The Northumbrian coast isn’t where you’d expect to find a Beticos outpost, but on Sunday a group of Blyth Spartans fans will don the green and white stripes sported by their two favorite clubs in support of Real Betis in their derby against Sevilla.
It’s a story that has its roots in Dublin, Sevilla and Blyth, spans the better part of a century and centers on an Irishman who captained Manchester United, won Real Betis their only title in Liga and was announced as the savior of Barcelona.
An appreciation for the club colors was the initial attraction for those who formed Blyth Betis Pena, but they now have hundreds of followers and will congregate in Newcastle to watch the game as part of an event hosted by La League.
However, it is a group of fans who have done more than just support from afar, etching their own page in Betis history by preserving the legacy of the club’s most successful but often forgotten manager.
When Blyth Betis Pena learned of Patrick O’Connell’s story and that he had been buried in a pauper’s grave in London, they set out to raise funds to provide a suitable headstone and help provide a more appropriate final resting place.
It was a campaign which garnered support from players such as Johan Cruyff, Oliver Kahn, Martin O’Neill, Franz Beckenbauer and Luis Figo, and ended with the group presenting a bust of the Irishman to the club in front of 37 000 fans on the ground. at the Benito Villamarin stadium of Real Betis.
“We couldn’t believe it, nobody knew where he had been for 30 years,” Blyth Betis Pena secretary Simon Needham told BBC Sport.
“A gentleman who captained Manchester United and Ireland, took Real Betis to the Championship and led Barcelona through the [Spanish] civil war, ended up poor in London and was buried in an unmarked grave.”
Who was ‘Don Patricio’?
The legendary O’Connell, born in Dublin, has a foot in both camps of “El Gran Derbi”, having managed Betis and Sevilla, although it is with the former that he is most appreciated.
It also has a fascinating story, which has been turned into a movie called “Don Patricio” on the back of Blyth Betis Pena’s work.
As a player, O’Connell was involved in Manchester United’s controversial 2-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield in 1915, which saw them avoid relegation, but which later resulted in the seven-year ban for life. players for match-fixing by the Football Association.
O’Connell was not among those penalized – although he missed a penalty in the game – but a playing career that included spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City, began to fizzle out as the war swept away. took over the world.
It finally ended 100 years ago as player-coach Ashington – a short drive north of Blyth fans who sought to remember him – and where he took his first steps in as manager.
O’Connell then arrived in Spain later that year, after leaving his family in the UK, as manager of Racing Santander.
It was the start of a journey through Spanish football that would see O’Connell guide Real Betis to the club’s only La Liga title in 1935.
The Irishman, who has played six times for his country, has been praised for the professionalism, fitness and tactical insights he brought to the club, complemented by his charismatic nature. Barcelona quickly sought the services of ‘Don Patricio’.
Shortly after the Irishman swapped Sevilla for Catalonia, the league was suspended in 1936 when civil war broke out and Barcelona president Josep Sunyol was killed by Francoist soldiers.
Barcelona continued to play regional football and, as the club’s economic situation deteriorated, O’Connell led them on a lucrative four-month tour of Mexico and New York at the invitation of a businessman. Catalan who had emigrated to Mexico.
It was a huge success and the club cleared its debts, hence the story of how it saved Barcelona from bankruptcy.
He is highly regarded by the Catalan club for sticking with them through the civil war years, later joining Real Betis and also managing rivals Sevilla, finishing second in La Liga in 1942-43.
O’Connell returned to London, where he died of pneumonia in 1959 at the age of 71.
“Patrick O’Connell was a forgotten person in world football and we have restored his name,” Needham said. “We are very proud of it, it all started in the Blyth Spartans clubhouse.
“Real Betis backed him 100%. Patrick is part of their history and they realize that, he earned them their highest honor in the game.”