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Patrick O'Connell

The Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund (POC Fund) is ready to end a historic injustice: the forgetfulness in which fell who was, among many other things as we will see, the coach who helped save FC Barcelona during the Civil war. This fund, set up on August 30 at the Belfast Celtic Museum, has as its primary objectives to repair the plight of O’Connell’s grave and recover the legacy of a unique character. To get the necessary funds, they have requested shirts signed by famous former footballers and the response has been remarkable because they already have those of Johan Cruyff, Luis Figo, Ronald Koeman, Franz Beckenbauer, David Beckham, Paolo Maldini ...

Patrick O’Connell was born on March 8, 1887 in Dublin and had a distinguished football career. He was a central defender or containment midfielder who went through several teams such as Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City and Manchester United, of which he became captain. On April 2, 1915 he took part in a clash against Liverpool that has gone down in English football history as the fixed match. It turns out that several players from both teams took advantage of a two to zero pay well in the bets (7 to 1) to agree on the result. And they were 2-0. In addition, O’Connell threw a penalty to the clouds, with 1-0. An investigation determined that three players from United and four from Liverpool had agreed to the score and were sanctioned in perpetuity, without considering the footballers' allegations: that they needed an extra income due to the foreseeable suspension of competitions due to the war.

O’Connell came out unscathed, possibly from his missed penalty. In time, everyone acknowledged their guilt and was forgiven. Only one, Enoch West, always maintained his innocence and served the longest suspension ever decreed by English football: thirty years. He never had a relationship with football again, but his name is now on Manchester United's honor roll.

He returned to Barça after the summer of 1936, despite the war, "because he had to fulfill a contract"

Our protagonist still lived another match of those that appear in the annals of football. This time with the colors of the Irish team, against Scotland, in the British tournament of 1914. Ireland was playing with only ten players when O’Connell fell into a bad position and broke his arm. Despite this circumstance, he wanted to stay on the grass and with an improvised bandage he was still able to clear how many balls were approaching his area. He contributed to the final tie and the press was able to compose one of those headlines that remain in the memory: "The game of the nine men ... and a half." He had become a hero.

After hanging up his boots, O’Connell’s life took a new unsuspected path. After some first tears as a coach, he left behind his wife and four children and embarked for Spain. In 1922 he arrived in Santander and took over from another legendary British coach of the first great era of Spanish football, Mr. Pentland. At Racing, O’Connell became a listed coach. It provided new systems, greater control of fitness, more aggressive football ... and successes came. Most importantly, when the Cantabrian team played against nine rivals the chance to be part of the ten chosen for the first league in history. There was only one place left and Racing eliminated Valencia, Betis and Sevilla consecutively and managed to be part of the first Spanish League championship, in 1929.

"Spain is like a football match in which both teams try to buy the referee"

Later he directed Real Oviedo until in the 1932-33 season he was hired by Real Betis. In Seville he was renamed Don Patricio. A coach adored by the fans, who settled to live next to the field to dedicate himself in body and soul to the Beticos. In 1935 he achieved a real milestone, perhaps unrepeatable, by turning Betis into league champions. The last game, the decisive one, was played precisely in Santander and O’Connell had the idea to visit the rivals the day before: "I guess since you don't play anything you won't go at all, will you?", He told them. But the Racing footballers replied: “We are sorry sir, but we have a bonus of one thousand pesetas each to win. You know, our president, that he is very Real Madrid ... ”Betis won by zero to five and since then Patrick O’Connell has been an untouchable idol for the verdiblancos. On his journey through Spain, O’Connell remarried to an Irish woman he met in Santander. Of course, every month he sent an envelope with money to his family, and his children were growing up with the mythical image of a father who worked in Spain and was a world-famous former footballer. After the success at Betis, O’Connell received an irrevocable offer from Barcelona and became the Barça coach of the 1935-36 season. It was not a good year, but it reached the Cup final, in which Madrid won 2-1. He went on holiday to England and war broke out.

In this situation, Barcelona sent him a letter indicating that he understood that he did not want to return, but O’Connell surprised everyone: "I have a signed contract and I plan to fulfill it." He agreed to have his salary reduced, as did the entire staff (in his case from 1,500 to 1,000 pesetas) and was part of the tour of Mexico and the United States that would allow the Barça club to survive economically in the postwar period. O’Connell still coached Barça for a few months in the first season of the Franco regime, but the bad results closed his time at Les Corts. Later he also coached Sevilla (between 1942 and 1945), returned to Betis and again to Racing, until he ended his career.

In 1949, taking advantage of a Spanish national team match in Dublin, one of his sons approached the Spanish delegation and asked if anyone had heard of "a certain Patrick O'Connell." "Of course I do," replied the Andalusians present. "A great guy, he lives in Seville."

Daniel O’Connell was able to travel to Spain months later and his father received him coldly. In fact, the first thing he did was ask him ... about Manchester United. And he began to suspect that something strange was happening when he saw that he was being introduced to society as O'Connell's "nephew." Daniel wrote a story of his journey. With these dialogues:

"How is Spain, father?"

- Spain is like a football match in which both teams try to buy the referee.

"And Seville, how is Seville?"

"It's a place where people live like they're going to die the same night."

Patrick O’Connell died at the age of 71 in London on February 27, 1959. His remains rest in an anonymous grave in St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery. Mary.

Published in La Vanguardia on October 2, 2014

Publicat a La Vanguardia el 2 d'octubre de 2014

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