Champion of derring-do

Patrick (Don Patricio) O’Connell.
Photo courtesy of Dublin City Library archives.

Dublin City Library and Archive launched their exhibition on December 1st to legendary footballer and manager Patrick O’Connell, with the official launch by Ardmhéara Mícheál Mac Donncha.
Patrick was born in Drumcondra, Dublin in 1887. He started his professional career with Belfast Celtic FC in 1908 and moved to Sheffield Wednesday FC in 1909.

During the British Home Championship of 1913/14 he captained the first Ireland team to beat England on English soil and also led the Irish to victory over Wales in Wrexham. In the final game against Scotland at Windsor Park, Patrick played the entire second half with a broken arm as Ireland clinched their first-ever football title.

Patrick moved from Sheffield Wednesday to Hull City where he spent two years before joining Manchester United in 1915 for a fee of over £1,000. He became the first Irishman to captain Manchester United a century ago.
Speaking at the launch of the exhibition, Ardmhéara Mícheál Mac Donncha said “The story of Patrick O’Connell is a fascinating one and I encourage all sports fans to visit this exhibition to gain an insight into his career – as captain of the first Irish team to win on English soil, the first Irishman to captain Manchester United and the man who saved the legendary Barcelona FC team from bankruptcy. Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.”

Well we would hope that the future produces people with such strength of character and sizeable heart again. Not only was he the first on two counts of historic captainship but he also displayed singular championship and drive.
In 1921 Patrick became manager of Ashington FC, a club made famous by the Charlton brothers Bobby and Jack. Soon afterwards he moved to Spain to become the manager of Racing Santander, where he went on to lead them to five regional titles between 1922 and 1929. He was involved in the formation of La Liga, the Spanish Football League Championship in 1928 and it was 1931 when Patrick became manager of Real Betis. One season later they became second division champions. In 1935 he led Real Betis to their one and only La Liga title in front of a capacity crowd of 7,000.

Following this win, Barcelona FC invited Patrick to become the manager and in his first season managing the club he led them to win the Catalan Championship and they were runners-up to Real Madrid in the Spanish Cup.
During the Spanish Civil War, when Barcelona FC was on the brink of bankruptcy, a Catalan businessman who had emigrated to Mexico asked the club to tour the country in 1937. Patrick rounded up the players and staff and sailed to Mexico. They played six matches before carrying on to New York for four more exhibition games.
The tour cost the team most of their players, as only four travelled with O’Connell back to Barcelona, the rest either seeking asylum in Mexico or jumping out in France on the way back. The money made from the expedition saved Barcelona and although Patrick returned to Ireland shortly afterwards he had ensured Barcelona’s future and his own enduring memory.

The exhibition includes Patrick’s Irish Cap from 1914, items from Sir Bobby Charlton, Kevin Moran, Paul McGrath, Bryan Robson and Norman Whiteside. Here is also an FC Barcelona shirt from 1936, signed items from Paolo Maldini and Andreas Iniesta and the FC Barcelona champions league winning team of 2015, with photos from the tour of Mexico and the Empire cup won by Patrick in 1904, 1905 and 1906.

Margaret Hayes, Dublin City Librarian said “Dublin City Library and Archive is pleased to host the Patrick O’Connell exhibition as part of our remit to collect and connect Dublin’s rich sporting heritage to Dubliners and to visitors to our city. Sport has played an intrinsic role in Dublin’s social and cultural identity and the Dublin City Sports Archive celebrates and preserves that identity. I encourage sports fans and history lovers alike to attend this free exhibition and learn more about Patrick O’Connell and the Sports Archive.”

The exhibition Patrick O’Connell – the man who saved FC Barcelona is on display in Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2 until 20th December 2017. The exhibition has been curated by the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund and supported by Dublin City Council. Free admission.