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Belfast Celtic footballer Patrick O’Connell who saved FC Barcelona from ruin to be honoured with Blue Plaque

By Adrian Rutherford and staff reporters

Published 20/10/2016

Honoured: Patrick O’Connell
Honoured: Patrick O’Connell

A one-time Belfast Celtic footballer who saved FC Barcelona from bankruptcy is set to be honoured with a Blue Plaque.

The nomination for Patrick O'Connell has been accepted by the Ulster History Circle.

Patrick O'Connell on the bench at Barcelona (in middle)
Patrick O'Connell on the bench at Barcelona (in middle)

O'Connell managed Real Betis to their only La Liga title.

He is also credited with saving Barcelona from financial ruin during the Spanish Civil War.

The first Irishman to captain Manchester United, he captained Ireland in the British Home Championship victory of 1913/14, where the trophy was clinched at Windsor Park.

In 1937 O'Connell was given the title of honorary consul by the last republican government of Spain.

And last December he became the first Irishman to be inducted into the Barcelona hall of fame.

Now a group of supporters has raised funds for a Blue Plaque to mark O'Connell's achievements and his strong link with Belfast.

Their quest was supported by famous footballers including Ireland assistant boss Roy Keane and Paolo Maldini.

The Blue Plaque will be erected on Albert Street.

Big draw: The Patrick O’Connell mural in Belfast
Big draw: The Patrick O’Connell mural in Belfast
Michael O'Connell speaking to Belfast Lord Mayor Arder Carson as a new mural is unveiled in Belfast to mark the life of his grandfather, footballer Patrick O'Connell, whose career saw him play for Belfast Celtic and Manchester United and manage FC Barcelona. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Crowds gather as a new mural is unveiled in Belfast to mark the life of footballer Patrick O'Connell, whose career saw him play for Belfast Celtic and Manchester United and manage FC Barcelona. Photo: Niall Carson
Michael O'Connell speaking as a new mural is unveiled in Belfast to mark the life of his grandfather, footballer Patrick O'Connell, whose career saw him play for Belfast Celtic and Manchester United and manage FC Barcelona. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Fergus Dowd, who is part of the fund group, said: "The Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund believe a Blue Plaque honouring Patrick should be of inspiration to any young people who harbour sporting ambitions throughout Northern Ireland."

Next year is the 80th anniversary of the so-called tour of salvation - Barcelona's tour of the Americas, led by O'Connell, which saved the club from financial ruin.

O'Connell died penniless in London in 1959 and for 57 years lay in an unmarked grave. But in 2014 supporters raised funds for a proper memorial in London.

Belfast Celtic player who managed Barcelona, captained Manchester United and died a pauper

As the Spanish Civil War raged in Spain in 1937, Patrick O'Connell led Barcelona Football Club on a tour of the USA and Mexico to raise much-need funds for his team who, at the time, were faced with the distinct possibility of extinction.

The trip proved a major success and allowed the club to continue to become the footballing powerhouse it is has become in the 21st Century.

The success was just one in a career of highs for Dublin-born O'Connell, who captained both Manchester United and Ireland and also won the Spanish La Liga with Real Betis - the only time the club has managed such a feat.

But 20 years after those successes, 'Don Patricio' died destitute in ramshackle conditions in a London flat and for the last 40 years has remained in an unmarked pauper's grave.

"No one really knew what had happened to him for a very, very long time. It was a bit of a mystery," explains Sue O'Connell, who is married to Patrick's grandson Mike.

Some years ago, Sue set out to explore Patrick's legacy and decided to commemorate his life and achievements. There were quite a few, as she quickly discovered.

Patrick O'Connell grew up on Jones Terrace, near Croke Park. He impressed on the football pitch at a young age and joined Belfast Celtic before going to Sheffield Wednesday in England and then eventually signing with Manchester United - as one of the first ever "thousand pound transfers" - for a British record fee, according to Fergus Dowd, who is also involved in the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund.

"He was the first Irishman to play for Manchester United and captain the club and this year is actually his 100th anniversary after he did so in 1914," Fergus said.

"He earned a reputation as a no-nonsense defender. On one occasion, he actually played with a broken arm against Scotland in the final of the British home Championship. That was the first trophy Ireland ever won."

From there, O'Connell upped sticks and left for Spain - leaving behind his wife and four children, who would never see him again.

Patrick managed Real Betis to its first and only La Liga title in 1935. Soon after the giants of Spanish football came calling and he duly answered the summons.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates a goal during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 19, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates a goal during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 19, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: John Stones of Manchester City slips under pressure from Luis Suarez of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Manchester City's Argentinian defender Pablo Zabaleta controls the ball during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 19, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez protests to the referee during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 19, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Claudio Bravo of Manchester City FC is shown a red card during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Claudio Bravo of Manchester City walks off the pitch after being sent off during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City holds off pressure from Jeremy Mathieu of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates with team mates after scoring his teams second goal of the game during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates scoring the opening goal of the game during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: David Silva of Manchester City holds off pressure from Denis Suarez of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Barcelona's Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic (C) and Barcelona's Argentinian defender Javier Mascherano (L) vie with Manchester City's Serbian defender Aleksandar Kolarov during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 19, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (bottom) vies with Manchester City's defender John Stones (C top) during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 19, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (R) vies with Manchester City's defender John Stones during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 19, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Players of Manchester City FC pose for a team photo before the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Supporters of FC Barcelona show pro-independence of Catalonia flags while the teams enter the pitch before the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: A general view outside the stadium ahead of the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Manchester City's Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo warms up before the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Manchester City at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 19, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
A general view from inside the stadium during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Old friends and team-mates: Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola line up for Spain against Austria back in 1999
Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

"He's probably best remembered for saving Barcelona from extinction during the Franco era when he took the club on a tour of Mexico. The money raised was wired to a Paris account and these monies ultimately saved the club," Fergus explained.

But after all those successes, with even a bust erected at the Camp Nou in Barcelona and a statue in his honour in a park in Seville, the story ended with 'Don Patricio' dying destitute in London in 1959.

Sue's research has helped fill in the blanks about Patrick's latter years.

Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez gestures after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez gestures after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Friends reunited: Former Liverpool players Kolo Toure of Celtic and Luis Suarez of Barcelona embrace after the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez shoots to score a goal beside Celtic's Irish defender Eoghan O'Connell (L) during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Luis Suarez reacts during a Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Luis Suarez of Barcelona celebretes scoring his sides sixth goal with team mates during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Luis Suarez of Barcelona celebretes scoring his sides sixth goal with team mates during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (C) is congratulated by Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar (R) and Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (L) after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's midfielder Andres Iniesta celebrates after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (L) controls the ball prior to scoring a goal beside Celtic's Irish defender Eoghan O'Connell (L) during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar celebrates a goal during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar walks to shoot a corner kick during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during a Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Neymar of Barcelona celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar looks on during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Neymar of Barcelona celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi walks after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Celtic's French forward Moussa Dembele (top) vies with Barcelona's German goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (R) during their Champions League football match between FC Barcelona and Celtic CF at the Camp Nou in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (up) celebrates a goal with teammate Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGOJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's German goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (L) is congratuled by teammates after stopping a penalty during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona's defender Gerard Pique (R) and other teammates congratulate Barcelona's German goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (2nd L) after stopping a penalty kick during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENELLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona supporters wave Estelada or Catalan pro-independence flags distributed by separatists groups ahead of the Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right, walks past his teammates Neymar, center, and Luis Suarez after scoring his side's first goal during a Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, left, celebrates with Barcelona's Neymar after scoring the opening goal during a Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, left, celebrates with Barcelona's Neymar after scoring the opening goal during a Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, left, takes on Celtic's Erik Sviatchenko during a Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Celtic's Moussa Dembele, top, jumps above Barcelona's Gerard Pique during a Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Celtic's Scott Brown back heads the ball during a Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic, left, and Celtic's Moussa Dembele vie for the ball during a Champions League, Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Celtic, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Celtic's players warm up before their Champions League football match against FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Supporters enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Supporters enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Supporters arrive prior to the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Supporters arrive prior to the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Supporters arrive prior to the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: A general view as Celtic players walk on the pitch prior to the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: Emilio Izaguirre (L) and Jozo Simunovic of Celtic walk on the pitch prior to the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: A general view prior to the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 13: A dog and his handler perform a search prior to the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and Celtic FC at Camp Nou on September 13, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

"Things were very tough after Franco won. He came back to London and lived with his brother. After his death, he was buried with his sisters but he was never marked as being there.

Patrick's grandson Mike says he is "a little bewildered" by the interest in his granddad after he left his grandmother and remarried without ever telling either woman.

"My whole life was affected by it because after he left, my granny became very anti-establishment, very anti-Church having come from a traditional family. That was the impact he had," Mike joked.

However, he adds that he is glad Patrick is getting the recognition he deserved.

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