Ex-Man United captain honoured in Belfast

A former Manchester United captain credited with saving FC Barcelona from extinction has been honoured in a mural painted as part of a campaign for a memorial at his unmarked grave.

Ex-Man United captain honoured in Belfast

Dubliner Patrick O’Connell may not be a well-known name in British and Irish football circles but he is revered in parts of Spain.

After playing as a central defender for United, Sheffield Wednesday and Hull in the years around the First World War, the former Ireland captain went on to pursue a managerial career in Spain where, in 1935, he led Real Betis FC of Seville to its one and only La Liga title.

The achievement landed him the manager’s job at Barcelona just before the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. With General Franco intent on destroying the famous Catalan club, O’Connell’s decision to take his team on a tour to Mexico and the US generated the crucial funds needed to keep it afloat.

Despite these feats, O’Connell died destitute in London in 1959 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Kensal Green cemetery.

Football fans fascinated by O’Connell’s story are now spearheading a fundraising campaign for a more fitting memorial.

The mural capturing his exploits were painted in Belfast close to where O’Connell once played for the now defunct Belfast Celtic — his first professional club.

It was unveiled by his grandson Mike in front of an invited audience comprising a number of footballing greats, including ’Lisbon Lions’ Bertie Auld and John Clark who won the European Cup with Glasgow Celtic in 1967 and former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg.

Alan McLean, from the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund, explained the Irishman’s role in saving one of the world’s most famous clubs.

“When he was manager of Real Betis in Spain and he won their only La Liga title in 1935, Barcelona said ‘right you’re the man for us’ and he became their manager,” he said.

Mr McLean said while raising the €8,500 for a memorial was important, the campaign was also about raising awareness of O’Connell’s story.

“The focus has really been to not only raise funds but also to inspire young people in Ireland and elsewhere.”

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