‘Don Patricio’ O’Connell has been credited with saving Barca from bankruptcy after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war in 1936. He first oversaw victory in the 1937 Mediterranean League, then lead the team on a fundraising American tour the following year.
A special event before kick off saw O’Connell being inducted into Barca’s Hall of Fame, with O’Connell’s grandson Mike being thanked by senior club figures including the club’s legendary physio Angel Mur.
Mike and his wife Sue, along with independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan were then VIP guests of Barca and the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia for the game at the Camp Nou.
The Betis fixture was chosen as the Dubliner guided the Sevilla-based club to their only La Liga title in 1935 — another highlight of a career which also included captaining Ireland to the 1913/14 British Home Championship.
The colourful character also played midfield for Belfast Celtic and Manchester United, where he was caught-up in a match-fixing scandal following a game against Liverpool in 1915.
Despite having a successful career in three countries, O’Connell ended his life destitute in London and was buried in an unmarked grave in Kilburn in 1959.
In recent years, the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund has worked hard to gain recognition for this long forgotten figure and raise funds for a fitting memorial at his final resting place.
The group’s Fergus Dowd, Alan McLean and Colm Farry were also official guests at last night’s game.
“I was invited to attend the match between Barca and Real Betis where Patrick’s great achievements will be honoured by the iconic club he saved during the Spanish Civil War,” Dublin Central TD O’Sullivan said.
“The football landscape throughout the world would be quite different today without the famous Barcelona and it is only fitting that this north inner-city Dublin native should be remembered for his work.
"What started as a group supporting a gravestone for Patrick who died desolate in London has now turned into a much bigger project to bring this forgotten man to life.”
Down on the pitch, Lionel Messi made his 500th Barcelona appearance as the La Liga leaders ensured they would finish 2015 in top spot with a 4-0 victory over Real Betis.
Earlier on Wednesday afternoon, two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and one from substitute Lucas Vazquez brought Real Madrid a 3-1 home win against Real Sociedad, and eased the pressure for now on under-fire Blancos coach Rafa Benitez.
The talk before the game was all about Benitez’s position as Madrid coach, and the ex-Liverpool and Chelsea manager was whistled regularly by the home crowd, with his team looking very nervous and disorganised at times.
Referee Jose Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez lent Rafa a hand with two very debatable first half penalties, one missed, the other scored by Ronaldo.
The Portuguese’s second goal was an expertly dispatched 15 yard strike, leading to a victory which means no managerial change is likely before Madrid visit Gary Neville’s Valencia on Sunday.
“I congratulated Ronaldo and all the team, they were united on the pitch, when it was important to show character and personality,” Benitez said afterwards.
“Despite missing the penalty, he stepped up again, put his team on his back, and the game turned around.”