Friday 21 October 2016

Ireland's forgotten football hero is honoured by family and fans


From humble beginnings in a small terraced house in Drumcondra a man named Patrick O'Connell went on to become one of the biggest influences in international soccer in his day, but it has taken until now to recognise his dedication.

At the unveiling of a plaque on 87 Fitzroy Avenue yesterday, O'Connell, who was born in 1887, was remembered as a remarkable man who became the first Irishman to captain Manchester United a century ago, and went on to save Barcelona FC from bankruptcy.

But despite his legendary football career, Patrick died destitute in 1959 and is buried in an unmarked grave in St Mary's Cemetery in Kensal Green in London.

Patrick's grandson, Mike O'Connell, helped unveil the plaque and spoke movingly about his grandad.

"When I looked at the house I thought of how Patrick's mother and father brought up 12 children in it. I was quite moved," he said.

"I knew all about my grandfather up to his time with Manchester United, but after that the story disappeared, so nothing more was known about him for 40 years until my wife Sue spent 15 years researching him," Mike told the Herald.


Patrick started his career with Belfast Celtic FC in 1908, later moving to Sheffield Wednesday.

During the British Home Championship of 1913/14 he captained the first Ireland team to beat England on English soil.

He also led the Irish to victory over Wales in Wrexham, and in the final game against Scotland at Windsor Park Patrick played the entire second half with a broken arm.

He joined Manchester United in 1915 for a fee of over £1,000 and became the first Irishman to captain the team.

In the 1920s, he moved to Spain. Barcelona FC asked him to become manager.

During the Spanish Civil War, when Barcelona FC was close to bankruptcy, a Catalan businessman who had emigrated to Mexico asked the club to tour the country in 1937.

Patrick and the players and staff sailed to Mexico. They played six matches before carrying on to New York for four more exhibition games. The money made from the tour saved Barcelona FC.

A memorial fund has now been set up by friends to raise money to restore Patrick's grave.

Donations can be made through Fergus Dowd on fergus.dowd@aol.com.

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