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Restored grave brings dignity to memory of football legend, Patrick O’Connell

Patrick O’Connell, the Irish football legend credited by many as the saviour of Spanish giants FC Barcelona, has been honoured with the restoration of his grave in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kilburn, London.

A campaign set up to raise funds for a memorial at Mr O’Connell’s unmarked grave in the London cemetery was finally realised last month, with a full restoration, including a headstone bearing his name.

As previously reported in The Universe, the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund (POC Fund) set a primary target of honouring the footballing great by providing him a final resting place worthy of a true sporting legend.

“The work was completed almost exactly two years since the start of our campaign to raise the funds necessary to provide a proper and fitting resting place to Patrick ‘Don Patricio’ O’Connell,” Simon Needham, representative of the POC Fund told The Universe. “The headstone offers a very simple and humble tribute to the man, the wording the choice of his family, ‘Patrick Joseph O’Connell 1887-1959. Remembered by many in Ireland, England and Spain’.”

Mr O’Connell, born in March 1887, began his career with local side, Liffey Wanderers, and, at the age of 21, signed his first professional contract for Belfast Celtic. From there the Dubliner went on to play for Manchester United, Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday, among others, as well as earning his place among the Irish national team.

However, it was through his managerial career that he secured his name in the football history, managing Real Betis and, most notably, saving football giants FC Barcelona from extinction during the Spanish Civil War.

“Patrick’s story is an amazing and courageous one – captaining his country and Manchester United as well as being the most successful Irish club manager of all time, winning Real Betis’ one and only La Liga trophy and notably saving the biggest club in world football today, FC Barcelona,” Fergus Dowd, POC Fund committee member, told The Universe.

Restoring the grave was the main aim of the fund’s project and Mr Needham said the committee was delighted to have achieved their aim. “We all feel extremely proud,” he said. “It is one of an ongoing series of lasting memorials and tribute events that have taken place to pay homage to Patrick O’Connell and restore his place in Irish sporting history.”

These events have included the unveiling of a spectacular wall mural in Belfast in August 2015, the mounting of a commemorative plaque on Mr O’Connell’s former home in Dublin, and the induction of his name into the FC Barcelona Hall of Fame in December 2015.

“Although the work is completed we haven’t as yet held a formal ‘unveiling’ ceremony – this is planned for later this year, at a date to be announced, with an invited audience,” Mr Needham added.

Mr O’Connell was also honoured with an official unveiling of a ‘Commemorative Alcove’ at The Football Association of Ireland’s (FAI) Museum at its HQ in Dublin 15 on 25th May.

The event was attended by members of the fund’s campaign team and featured speeches from John Delaney, CEO of the FAI, and Mike O’Connell, Patrick’s grandson, who once described his grandfather as “a fanatical Catholic.”

“The Museum Alcove is a tribute reserved for Ireland’s leading footballers and officially marks a recognition of O’ Connell’s contribution to Irish sporting history,” explained Mr Needham. “It includes photos and memorabilia contributed by many of Patrick’s former clubs.”

Meanwhile, a book commemorating Mr O’Connell’s life will be published next month by Amberley UK. The book, entitled The Man Who Saved FC Barcelona, is written by Sue O’Connell, Mike O’Connell’s wife.

Mrs O’Connell has spent over 15 years writing and researching the forgotten life of the football legend, including discovering the location of his grave in London.

The book includes a foreword written by Martin Buchan, former captain of Manchester United, as well as a contribution from Maureen O’Sullivan, TD from Dublin, who has been a great supporter of the campaign.