Patrick O'Connell: Spanish football's Irish hero honoured

Image caption, Patrick O'Connell died in poverty

The former Manchester United and Ireland skipper who steered Real Betis to their only La Liga title will be honoured in Spain later.

A bust is being unveiled of Patrick O'Connell at the Seville club's Estadio Benito Villamarín before the home game with Real Sociedad.

Among those attending will be his grandson Michael O'Connell from Leigh.

Patrick O'Connell, who died in poverty in London in 1959, is also credited with saving Barcelona in the 1930s.

'Like Brian Clough'

The Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund raised more than £10,000 for the project which has been backed by some of football's biggest names.

The fund previously raised money for a memorial on his unmarked pauper's grave in north London.

Fergus Dowd, one of the appeal's organisers said: "Patrick O'Connell had an incredible career. He was like Brian Clough with Nottingham Forest.

"He took Real Betis from Spain's second division, beating Real Madrid to the club's only championship in La Liga."

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

O'Connell, who was the first Irish player to captain Manchester United, also skippered Ireland to their first British Home Championship.

The former Belfast Celtic, Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City player, nicknamed 'Don Patricio' in Spain, joined Barcelona after a four-year spell as coach of Real Betis where he masterminded its promotion from the second division before securing the title in 1935.

When Barcelona almost folded in the 1930s under pressure from General Franco's forces, O'Connell, their manager, helped organise a money-spinning tour to Mexico and the US which raised $12,000.

"He was in Ireland when the civil war broke out. He was told he didn't have to return but he came back," said Mr Dowd.

"One writer has said that in terms of Barcelona's history his name should be up there with Cruyff, Maradona and Messi."

O'Connell was inducted in the Catalan club's hall of fame in December 2015.

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