It's St Patrick's Day and the whole world is falling over themselves to dig up their Irish links. Chief among them, FC Barcelona, who have put together a nice little list on their official website marking the historical links between our fine nation and the Catalan club.
Without a doubt the greatest link between Ireland and Barcelona. Patrick O'Connell was so much more than a wartime manager for the Catalan club.
"Patrick O'Connell deserves a special mention in any Barça history". That's probably an understatement. The Westmeath native is often credited as being the driving force which saved FC Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. O'Connell took over as manager in 1935. The next year, war broke out and Barcelona were effectively forced underground (in a less than literal sense of the term)
O'Connell brought them around the world on financially lucrative friendly tours and although many players jumped ship so to speak, O'Connell was still at the helm when the war ended and Barcelona were still a club. O'Connell, despite his stature in football history, ended his life destitute and the Patrick O'Connell memorial fund has been set up to give the great man the legacy he deserves.
A grand total of two European meetings, one against a side from the League of Ireland and another against a side from the Irish League. Shelbourne were Barcelona's first Irish opponents during the 1963/64 Cup Winners Cup. The first round tie ended 5–1 on aggregate to the Catalans with a 2-0 win in Dublin being followed up by a 3-1 in Barcelona where Shels actually took the lead through a Pat Bonham penalty.
The other Irish meeting was against Distillery in 1971, again in the Cup Winners Cup. Distillery didn't do quite as well losing 7-1 on aggregate. You might recognise the name of the Distillery scorer that year...
O’Neill thwarts Barça
That Distillery game is particularly interesting given that Martin O'Neill was the man to put the ball in the Barcelona net. The 19 year moved to Nottingham Forest the following year and ended up doing quite well for himself.
Eventually his stellar playing career led to management which once again led to Barcelona. Facing Barcelona in the 2003/04 Champions League group stages an O'Neill managed Celtic took four points off the Catalans with a 1-0 win in Celtic Park and a 0-0 draw in the Camp Nou ensuring Celtic's progression to the next round.
Ireland in the Miniestadi
In qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, Ireland took in the grand (in the non-Irish sense) surroundings of the Camp Nou from one of the best possible vantage points. Across the road. Andorra hosted Mick McCarthy's side at the Miniestadi situated quite literally across the road from the Camp Nou during our impressive qualification campaign.
"Ireland struggled to find their way past their ultra-defensive opponent, but an Ian Harte penalty eventually broke the deadlock. Kevin Kilbane and Matt Holland added two late goals to seal a 3–0 win for Ireland."
U2 at the Camp Nou
In a sporting sense this is getting more distant but we'll keep going. Bono and the lads played two sold out shows at the Camp Nou in 2009 as part of their 360º Tour. Not just that, "the 90,000 tickets for the first show set a new Spanish record by selling out in 54 minutes."
With Derry struggling financially in 2003, Barcelona accepted an invitation to bring their full squad over to the Brandywell for a money spinning friendly.
"Barça impressed with a 5–0 victory, the goals scored by Rafael Marquez, Patrick Andersson, Marc Overmans, Javier Saviola and Ronaldinho."