Introducing FC Barcelona’s Dublin Fan-club

John Tighe


FCB Dublin – or, to give it its proper title, Penya Blaugrana de Dublin, O Connellettes – is a fan club of FC Barcelona based in Dublin that came into existence 2007. (But groups of Catalan, Spanish, Irish and an assortment of other nationalities had been meeting up for quite a few years before that informally to watch Barcelona matches.) As a recognised penya it has the opportunity to get tickets from the club when the bigger matches come around – such as El Clásico against Real Madrid or the latter stages of the Champions League – while members can get tickets for other matches quite easily too.

The name O Connellettes is an amalgamation of O’Connell Street, where we watch our games at Murray’s Sports Bar, and Patrick O Connell – the only Irishman to manage Barça. O Connell was born in 1887 on Mabel Street in Drumcondra. He guided FC Barcelona through the tumultuous era of the Spanish Civil War, taking the team on a tour of North America which is seen as crucial in saving the club from bankruptcy (the equivalent of £10,000 in funds the team raised were kept in a bank account outside of Franco’s Spain). It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that an Irishman saved the club now dazzling the world with its tic-a-tac flamboyance. While many people fled Spain at this time, Patrick sympathised with the Catalans fighting for their republic and their nation just as the Irish had beforehand. He was used to having football clubs put under pressure – having played for the Catholic-majority Belfast Celtic. Their games were regularly targeted by British state forces and the scene of sectarian conflict.

Patrick O Connell, from Dublin, who managed FC Barcelona between 1935 and '40.

He later died in destitution in London but it is to be hoped that the short piece on him in the RTE documentary series ‘Green is the Colour’ on the history of football in Ireland will bring him the recognition he deserves in his native country. The Irish are well-received at the Camp Nou because of this connection but also because one of Barça’s most famous handball players (yes – they play that too!), Xavier O Callaghan i Ferrer, is half–Irish.

The economic crisis has affected our numbers – many of our members have emigrated, leaving the numbers watching games greatly reduced from two years ago. The number of Erasmus students here for the year from Spain has offset this somewhat, as have some new economic migrants fleeing the country’s massive unemployment. For the less important matches, in the league and in the early stages of the cup and Champion League, attendance will be just the hardcore fans – like myself – that go to every match that they can possibly make it to. But for the big matches the place is electric. For El Clásico Murray’s is packed with both culés (FC Barcelona fans) and los blancos (Real Madrid fans). It gets full up to 2 hours before kick-off and there is barely any standing room.

As I indicated before, many people overlook the fact that Barça is not just a senior football team. It also has a basketball team (Regal Barça), a futsal tea (Barça Alusport), a roller hockey team, a handball team as well as any other affiliate teams. This is in addition to the famous youth academy La Masia which has produced such talent as Messi, Gaurdiola and Fabergas. And neither are FCB the only team to have success: as I write this the basketball team has won the chance to play in its sixth consecutive final of the Spanish league.

The atmosphere is usually quite relaxed, but many Catalans regard FC Barcelona as close to an official national team. (Although the Spanish Supreme Court did rule recently in favour of allowing Catalan teams to compete officially – except against Spain). Tensions can run high especially when the Catalan national flag, the estelada (the red and yellow with a blue hoist with a white star in it) is present. The estelada is present in FCB Dublin’s crest – and is an indication that the people who founded the penya supported an independent Catalunya. Many of the Irish members even took cheap Catalan classes run by the former vice-president and learned more about the history of Catalunya after joining.

FCB Dublin exists to bring the club and its values to as many people as possible around the world. It is mandatory that at least half of the executive board are members of the club itself. These members are called socios in Spanish or socis in Catalan and are charged with running the club itself. Many penyas do charity work, while FCB has opened new schools throughout India recently.

Members of FCB Dublin celebrate Barça's 2010-'11 Champions League victory on Henry Street

We would love to bring this part of the club to Dublin at the moment but the penya is quite small. Our membership fee is a once-off payment (it lasts forever!), so we would rely heavily on donations. But, because fan clubs in Ireland are not regarded as charities, we would are taxed heavily on any donations we got.

A great example of FCB’s charitable initiatives was seen last week when the first-team players had a futsal match between a team picked by Pep Guardiola and one picked by Tito Vilanova, Pep’s assistant and successor, to raise money for charity to combat poverty. As well as that, Barça continues its close relationship with UNICEF, giving them one and a half million euros every year. A further 0.7 per cent of its revenue goes to its own foundation.

The motto of FC Barcelona is ‘més que un club’ which translates as ‘more than a club’. I believe that, through its humanitarian work and the values it promotes in its fans across the world, FCB demonstrates the truth of this motto. Penya Blaugrana de Dublin, O Connellettes, in our own small way, tries to do this too.

John Tighe is currently vice-president of Penya Blaugrana de Dublin, O Connellettes. The club can be found at and on its Facebook page.