelona and Patrick played their first match on Mexican soil against Club America on 20 June 1937 and played five more matches including two games against the Mexican national team. This was the first time FC Barcelona played a national football team in their history. FC Barcelona went on to play in New York including against a USA National League XI side and played against the Cuban national team in Havana. The tour was a huge success yielding $12,900 and the monies were wired to an account in Paris as General Franco had frozen all of FC Barcelona's bank accounts. These monies ultimately saved the club from financial ruin and Patrick O'Connell is attributed with saving FC Barcelona from financial ruin.

Following the tour only four players, plus Angel Mur and Patrick O’Connell returned to Barcelona; the rest of the team absconded remaining in South America. Patrick rebuilt the team and in 1938 won the Lliga Catalana, a smaller version of the Mediterranean League. In 1940 he was forced to leave Barcelona FC and Spain as General Franco installed his own people into the club. He returned to London but received a pardon from the King of Spain as his wife was Nanny of the Royal Family and returned to manage Real Betis in 1941 winning the second division championship in 1942. Patrick O'Connell became the first man to become manager of to manage both of the big clubs in Seville. In 1945 he led Sevilla to second place in La Liga; they would win their first football title in 1947 with the side built by O’Connell. In 1947 he returned to Racing Santander winning the third division title the only man in Spanish football history to win La Liga, Second Division and Third Division titles

Sadly Patrick hardly made his fortune out of the game and returned to London in 1949, drawing national assistance and even begging on the streets of London for the final years of his life. He died, destitute, in that city and was buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary's Cemetery, Kensal Green, London.

Born: 8 March 1887
Died: 27 February 1959
Ulster History Circle

Alan McClean, Peter Collins, Fergus Dowd, Maureen O'Sullivan