Northern Ireland

Bronze bust for FC Barcelona 'saviour' Patrick O'Connell

The bronze bust of Patrick O'Connell was unveiled at Windsor Park in Belfast Image copyright ©William Cherry / Presseye
Image caption The bronze bust of Patrick O'Connell was unveiled at Windsor Park in Belfast

A bronze bust has been unveiled in Belfast to honour a Dublin footballer who is credited with saving FC Barcelona from extinction.

Patrick O'Connell died in poverty in London in 1959, but his rich soccer history was recognised at Windsor Park on Tuesday.

The former Manchester United captain skippered Ireland to their first British Home Championship.

He coached extensively in Spain and led Real Betis to their only La Liga title.

The Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund has been responsible for raising money for the bust which was made by Irish sculptor Joe Moran.

The group was previously instrumental in obtaining a memorial for O'Connell's grave in London that had been unmarked for more than 50 years.

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

Alan McLean from the fund said it was fitting the bust was unveiled at Windsor Park, where O'Connell inspired Ireland to a one-all draw with Scotland to claim their first British Home Championship in 1914, despite suffering a broken arm.

"I think it is another milestone in the story of remembering Patrick O'Connell as one of the greatest ever Irish soccer men," he said.

"I think the bronze bust is wonderful, Joe Moran has done a fantastic job.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Fergus Dowd and Alan McLean of the Patrick O'Connell Memorial Fund at the unveiling of the bust

"You not only have to produce the bust, but you have to capture the spirit and personality of the man and Joe has done that.

"I was blown away by how striking it was when I collected it at the foundry in Dublin."

'Lasting legacy'

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

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

The former Belfast Celtic player, who was dubbed 'Don Patricio', had joined FC Barcelona after a successful spell as coach of Real Betis Balompié.

During a four-year period, he masterminded the Seville side's promotion from the second division before securing their sole La Liga title in 1935.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Sculptor Joe Doran gazes at his handiwork

Mr McLean said the bust would be presented to Real Betis ahead of their home game against Real Sociedad on 3 March.

"One of Patrick's greatest achievements was as manager of Real Betis when he coached them to their only La Liga title," he added.

"Real Betis have been very supportive and Fergus Dowd and myself from the fund as well as Patrick's grandson Michael O'Connell will present the bust on 3 March at their game against Real Sociedad.

"It means there is a lasting legacy in the stadium at Real Betis where he produced that huge success."

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