Northern Ireland

Patrick O'Connell: New mural in Belfast to FC Barcelona saviour

The mural to Patrick O'Connell was unveiled in west Belfast on Friday Image copyright PA
Image caption The mural to Patrick O'Connell was unveiled in west Belfast on Friday

A former Manchester United captain from Dublin, credited with saving FC Barcelona from extinction, has been honoured in a Belfast mural.

The mural has been painted as part of a campaign to erect a memorial at Patrick O'Connell's unmarked grave in London.

Barcelona almost folded in the 1930s, but O'Connell, their manager, helped organise a money-spinning tour to Mexico and the US.

The ex-Belfast Celtic player has been honoured by fans stirred by his story.

Spanish Civil War

The mural was unveiled on Friday by his grandson, Mike O'Connell, in front of an invited audience featuring footballing greats, including Bertie Auld and John Clark who won the European Cup with Glasgow Celtic in 1967, and Manchester United legend Harry Gregg.

Alan McLean, from the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund, described the Irishman's role in saving one of the world's leading clubs.

Image caption Patrick O'Connell with the Real Betis team he led to the Spanish championship in 1935

"When he was manager of Real Betis in Spain and he won their only La Liga title in 1935, Barcelona said 'right, you're the man for us' and he became their manager," Mr McLean said.

"Now just at that time, 1936/37, General Franco came on the scene and the Spanish Civil War, and General Franco really was for obliterating FC Barcelona because it was in the republican area of Catalonia.

'Secret bank account'

"So then what happened was, after the president of Barcelona [Josep Sunyol] was assassinated by Franco's troops, Patrick O'Connell got an offer to take his team over to Mexico and the US.

"Franco had also frozen their bank accounts in Barcelona so he persuaded the team - his great team in Barcelona - to go over to Mexico and the USA and to play exhibition matches and they raised enough money from that to actually wire funds back into a secret bank account in Paris and those funds enabled FC Barcelona to survive until the worst of the civil war was over."

Mr McLean said raising the £6,000 for a memorial at O'Connell's grave in St Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Kilburn, was important, but it was also crucial to make people aware of his deeds.

"The focus has really been to not only raise funds but also to inspire young people in Ireland and elsewhere," he said.

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