Belated recognition for first Irishman to captain Manchester United

Plaque to be unveiled in Dublin to former Real Betis and Barcelona manager Patrick O’Connell

Really he should be one of Ireland’s most famous sons. The first Irishman to captain Manchester United, Irish Home Championships-winning captain in 1914, the only man ever to manage Real Betis to a Spanish league title and, most unbelievably, the saviour of FC Barcelona as we know them today.

Yet Patrick O’Connell, of 87 Fitzroy Avenue, Drumcondra, is barely known in Irish sporting circles and has lain in an unmarked grave in St Mary’s Cemetery, London for over five decades.

There are no memorials to ‘Don Patricio’ in his home city of Dublin. Until now.

Formal honouring

Today a plaque will be unveiled at O’Connell’s old house in Drumcondra by former Manchester United captain


Martin Buchan

, along with Patrick’s grandson Mike O’Connell.

The event follows on from O'Connell's formal honouring at the Mansion House last night – an event attended by such footballing greats as Jimmy Nicholl and Steve Archibald as well as football historian Peter Byrne.

Sadly the grandeur of the mahogany panelled walls and chandeliers found in the Lord Mayor’s residence is a long way from the destitution in which O’Connell’s 71 remarkable years of life came to an end.

The recognition that one of the founder members of La Liga is now beginning to receive is down to the work carried out over a number of years by the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund, in particular Fergus Dowd, Simon Needham and Alan McLean.

“Fergus and Simon and I support a non-league team in England called Blyth Spartans who play in green and white,” says McLean.

“Real Betis are known for extending a hand of friendship to any other team around the world that play in green and white so through that we came across Patrick’s story.

“He’s revered over there and they’re much more knowledgeable about him.”

His achievements at the giants of FC Barcelona aren’t quite as celebrated.

“Nobody recognises him or even knows about him over there,” says former Barca striker Steve Archibald.

The Drumcondra man took over during a traumatic time in Spanish history.

“Unfortunately the Spanish Civil War was going on [when O’Connell was appointed] so football took a backseat. And then, even when it ended, Franco’s regime and the whole atmosphere within the country continued for a time so it wasn’t easy to get news out.

“I suppose it’s one of those occasions where someone is revered more outside their own country rather than in it.”

The next step is the unveiling of a mural in Belfast, where O'Connell began his career with Belfast Celtic. The words on that mural will come from the Oasis song Cast No Shadow "when you take my soul, don't take my pride". Pride is certainly something all of Irish sport should take in the achievements of 'Don Patricio'.

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke is a sports journalist with The Irish Times