Don Patricio: the most famous Irishman you’ve never heard of?
leading to an offer to manage Barcelona, which he took, though clouds of war had gathered.
O’Connell was back in Dublin on a holiday when he received a telegram from Barcelona to say that Civil War had broken out and the club would understand if O’Connell stayed in Ireland. He returned to his job, taking a 30pc pay cut.
Regular football took a back seat to war, Barça instead competing for something called the Mediterranean league, which they won. Barça now count that among their Spanish league titles. “They are playing in cities, during the war, where bombs are going off and people are being shot dead. When they won the Mediterranean league under Patrick, they could only travel by train, by night, as they were in fear of their lives. When I told Roy Keane that he just said, ‘And I thought Saipan was bad’,” joked Dowd.
A key moment in the club’s history was a tour of the USA and Mexico in 1938. The tour raised $15,000, money that proved vital in keeping Barça alive in very harsh times. Fearful for their lives under Franco’s regime, only four players from the 16-man squad returned to Barcelona with O’Connell. In Spain O’Connell had acquired a new wife, also Irish and called Ellen, having told her that he was a widower.
He moved on again, coaching Real Betis, Sevilla and Racing Santander with more success. Around 1950, he returned to England but struggled to find work. “He slipped through the net as the English media in the 50s didn’t cover Spanish football so nobody knew him or what he had achieved, so he ended up begging on the streets of London. He became an alcoholic,” says Dowd.
In 1954, his former club, Real Betis, heard of his plight and arranged a charity game against their city rivals Sevilla. “But it’s a feature of Patrick’s life that all the money is squandered, he’s a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic, he drank himself into oblivion,” says Dowd.
And in February 1959, his life ended, pitifully, estranged from his family
“The sad thing we discovered was that his son was living in London at the same time but they never met, which is tragic. Here was a guy who had achieved all these things but he was penniless, he died in the upstairs of a boarding house in Camden, the man who saved Barcelona,” says Dowd.
The story of O’Connell’s revival made it to film, as Spanish-based TV producer Michael Andersen has created Don Patricio, a 92-minute story of this Dubliner. It’s warts and all, as even Don Patrico’s grandson admits the flaws of a great, but troubled, man.
“I think he was a rogue,” Mike O’Connell told Review after Monday’s Dublin premiere of the film.
“I was brought up by his wife, my gran, and his daughter. They used to say how wonderful he was and I’d say to them, ‘the bugger deserted you and left you penniless’.
“I never felt proud of him. As a youngster I used to bore the other kids at school, saying ‘my grandfather played for Man United’. But he also brought his wife over to England from Ireland and then deserted her, in a strange land, where the Irish were not popular, with no money. But I don’t judge him now. He was like anyone else, good and bad.”
Patrick’s brother, Larry, was the only mourner at his funeral, after he died from pneumonia, his deeds forgotten.
“Martin O’Neill says in the film that no one knew this man’s story,” Dowd sighs. “Harry Gregg was a player at Manchester United when Patrick died in ’59 and he said his name was never mentioned, even though he was a former captain. It was as if the guy never existed. Hopefully, with a decent gravestone and now Michael Andersen’s film, he won’t be forgotten.”