Monday 23 January 2017

Barcelona induct Dubliner O'Connell into Hall of Fame

Published 30/12/2015 | 02:30

A Patrick O’Connell mural being revealed in Belfast this year
A Patrick O’Connell mural being revealed in Belfast this year

Patrick O'Connell, the Dubliner who captained Ireland and Manchester United before enjoying managerial success in Spain, will be inducted into Barcelona's Hall of Fame this evening.

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The La Liga meeting between Barcelona and Real Betis was highlighted as the ideal opportunity to honour a colourful character who will join greats of the game such as Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona in an elite group.

O'Connell managed Betis to their only league title win in 1935 and then moved on to Barcelona where he is credited for the organisation of a money-spinning tour of the United States and Mexico during the Spanish Civil War which prevented the club from going out of business. The majority of his players chose to stay in exile when they made the journey, but the cash that O'Connell brought home helped them through a difficult period.

The ceremony an hour before the game came about from the work of the hugely successful Patrick O'Connell Fund which was started by a group of volunteers with the aim of restoring his unmarked grave in London where he died penniless in 1959.

It also set about raising awareness of his remarkable story and urging the respective football authorities to recognise the impact of a forgotten man.

O'Connell was born in Drumcondra in 1887 and the strapping defender moved north to Belfast Celtic where his performances earned a move to England. In 1914, he became the first player from the south to line out for Manchester United and went on to captain the club. He was no angel, however, and was strongly linked with a match-fixing scandal surrounding a game with Liverpool that led to the suspension of seven players. O'Connell was not sanctioned, but missed a penalty in a manner that raised eyebrows.

Few doubted his football talent and he also skippered the first all-Ireland side to win the British Home Championship in 1914.

The war affected the prime of his career and he operated in the lower leagues when it ended before taking up an offer to manage Racing Santander in Spain in 1922.

That started the second phase of his life, and he left a wife, Ellen Treston, and young family behind in England. It didn't stop him from becoming a bigamist by marrying a woman from Cork, Ellen O'Callaghan, who was working in Barcelona.

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When his son Dan travelled out to Seville in the 1950s in an attempt to find his father, the fallout is believed to have led to the collapse of O'Connell's second marriage.

He moved to England in 1954 because a brother lived there and records show that he applied for National Assistance, which indicates that he had no money to show for his existence at the top of his sport. O'Connell also managed Sevilla to a second-place finish in the 1940s.

Earlier this year, a plaque was unveiled at his old house in Fitzroy Avenue in Dublin and a mural in Belfast was also constructed. The delegation in Barcelona tonight will include his grandson Michael and his wife Sue - her fascination with his story and extensive research has contributed significantly to the process.

A painting of O'Connell by Manchester artist Tony Denton and a print team photo of the 1914 Home Championship side will be put up in the Nou Camp museum.

Irish Independent

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