WHILST it is now one of the most successful and profitable football clubs in the world, FC Barcelona owes its continued existence to an Irishman.
Patrick O’Connell who was the first Irishman to ever play for Manchester United moved to Spain in the late 1920s and became manager of a number of different clubs before spending a very successful four years with Real Betis (known then as Betis Balompie) leading them to their only La Liga title.
Thanks to this success, he was invited to take over as manager of Barcelona where they just missed winning the Copa de España in the 1935-36 season and then in the following season, La Liga was suspended due to the Spanish Civil War.
Nothing daunted, O’Connell accepted an invitation to take the Barcelona team to play exhibition matches in Mexico and the USA and made $15,000 which allowed Barcelona to clear all of its debts and continue following the end of the Civil War.
It has to be noted however that of the 16 players who accompanied him across the Atlantic, only four returned to Spain with the rest deciding to settle elsewhere.
The manager, known as Don Patricio remained with Barcelona winning the Lliga Catalana and he then moved to Sevilla FC, steering them to second place in the reconstituted La Liga.
Although he died in poverty in London in 1959, the former Man U and Ireland skipper has a bust on display at the Real Betis stadium and was honoured with a blue plaque at a former home in Albert Street in Belfast on May 12 this year.