LYING in an unmarked grave in Kilburn is one of the greatest Irish sportsmen that ever lived.
Belfast’s Patrick O’Connell captained Manchester United, led Real Betis to their first and only La Liga title and is credited with saving Barcelona from General Franco during the Spanish Civil War when he was in charge at the Camp Nou.
However he would die destitute in London in 1959, his story sunk in an unmarked grave.
Now, icons from David Beckham to Johan Cruyff to Roy Keane are throwing their support behind a campaign to clean up the grave and erect a memorial to the man known affectionately in Spain as ‘Don Patricio’.
“Next year marks the centenary of his time as manager of Man United,” said Fergus Dowd of the memorial fund team.
“It’s a rare thing for an Irishman to play for a Spanish club never mind manage Barcelona and captain Man United. He is revered at the Nou Camp. There is a bust of him there. But his story is little known in Ireland and there is no memorial but without this guy there would be no Barcelona, no history of the club alongside players like Maradona and Messi.”
Dowd said signed shirts have been streaming in from legends of the game around the world — the latest, a Paris St Germain shirt bearing the name of David Beckham.
“Once they hear the story of what he achieved and that he is buried in an unmarked grave they want to get behind the cause,” said Dowd. “We met Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill in Portmarnock recently, they didn’t know who he was or what he’d done before we had spoken, but once they did, they were happy to support us.”
Dowd said that O’Connell’s name still echoes at Barcelona and Real Betis and it is hoped a memorial statue, which will be erected in Belfast, will bring a wider recognition of his story.
“We have a Facebook page and most of the followers are Spanish,” he said. “Hopefully that’s going to change in the future.”