Northern Ireland news

Film about Irishman who saved FC Barcelona to be premiered in April in Belfast

Patrick O'Connell began his professional footballing career at Belfast Celtic
Andrew Madden

A FILM telling the remarkable story of Irish footballer and manager Patrick O’Connell – the man credited with saving FC Barcelona from bankruptcy – is set to premiere in Belfast.

Don Patricio charts the life of the former Belfast Celtic player as he made his way to Manchester United and later to Spain, where he became a hero for the Catalan club.

The documentary also details the journey of the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund, which was set up in 2014 to raise money for his unmarked grave in London as well as awareness of his achievements in cities associated with him around the world.

Originally from Dublin, O'Connell lived for a time in Albert Street in the lower Falls area of Belfast, where his first son was born.

He was captain of the Ireland team that won the British Home Championship at Windsor Park in 1914 and was the first Irishman to captain Manchester United.

When he guided Real Betis to its only Spanish league title in 1935 he also became the only Irish manager to win La Liga.

A mural depicting Patrick O'Connell on the Whiterock Road in west Belfast

O'Connell then managed Barcelona from 1935 to 1940 and is credited with saving the club from financial ruin during the Spanish Civil War when he led it on a tour of Mexico and New York.

In 1937, he was given the title of honorary consul by the last republican government of Spain.

He later moved to London where he died destitute in 1959, with his legacy almost forgotten until recent years.

In August 2014 the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund was founded at the Belfast Celtic Museum and within three months more than 40 signed shirts had been donated by players from all over the world - the first from the late great Johan Cruyff.

The 90-minute film, spearheaded by Spanish producer Michael Anderesen, was shot in Ireland, Spain, Mexico and Britain, with a host of sporting legends taking part.

In Mexico they met a 91-year-old man who was ball boy the night Barcelona came to town and carried Don Patricio's bag into the ground.

In the north filming took place on Albert Street where O’Connell lived and the Shankill Road where he would drink as a Belfast Celtic player.

A bust of Patrick O'Connell at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Picture by Arthur Allison, Pacemaker Press

The filmmakers also visited Windsor Park and the Belfast Celtic Museum on Donegall Road where its ground once stood, and spoke to former Northern Ireland international Harry Gregg in Coleraine.

Footage was also shot in Strabane with Jimmy and Gareth Doherty, the father and brother of former Manchester United player Adrian Doherty.

Other contributions in Ireland came from Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, former captain Niall Quinn, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and Independent Dublint TD Maureen O'Sullivan.

International names who took part include Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeau, striker Luis Suarez and Betis president Angel Haro.

Mr Bartomeau said people like McConnell helped shape FC Barcelona.

"Barca is more than a club because, among other things, it is a club with a great history and memory. We like to remember all those people who made FC Barcelona what it is today. Everyone is important," he said.

"Patrick O’Connell may not be as well known to younger generations, but he was a brave and loyal coach who gave himself to the club during a very difficult time here, an epoch of civil war.

"He left an indelible mark on every club he spent time with, greatly contributing to an increase in the popularity of football."

Maureen O’Sullivan said it was unbelievable what he achieved in his lifetime.

Patrick O'Connell's grave in London

"When I meet people I ask them - have they heard of Patrick O'Connell? I then list off everything he achieved and then they say back: 'No one person could have achieved all that'," she said.

A trailer for Don Patricio will be launched tomorrow ahead of its premiere in Belfast in April.

Filming at the graveyard in London where Patrick O'Connell is buried

Director Michael Anderesen filming outside Old Trafford

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