Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund
Patrick O’Connell was FC Barcelona’s manager between 1935-1940 during the difficult Spanish Civil War years. He died penniless and destitute in London on 27 February 1959.
Penya Blaugrana London has joined the campaign organized by the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund to raise awareness and monies to restore his unmarked paupers grave in North London and build statues and/or busts at each of the clubs he played for and managed.
Johan Cruyff , Franz Beckenbauer, Martin O’Neill, Ronald Koeman, David Beckham and Luis Figo are just some of the football luminaries who have also expressed their support for the campaign.
One of football’s forgotten heroes, were he alive today, “Don Patricio’s” achievements would be unprecedented. The former Ireland and Manchester United captain who saved Barcelona from extinction, also guided Real Betis to their only La Liga title.
The Irishman moved to the Catalan capital as a result of his success in Andalusia and as Spain was edging closer to civil war, thus positioning himself firmly on the wrong side of Franco. With the political and economic situation worsening, Barcelona were struggling to stay afloat. They asked some of their foreign players, including the Uruguayan forward Enrique Fernández and Hungary’s Elemer Berkessy, not to return from holidays home. O’Connell was asked to stay and he agreed.
The situation deteriorated as full-scale war erupted in July 1936. The league was suspended but Barcelona played on in a regional division, consolidating its symbolic power in their resistance to the central regime. In August 1936, the man who had appointed O’Connell, the Barcelona president and prominent Catalan activist, Josep Sunyol, was arrested by pro-Franco forces and killed. O’Connell was on holiday in Ireland and club officials sent him a message explaining they would understand if he did not return. He returned.
As the fighting intensified and the turmoil and tension engulfed Barcelona, the club lurched to the brink of bankruptcy. A lifeline came in 1937 when a Catalan businessman who had emigrated to Mexico, Manuel Mas Soriano, asked the club to tour his new home country, where the socialist government was hostile to Franco.
O’Connell rounded up his players and staff and sailed to Mexico, where 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. But the money made from the expedition saved Barcelona from going under. O’Connell went back home to Ireland shortly afterwards but he had ensured Barcelona’s future and his own enduring memory.
For more information, please visit the Patrick O'Connell Fundation:
Source of above Patrick O'Connell background story, with thanks to The Guardian: