Don Pa­tri­cio: the most fa­mous Ir­ish­man you’ve never heard of?

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Don Pa­tri­cio www.sug­ar­clubtick­

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.”

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