Patrick O’Connell: The Irishman who managed Barcelona and played for Man Utd

Richard Fitzpatrick has been researching the life of a former Manchester United captain, Patrick O'Connell, who secretly had two wives - one in Dublin and the other in Spain

Patrick O’Connell: The Irishman who managed Barcelona and played for Man Utd

PEOPLE live extraordinary lives.

On Saturday, RTÉ Radio 1 will broadcast a documentary about Patrick O’Connell (below), who lived two of them. He was a star footballer, captain of Manchester United during the First World War, the father of four children in one’ life’ and for decades a celebrated football coach in Spain in the other ‘life’.

In his first life, he was married to a Dublin woman, Ellen Treston. In the second, he was married to Ellen O’Callaghan, from Midleton, Co Cork.

O’Connell was born in Drumcondra, Dublin, in 1887. He was working class, big and broad-shouldered. Aged 14, he joined his father at Boland’s Mills. A year later, he was made a foreman, an early indication of his skills as a leader.

READ MORE: Football legends unite to honour Irishman who captained Man Utd and managed Barcelona .

Ellen Treston was middle class and bohemian. She married O’Connell in 1908. She was pregnant on the day of their wedding. Five months later, their first child, a boy, was born in Belfast where O’Connell had signed as a player with Belfast Celtic.

A year later, they left for England, where O’Connell’s career blossomed. In 1914, he captained the first all-Ireland team to win a British Home Championship (he played the final game, against Scotland, with a broken arm). A year later, he was embroiled in a match-rigging scandal between Manchester United and Liverpool, on Good Friday, April, 1915. The league was suspended a few weeks later, because of the war.

Patrick O'Connell's grave

O’Connell’s playing career petered out in Ashington. He was player/manager in the north England town, but he was lured to Spain to manage Racing Santander in 1922. By then, he was estranged from Treston. He’d left her in Manchester to raise their children. Their last meeting was a tearful encounter at the train station in Newcastle; their youngest son, Dan, accompanied Treston.

In Spain, O’Connell met Ellen O’Callaghan. Ten years his junior, she had trained as a teacher, but worked as a governess in Barcelona. Their marriage made a bigamist of O’Connell.

Tony Moore is a counsellor with Relationship Ireland. He has counselled men who operated two homes, usually with children in both. The female partners were unaware of each other. He says narcissism is the defining trait of these men.

“A lot of these guys will say to me: ‘Tony, I’m so attractive to these women. I don’t know what I can do. I’m like a magnet to them.’ Their solution, which is a cowardly, disrespectful, way out, is to run two households.

“What I ask is, to address the victim part of it is: ‘Why did you allow this to happen?’ Then, I ask: ‘Have you thought about the consequences?’ Then, they would often talk about themselves again. I’d have to say: ‘No, I’m talking about the consequences to the other people, the other women and maybe the children.’ Then, they’d say: ‘Oh, I see. I look after them very well. They’ve got plenty of money,’ and all the rest of it. They don’t think about the emotional or psychological impact. It’s all about me, me, me; they are unable to empathise,” Moore says.

Of his children, O’Connell only saw Dan again, who tracked him down in Seville in the 1950s. They met each day in the park. Dan had to pretend he was O’Connell’s ‘nephew’ and not his son. The reunion had a profound impact on O’Connell. It failed to reunite him with his first family and, according to the O’Callaghan family, led to the breakdown of his second marriage. Ellen O’Callaghan, who went to church daily, was appalled by her husband’s other life. She cut off all ties with him, and he died destitute in London in 1959.

Documentary on One - The Man Who Played Offside will broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 at 2pm, Saturday, June 20. For more information, visit:

READ MORE: Football legends unite to honour Irishman who captained Man Utd and managed Barcelona .

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