Iconic FC Barcelona manager lived in west Belfast
FOOTBALL fans fundraising for a memorial to a talented footballer who lined out for Belfast Celtic before going on to manage FC Barcelona have discovered he once lived in the heart of the Falls Road.
Patrick O'Connell, who was the first Irish man to captain Manchester United, lived at 163 Albert Street in west Belfast when he played for Belfast Celtic.
The address no longer exists, however, Fergus Dowd, chairman of the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund, tavelled on Friday to Albert Street to where the property used to be amid hopes a plaque in the former footballer's honour could one day be erected in the area.
Born in Drumcondra in Dublin 1887, Patrick O'Connell played as a defender for Belfast Celtic before he moved to Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City and Manchester United.
He also captained a pre-partition Ireland side and was a member of the team that won the 1914 British Home Championship.
Between 1931 and 1935 he managed Spanish side Real Betis, leading them to their first and only La Liga title in 1935.
He took over FC Barcelona the following year. In 1937, he took the team on tour in Mexico, Cuba and the USA, raising a vital $12,900 which saved the club from financial ruin.
The father-of-four died penniless and destitute in London in 1959 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Kensal Green cemetery.
The Patrick O'Connell Memorial fund was set up in recent years in a bid to raise funds for a more fitting memorial to the forgotten football star, who will be honoured at the upcoming FC Barcelona v Real Betis Balompie match on December 30.
He will then become the first Irish man to be inducted into the FC Barcelona Hall of Fame at the Camp Nou Museum.
Described by some as one of Ireland's most gifted football managers, a mural in memory of Patrick O'Connell was painted by artist Danny Devenney and unveiled in the Whiterock area of west Belfast in August.
Fergus Dowd, chairman of the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund, said yesterday that the aim of the fundraising campaign was to also raise awareness of the deceased footballer and manager.
"Patrick was probably one of the greatest Irish club managers," he said.
"It's also to raise awareness because a lot of people don't know his story."
Mr Dowd said it was hoped a memorial would be unveiled in April.
Fra McCann, West Belfast Sinn Fein assembly member, said he "over the moon" that Patrick O'Connell had links to the Falls Road.
"I think it's fantastic," he said.
"You look at the sporting prowess of people who lived here, we are obviously very proud. It's actually wonderful."
Donations to the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund can be made at www.pocfund.com