Volume 6, Number 1

March 2008

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Don Patricio O’Connell: An Irishman and the Politics of Spanish Football

By Jimmy Burns


In Mexico, Barça was given a warm official reception by the authorities and the local press and entertained by the Spanish exile community. No one in the club seemed in any great hurry to return to Barcelona, so that a tour that in normal circumstances would have taken two weeks went on for two months. Barça played six matches, of which they won four. The local newspaper El Universal commented that there were two reasons why Barça was so popular. The first was that it played well. The second was that the players behaved like true gentlemen. This was a thinly-veiled tribute to their manager who had, against the odds, helped to turn the tour into both a propaganda coup and a financial tour-de-force.   

After Mexico, Barça moved on to New York where they played four matches in September 1937. One was against the local Latin community team known as Hispano; two were against a ragtag selection of Italians, Irishmen and other European immigrants; and the fourth was against a team put together by the local Jewish community. More money was paid out. However, Barça had by now run out of places to escape to. At a closed meeting in their New York hotel, the club secretary Calvet offered players and staff a stark choice: they could choose to go back to Barcelona and risk whatever the end of the Spanish Civil War would bring or they could remain away from the Spanish turmoil, effectively as exiles but no longer as functioning members of the club.  

Of sixteen players, four chose to follow Calvet, Mur, the team doctor Amoros and O’Connell back home. Of the twelve who chose not to, a majority returned to Mexico, and three opted for exile in France. Meanwhile, Calvet took the intelligent decision not to take the money paid in cash for the tour back with him to Barcelona, where it would have run the risk of falling into the hands of revolutionaries or fascists. Instead he had it transferred to an account in Paris, to be held as security against the club’s future needs. 

Six months later, just before midnight, Franco’s air force bombed a building near the centre of Barcelona used by Barça officials and staff, including O’Connell, as a social club. Because of the lateness of the hour, the building was empty of people except for the porter who miraculously survived with only minor cuts. Many documents also escaped destruction. Some of the trophies that the club had won over the years were crushed or melted in the heat, but others still stood. If there was any symbolism to be drawn from the incident, it was that it foretold a future where FC Barcelona would continue to draw strength from adversity.

On 8 January 1939 a Barça reserve team played the last football game inside territory held by Republican Spain against a minor team called Martinec, and won 3-1. Nine days later, a railway worker called Soler Godayol and a farm labourer, Suarc Albesa, signed up for membership of the club. Many more members would sign in the years following 26 January 1939, when Franco’s army entered the city of Barcelona. 

O’Connell had left Barcelona on his return from Mexico. He then returned to Spain during the Second World War and spent two further periods managing Spanish clubs during the 1940s, first with Sevilla, then back at Racing. He successfully suppressed, at least in public, whatever earlier political leanings he may have had, and focused on helping to turn football into a massively popular sport just as Franco wished, with a few more victories on the pitch.

But he never recovered the excitement or passion he experienced in Catalonia, and his later years were spent in relative obscurity, living far from the public eye in run-down lodgings near St. Pancras station, in north London.

Jimmy Burns


[1] Jimmy Burns is a journalist with the Financial Times and author of several books including Barça: A People’s Passion (Bloomsbury); When Beckham went to Spain: Power, stardom, and Real Madrid (Penguin), and The Hand of God: A Biography of Diego Maradona (Bloomsbury). Jimmy Burns (www.jimmy-burns.com). 


- Artells, Joan Josep, Barça, Barça, Barça (Barcelona: Laia, 1972).

- Burns, Jimmy, Spain, A Literary Companion (Málaga: Santana Books, 2006).

- Burns, Jimmy, Barça, A People’s Passion (London: Bloomsbury, 1999).

- Jackson, Gabriel, A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War (London: Thames & Hudson, 1974).

- Kee, Robert, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism (London: Penguin, 2000).

- Vázquez Montalbán, Manuel, Barcelonas (Barcelona: Empúries, 1990).

- Orwell, George, Homage to Catalonia (London: Penguin, 1989).

- Sobrequés, Jaume, FC Barcelona: Su Historia y Su Presente (Madrid: Edilibrio, 1995).

- Sobrequés, Jaume, Historia del FC Barcelona (Barcelona: Labor, 1993).

- Thomas, Hugh, The Spanish Civil War (London: Penguin, 1990).


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2008 

Online published: 12 March 2008
Edited: 07 May 2009

Burns, Jimmy
, 'Don Patricio O’Connell: An Irishman and the Politics of Spanish Football' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 6:1 (March 2008), pp. 39-47. Available online  (www.irlandeses.org/imsla0803.htm), accessed .


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