London grave of FC Barcelona and Manchester United legend Patrick O'Connell finally restored
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London grave of FC Barcelona and Manchester United legend Patrick O'Connell finally restored

PATRICK O’CONNELL, the Irishman credited with saving FC Barcelona from extinction during the Spanish Civil War, has finally had his London grave restored after a long fundraising campaign.

In 2014 a small group of football fans from across Ireland and England founded the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund at the Belfast Celtic Museum in the city’s Park Centre with the primary aim of honouring the Dubliner with a grave worthy of his achievements.

A former Belfast Celtic player, O’Connell is better remembered as the first Irishman to captain Manchester United in 1915, although it was at the prestigious FC Barcelona where he made his biggest mark in the sport.

He managed Barcelona to a Catalan Liga title and protected the club from General Franco during the Spanish Civil War by taking them on a tour of Mexico during the 1936-37 season, saving them from financial ruin in the process.

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It paved the way for the club to become the globally recognised institution it is today and, for that feat, O’Connell became the first Irishman to make Barcelona’s Hall of Fame last December.

O’Connell also managed Real Betis to the 1934-35 La Liga title during his time in Spain, where he earned the nickname ‘Don Patricio’.

Despite his impressive career, he died penniless in 1959 and received a pauper’s burial at St Mary’s Cemetery in London’s Kensal Green, Kilburn, where his grave lay unmarked and underappreciated for many years.

Now, though, the primary goal of the Patrick O’Connell Fund has been realised, a statement on the charity’s website confirmed.

The grave of Don Patricio (St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Kilburn, London) has been fully restored; a headstone finally bears the name of Patrick O'Connell. The memorial is understated, as the man himself was. There's a sense among those who have studied the life and times of Don Patricio that this modest tribute in stone best exemplifies his character. For now, we rest assured that the memory of Patrick Joseph O'Connell is finally written in stone.

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An official unveiling of the grave will follow later this year as, thanks to the Patrick O’Connell Fund, his career is finally being recognised.

Last year, a plaque was unveiled in Dublin to mark his former home of football at 87 Fitzroy Avenue in Drumcondra, while a mural on Whiterock Road in Belfast pays tribute to O’Connell.

Listen to more about Patrick O'Connell below: