June 20, 2024

Irish Catalan Patrick O’Connell – Barcelona Saviour

It is a little-known fact that the Barcelona Football Club that we know, and many people love, would not exist if it were not for the actions of controversial Irish man Patrick O’Connell back in the mid-1930’s. The club was fighting for its’ very existence due to fascist aggression during the Spanish Civil War. Because the Catalan club was so closely associated with Republican causes Barcelona came under enormous pressure and almost folded.

To get some respite from the civil unrest and the pressure from Franco’s forces Barcelona undertook a tour of the US and Mexico. Irishman Patrick O’Connell, who was the manager of Barcelona at the time, led this American odyssey netting $15,000 for the club in the process. This money was later used to revive the fortunes of the great football club. Barcelona’s hall of fame at the Nou Camp contains a bust of Patrick O’Connell in commemoration of his roll in helping the cub to make it through the Spanish Civil War.


Patrick O’Connell –
A Controversial Character

The Patrick O’Connell story begins in Drumcondra, in Dublin, in March 1887. Born into a working class family he used football as a release valve from the grinding poverty of Dublin in those rare old times. He played as a centre-half for Stranville Juniors on the North Strand. It is also known that he worked for a while in Bolands Mills. O’Connell began to make his mark in the world of soccer when he signed for Belfast Celtic from the Falls Road.

He moved across the Irish Sea and played for short periods with Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City before signing for Manchester United for £1,000 in May 1914.

Match Fixing Scandal

patrick-oconnell The United manager Jack Robson made the tough defender the first Irish captain of Manchester United. His time with United was not particularly positive for him as the club struggled with the threat of relegation for most of the season even though he scored two goals from defence in 35 appearances.

Although United avoided relegation by a single point O’Connell couldn’t avoid the shame of being involved in an infamous match-fixing scandal. Players from Manchester United and Liverpool FC, including Patrick O’Connell, met in a pub the day before the two teams were to meet in a League fixture. The players agreed to place bets at 8 to 1 that United would beat Liverpool by a scoreline of 2-0. With the score during the match at 2-0 United were awarded a penalty.

On the 2nd of April, Good Friday, in 1915 O’Connell took that penalty but shot well wide and the match ended 2-0. Shamed, but avoiding criminal charges or a playing ban, Patrick O’Connell remained a Manchester United player during World War I but there was very little football played. It has been suggested that the idea of the match fixing emerged because the players realised that their earning capacity would be severely limited by the impending war.

Patrick O’Connell and Ireland Win Home Nations Championship

Patrick O’Connell was first capped for Ireland (it was an all-Ireland team at the time) in 1912 in a 1-6 defeat at Dalymount Park. O’Connell only won six caps for Ireland however he was a member of the Irish team that won the British Home Nations Championship in 1914.

It was the only time that an all-Ireland won that competition and it would be another 66 years before Northern Ireland repeated the feat. On the way to the title Ireland beat Wales 2-1, England 3-0, and drew with Scotland 1-1 at Windsor Park.


Patrick O’Connell and Football Management in Spain

patrick-oconnell-manager In 1922 Patrick O’Connell set sail for Spain. It’s not known why but it appears that he left all his family behind him including a wife and four children.

In circumstances that are unclear O’Connell succeed Englishman, Fred Pentland, as manager of Racing Santander. O’Connell had had a brief stint as player-manager back in England with Third Division Ashington AFC. It is likely that Santander would have been where O’Connell first landed on the Spanish mainland. O’Connell spent seven years in total with the club where it is reported that his methods helped to revolutionise soccer in the area. When the offside rule was introduced to the football rule book O’Connell famously coached the Racing players in the offside trap technique.

Following his period with Racing Santander Patrick O’Connell went on to manage Real Oviedo for two years and then managed Real Betis for three years.

Controversy Follows Don Patricio to Real Betis

By this time O’Connell was commonly referred to as Don Patricio within the Spanish football world. He had very significant success with Real Betis first qualifying to enter the Primera Liga and then went on to win the top Spanish league in April 1935. Betis had to beat Racing in Santander to be sure of beating Real Madrid to the title. It appears that Patrick O’Connell had a few drinks with some of his former colleagues from Racing and the following exchange is reported to have taken place,” ‘You’ve got nothing to play for tomorrow. You won’t kill yourselves to beat us will you?’ O’Connell asked. The answer from one of the leading players was unequivocal: ‘I’m sorry, mister, but Madrid wants us to win. Our president, José María Cossio, is a Madrid fan himself and is offering us 1,000 pesetas per (Racing) player if we win.’ ” Apparently Don Patricio didn’t pursue matter, nevertheless Real Betis thumped Racing Santander 5-0 to clinch the Primera Liga for the one and only time .

Patrick O’Connell – Manager of Barcelona

Following a brief holiday in his native Ireland Patrick O’Connell was appointed as the manager of Barcelona during the summer of 1935. Catalonia was becoming a centre of resistance against the right wing tendencies emerging in Spain at the time. This manifested itself on the football pitch in matches between Barça and the Franco-sponsored Real Madrid – a rivalry that persists to this day. When the Spanish Civil war erupted in 1936 the board of Barcelona decided to confine play to local Catalan competitions. As the pressures from the conflict mounted it appeared that the very existence of Barça was under serious threat.

Out of the blue the club received an invitation from Manuel Mas Soriano, a former Mexican basketball player, to tour Mexico and the USA for a guaranteed fee of $15,000 – a huge amount at the time. This was a financial lifeline for Barça and a very real lifeline for the players who were feeling increasingly unsafe. It also provided refuge for the groundsman. Angel Mur. Somewhat bizarrely, Patrick O’Connell insisted that Mur go on the trip as the team’s masseur.

Patrick O’Connell and Barcelona Tour North America

The tour which was originally due to have taken two weeks in fact took two months. None of the touring party were in any rush to get back to war-wracked Spain. Patrick O’Connell’s conduct and performance during the tour was a major success in PR terms and Barça received favourable reviews throughout the tour for their positive conduct on and off the pitch. Following a series of matches in September 1937 in New York the touring party had run out of road and it was time to return to Spain.

Details of Matches Played by Barcelona in New York

6 Sep 1937 Barcelona 4 Brooklyn Hispano 3 Brooklyn
12 Sep 1937 Barcelona 4 Hispano-St. Mary’s Celtic 2 Brooklyn
19 Sep 1937 Barcelona 2 American League Stars 0 Brooklyn
21 Sep 1937 Barcelona 3 Jewish All-Stars 0 New York City

During a team meeting twelve of the players decided to quit Barça and remain in the USA. The club secretary Calvet decided to wire the tour fee of $15,000 to a bank account in Paris rather than take the chance that the cash might fall into the hands of the fascists on their return to Spain. Of the original touring party just O’Connell, Calvet, Mur, team doctor Amoros, and four players returned to Spain. On their return to Spain Patrick O’Connell left Barcelona.

Patrick O’Connell – End of Days for a Barça Legend

O’Connell went on to manage Seville between 1942 and 1945 taking the team to second place in La Liga in his first season . He finished his soccer management career in Spain where it all started – back with Racing Santander from 1947 to 1949.

What happened in his life after he left Spain is unclear however Patrick O’Connell, the Irishman that helped to save the great Barcelona Football Club, finished his days in obscurity in run-down lodgings near St. Pancras station in London. Patrick O’Connell died on the 27th February 1959 at the age of 71. There is a bust of Patrick O’Connell in the Barça museum and he is remembered on the Barcelona FC website.

Patrick O’Connell – Manchester United & Ireland Statistics

Patrick O’Connell was born on
08 March 1887
Patrick O’Connell died in
27 February 1959
Playing Position
Joined Manchester United
Manchester United Debut
02 Sep 1914 V Oldham Athletic (H) League
Left Manchester United
No. of Games Played for Utd
Goals scored for Man Utd
Honours Won by Patrick O’Connell with Manchester United
Ireland Caps
Goals scored for Ireland


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