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Patrick O'Connell - Soccer Player & First Ever Irish ManU Captain. Became Manager Of Barcelona FC Also
Exceptional soccer career of early 20th century Dubliner, who captained Manchester United and managed Barcelona FC, but life ends in London turmoil. Patrick O’Connell is a famous Irishman of football repute, but not widely known or recognised in the sporting history books.
Patrick’s football career began in junior football with Dublin club, Frankfort, a club amongst the founding members of the League of Ireland. The Dubliner’s great displays came to the attention of Belfast Celtic, one of Ireland’s leading clubs at the turn of the 20th century. Patrick signed for the Belfast club in 1908.
English club, Sheffield Wednesday came calling in 1909 to sign Patrick and along with another Belfast player, the Irishmen departed for a £50 fee for the two of them. Patrick made his English League debut V Bury on the last day of season 1908/09. At Bury he won two international caps for Ireland, when north and south were united in football as national team. Patrick’s football journies added a new chapter when he signed for Hull City in 1912, played 58 games for the black and amber team, won 3 further international caps and left after the season 1912/13 ended.
In 1914 Patrick O’Connell was persuaded to move to Manchester United for a transfer fee of £1,000. His authority on the field was quickly noticed and the United manager made Patrick the first ever Irishman to captain a Manchester United league team. He went on to play 34 United games before the first World War unfolded and created havoc for football.
United escaped relegation in 1915 by just one point and huge conflict surrounded their survival, as bribery accusations surfaced. As war was raging, Patrick remained with United, but in 1919 he moved to Scottish club, Dumbarton, for just one season, before returning to England to play for Ashington for two seasons as player manager.
His last international cap came when he was playing in the north east region of England and he finished his English career there. 1922 would become a milestone year for the Irish footballer as he moved to Spain and managed Racing de Santander. Success came in the form of five regional titles for Santander, but his Spanish football travels were only beginning.
In 1932 he won the Spanish second division title as manager of Real Betis, based in Seville, and a proud achievement came in 1935, when his team won the La Liga title. In Spanish football Patrick (Patrico) O’Connell’s star was rising rapidly and one of Spain’s most famous football clubs, Barcelona FC, sought out the Irishman to manage their La Liga team.
For the 1935/36 season Barcelona had a new manager installed, who hailed from Dublin, Ireland. His career with the Spanish club was blighted by political interference and worst still, the Spanish Civil War. The 1936/37 Civil War had the city of Barcelona in turmoil and the club almost bankrupt. To raise funding O’Connell took his team to Mexico and the United States, but he returned with just four of the players who left with him on tour. Some stayed in Mexico and others went to France. General Franco, one of Real Madrid’s most loyal fans, had O’Connell’s work permit suspended and he remained outside football until 1942. Racing Santander, his first Spanish club, made the call once more for Patrick to again manage the club. He left Santander in 1949 and made for London where he died pauperised and destitute in 1959. Until recent years and a documentary commissioned on his life and times was broadcast, very little awareness of his fame was known.
About twenty years ago I rambled across a brief Patrick O'Connell soccer story, researched further and hence this article and his incorporation in the All Ireland Hall of Fame Online Gallery Collection of Irish sports legends. Outside football his life was at best difficult and controversial.
Derry JF Doody