Adrian Doherty features in a new international exhibition in memory of fellow, largely forgotten, Irish ‘Red Devil,’ Patrick O’Connell, who once achieved fame as the man who saved F.C. Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.
Strabane’s lost genius figures prominently in ‘The Man Who Saved F.C. Barcelona’, which will be displayed in the Long Gallery at Stormont for the next two weeks, before transferring to the National Football Museum in Manchester.
The family of the former Derry City F.C. and Moorfield winger, who was tipped for greatness as the most promising of Manchester United’s eventual ‘Class of ’92’ just a few short years before he tragically died, aged 26, in a canal accident in the Netherlands, were in attendance on Tuesday for the launch.
Organised by the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund (POCMF) the show’s principal focus is legendary Belfast Celtic, Manchester United and Ireland star Patrick O’Connell, who, as ‘Don Patricio’, guided Seville club Betis Balompié, now better known as Real Betis, to their only ever league title in 1934/35. The one-time Liffey Wanderer went on to manage F.C. Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War and helped organise a fund-raising tour of Mexico and the United States in the late 1930s, which helped the famous Catalan club clear its debts. O’Connell later managed Betis’ city rivals Seville in the 1940s although he wasn’t the first Irishman to take charge of the Andalucian outfit. That would have been Buncrana man Charles O’Hagan, who famously managed the Sevillistas during the 1923/4 season.
Fergus Dowd, one of the organisers, said the show had branched out from its initial subject to look at other members of the Irish footballing diaspora whose stories have sometimes escaped the spotlight.
Paintings of the four official Irish club captains of Manchester United F.C. to date, Patrick O’Connell, Jackie Carey, Noel Cantwell and Roy Keane, for example, are included, said Mr. O’Dowd.
And there’s, of course, room for tribute to the former Strabane schoolboy apprentice who was considered the star of a Manchester United youth side that included Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers, and David Beckham, until a cruel cruciate injury effectively ended his professional career. Adrian played a few games for Derry City in the early 1990s but he’d lost his pace through his injury and, not long after, drifted away from the game completely. The football fraternity was stunned to learn of his death in a tragic accident in Holland on June 9, 2000. He was just 26. Mr. Dowd said the memorial fund was proud to remember this lost son of the North West.
“The exhibition features a painting of Adrian, who tragically died in a canal accident in the Netherlands at a young age. Alex Ferguson rated Adrian better than Ryan Giggs as a youth,” he said.
Intriguingly Mr. Dowd paid lovely homage to Adrian during a trip to Mexico over Easter, while filming a new Patrick O’Connell documentary, due out in August. The POCMF pilgrimage in the footsteps of ‘Don Patricio’s’ tour of Mexico in 1937 took them to the home stadium of Club América, one of the Blaugrana’s opponents on that club-saving tour.
That’s none other than the Estadio Azteca, one of the cathedrals of world football, where Pelé, Gerson, Rivelino and co. hammered Italy in the 1970 World Cup Final; where Giacinto Facchetti’s Italy played out the ‘Game of the Century’ against Franz Beckenbauer’s West Germany in the same tournament; and where Argentina’s ‘Golden Boy’ Diego Maradona used the ‘Hand of God’ and scored the ‘Goal of the Century’ to both pickpocket and petrify the England defence in 1986. Not to mention that ‘Los Pumas’, Mexico City’s university side, which Derry City beat in a memorable friendly at the Brandywell in 1991, shared the ground for a time in the late 1960s.
“We raised Adrian’s story with Ricardo Peláez, the President of Club América. Barcelona played Club América on June 20, 1937 in Mexico. We also placed copies of Oliver Kay’s biography, ‘Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius’ on the altar opened by Pope John Paul II at the Azteca, on Azteca’s hallowed turf, and on the manager’s seat.”