Munich Tribute: Roger Byrne – he may not have been a technical footballer but work ethic and intelligence was enough


Roger Byrne was the oldest Manchester United player to have been killed in the Munich Air Disaster, aged 28. Born on the 8 February 1929 in Gorton, Manchester, would have been celebrating his 29th birthday just two days after he died. Byrne started his youth career playing for Ryder Brow Boys Club before signing for United. He was the only child of William Henry Byrne and Jessie Byrne.

Serving his National Service in the Royal Air Force and considered not good enough to play football, he played rugby instead. It was whilst playing for Ryder Brow that United scout, Joe Armstrong first saw Byrne, offering him amateur terms at the club, turning professional soon after. Byrne was the first of the bunch that would forever be known as the ‘Busby Babes’.

“Roger Byrne, in my opinion, was the forerunner of the modern back and set the present trend.”

Jimmy Murphy speaking about Roger Byrne.

Byrne played 280 times for United, scoring 20 goals in the seven seasons that he was part of the club. He also made 33 appearances for England, not scoring a single goal for his country. He captained United from the 1955/56 season onwards, leading the club to two Football League Division One titles. He was never considered a truly gifted footballer, which sounds like criticism but some were and are the same today.

He was one of those footballers whose tackling was suspect, his aerial ability being average but his work ethic and intelligence of the game what his standout feature. This allowed him to use his footballing brain to make forward runs and connect with the attacking players – despite the period he played in demanding that fullbacks stayed back to solely defend. The true captain had the skill to inspire his teammates too.

“Roger Byrne, a superbly built athlete had already won a League Championship as a winger before he became our regular left back and captain.

“Tackling is still important of course, but there are not so many sliding tackles as there were. These days a back must be able to read a move so instead of going for the first tackle he can hold off and try to force the opposing wing man to go down the touchline.

“If he stays out there and the back stays with him the rest of the defence has a chance to re-group. Roger Byrne, who started this style, was a winger or inside forward before we converted him in a full back.”

Jimmy Murphy speaking about Roger Byrne.

Despite today (6 February 2020) being 62 years since his passing, Byrne will be highly regarded as one of United’s best ever captain’s, succeeding Johnny Carey. After leading out his team for the 3-3 draw against Red Star Belgrade in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, the one thing he did not know is that he was soon to be a father. His wife, Joy Byrne. Roger Jr was born on the 7 October 1958 – eight months after losing his father.

A comment which describes Byrne, taken from states;

“If a manager from another planet, attracted by Roger Byrne’s exalted reputation, had sent a scout to watch him train there would have been one very confused alien when he perused the report.

“It might have read something like this: heading – poor; tackling – ordinary; right foot – good; left foot – average (very); general impression – disillusioned.

“But if that same scout, wary of making too hasty a decision, had decided to stay for a match he would have torn up his notes and advised his boss to beam Roger up without delay.”

A broken plane, a broken dream, a broken heart, a broken team, no word said, a silent vow, we loved you then, we love you now. We’ll never die.

Written by John Walker

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