Patrick “Paddy” O’Connell (later in life referred to commonly as “Don Patricio”) joined the Tigers in May 1912, signed by long-standing City manager Ambrose Langley. O’Connell was a strong player who organised those around him, and he played regularly at both centre half and inside forward during his first season at Anlaby Road, missing only eight matches including Langley’s last game in charge in March 1913.
O’Connell had seen his promising career lose its way at his previous club Sheffield Wednesday, but he was resurgent for the Tigers and this recovery continued when new City boss Harry Chapman, who himself had strong ties with the Sheffield footballing scene, replaced Langley. Chapman used Paddy exclusively at centre half and his form in the 1913/14 season led to O’Connell being called up for the Ireland international squad to compete in the 1914 British Home Championship. Paddy played in all three games, captaining the side in the second match, a 3-0 victory over England, and playing on with a broken arm in the third match against Scotland. His reputation for hard tackling and intelligent prompting this became recognised nationally and in May 1914, having given City two years of sterling service, O’Connell moved to Manchester United.
Patrick O’Connell was born in County Westmeath in Ireland but was raised in Dublin, close to the Croke Park sports ground. A keen sportsman from a young age, Paddy began working in the Bolands Flour Mill in Dublin at the age of 14 and within a year his organisational skills saw him elevated to a foreman’s post. During his teenage years O’Connell played for Liffey Wanderers, a Dublin junior team founded by Dublin’s dock workers and renowned for its uncompromising approach to the game. Paddy contributed to the club’s most successful period in its existence as Wanderers lifted the Empire Cup, an all-Ireland junior trophy, three times between 1904 and 1906.
In August 1908 the newly married O’Connell, along with another Dublin-based player Peter Warren, joined Belfast Celtic. Both players impressed at Paradise (as the Celts’ home ground was known colloquially) and by March 1909 O’Connell and Warren were transferred to First Division Sheffield Wednesday for a combined fee of £50. Paddy spent three seasons at Sheffield Wednesday but struggled to establish himself in the first team and made only 21 senior appearances. It was therefore a chance to re-establish his reputation that arose when the transfer to Hull City happened in May 1912.
Paddy’s two years at Anlaby Road were pivotal for his playing career, because in May 1914 he was transferred to First Division Manchester United for a £1,000 fee, big money in those days. He slotted straight into the centre of the Red Devils’ defence, within a few months Paddy was club captain (the first Irishman to achieve that Old Trafford honour) and by the end of his first season he had made 34 senior starts and scored twice. At the end of the 1914/15 season Paddy became embroiled in a match-fixing scandal known as the Good Friday Conspiracy, which was cooked up various Manchester United and Liverpool players who arranged that the game should finish 2-0 to Manchester United, a scoreline that ensured the Red Devils avoided relegation. O’Connell missed a penalty at 1-0, shooting wide theatrically despite having never taken a spot kick in a professional game before. The scandal and subsequent inquiry was national news, although when the case came before a FA panel O’Connell denied any nvolvement and was treated as a witness, as club captain, rather than a suspect. Seven players, three from Manchester United and four from Liverpool, received life bans from the FA for their involvement in match fixing but O’Connell was not punished.
In the 1915 close season the Football League was halted due to World War One and O’Connell’s promising First Division career was abruptly halted. Paddy remained on Manchester United’s books during the war while working at the Ford factory in Trafford Park, regularly bringing home newly-built ambulances before they headed off to the Western Front. As well as representing Manchester United in the wartime leagues, Paddy also turned out for Clapton Orient (he also had a spell working in a London munitions factory during the war), Rochdale and Chesterfield. In August 1919 O’Connell transferred to Scottish side Dumbarton, though his estranged wife Ellen and four children remained in Manchester. A year later Paddy moved to Ashington, who competed in the North Eastern League, and he made 18 starts in two seasons as the Northumberland side strived successfully to gain election to the Football League. O’Connell was appointed player-manager for the 1921/22 season as The Colliers joined the newly formed Division Three North, and played in the club’s first ever League fixture.
O’Connell won six international caps for Ireland during his playing career, two during 1912 while at Sheffield Wednesday, three during 1914 while at Hull City and a sixth in 1919 Victory International against Scotland.
In 1922 Paddy O’Connell ended his playing career and his life followed a less familiar path as he took his nascent reputation as a successful football coach to Spain. He was appointed manager of Racing de Santander, succeeding Englishman Fred Pentland, and in the next seven years he guided the club to five regional league titles and ensured the club was elevated to the Spanish National League, often known simply as La Liga. O’Connell’s record at Santander established him to one of the club’s legendary figures. In September 1929 O’Connell took the managerial reins at Real Oviedo, who were competing in the Spanish Second Division. Paddy was by now accompanied by his second wife, an Irish housekeeper also called Ellen who was working in Spain when they met.
In 1931 O’Connell was sacked by Oviedo and moved to Real Betis, Seville’s second team then known as Betis Balompie. Under Paddy’s stewardship Betis won the Spanish Second Division in 1932 and lifted the Spanish First Division title in 1935 for the first and only time in the club’s history. Paddy had a strong reputation for creating a squad of players that was fit, well organised and drilled in their roles, attributes that made Betis stand out in the 1930s Spanish football scene. This reputation and success encouraged Catalonian side Barcelona to recruit O’Connell for the start of the 1935/36 season. In the 1930s Barce were not the world giants they later became, but they were nonetheless one of Spain’s prominent football clubs who competed in the Catalonian League and the Spanish Cup – in his first season in charge O’Connell guided Barcelona to the Catalonian League title and the Spanish Cup Final, which they lost narrowly to Real Madrid.
At the start of the 1936/37 season, while O’Connell was holidaying back in the UK, civil war broke out in Spain. This created inevitable turmoil in the professional football scene and also led to the killing of Barcelona president Josep Sunyol. These events destroyed the financial standing of the club and with their manager in another country, the demise of FC Barcelona looked inevitable. It was therefore remarkable that O’Connell braved the raging civil war to return to Catalonia and arranged a footballing tour of the Americas. In early 1937 a squad of 16 Barcelona players heading across the Atlantic to tour Mexico and the United States, playing a series of exhibition games that generated sufficient income to save the club (although only four of the 16 players returned, the rest settling in Mexico, USA and France). It is for this reason that the trilby-wearing Paddy O’Connell, Don Patricio, is widely regarded as the man that saved FC Barcelona from extinction during the Spanish Civil War.
O’Connell remained Barcelona manager until 1940, when he returned to Real Betis in Seville. In 1942 he crossed the city to manage Sevilla for three years, then between 1947 and 1949 he once again managed Racing de Santander. Now in his 60s, O’Connell lived in Seville for several years with no discernable source of income and without his second wife, who left him after she learnt of his first wife (who Paddy had never divorced before remarrying) and family in Manchester. Sevilla organised a benefit for him in September 1954, but in 1955 he returned to the British Isles and lived in his brother’s attic room in the King’s Cross area of central London. Paddy died of pneumonia in 1959 and is buried in an unmarked grave in a Catholic churchyard in Kensal Green.
O’Connell’s legacy was largely untold until the early part of the 21st century, when research by the wife of his grandson led to a book, a RTE TV programme, an accompanying podcast, a two hour documentary and numerous press articles. Memorials have been erected to O’Connell at Real Betis’ stadium, at the street in Dublin where he grew up and on the Whiterock Road in Belfast (see below), close to where he played for Belfast Celtic. Paddy O’Connell was a leader of men, a fine footballer, a good liar, a terrible husband and a true giant of Spanish football – that’s quite a life.
Date/Place of Birth: 8 March 1887, Westmeath
Hull City First Game: 7 September 1912, Blackpool H (Division Two), 25 years, 183 days old
Hull City Final Game: 25 April 1914, Barnsley H (Division Two), 27 years, 48 days old
Stranville Rovers, Liffey Wanderers (1904-1908), Belfast Celtic (1908-1909), Sheffield Wednesday (1909-1912), Hull City (1912-1914), Manchester United (1914-1919), Dumbarton (1919-1920), Ashington (1920-1922)
Hull City Record
Career: 63 apps, 1 goalsPaddy O'Connell