Johnny Byrne - Player Profile
Johnny "Budgie" Byrne
Johnny Byrne is not, perhaps, a widely recognised name among the modern generation of football fans which is not too surprising given that his career only briefly touched the heights for which it seemed destined.
If fate had played him a kinder hand, or had his personality been different, he could easily have become one of the nations' ultimate sporting heroes.
Had a follower of English football been told in 1964, or even 1965, that England would win the 1966 World Cup and the goals would be supplied by a West Ham player there would have been no great surprise.
The fan would simply have assumed that Johnny Byrne was the player in question.
In the event Byrne did not actually make the final squad and his career quickly deteriorated thereafter.
Johnny Byrne was a talented schoolboy footballer though not recognised as a prodigy. He represented Epsom Boys but was overlooked for the Surrey Schoolboys side.
His potential was recognised by Vince Blore, a former Crystal Palace player, who saw Byrne at close quarters in his role with Ewell Boys, one of Epsom's opponents.
Blore recommended Byrne to Palace, he was promptly signed on and within a year he was playing for the England Youth team.
Some of Johnny Byrne's most testing early football came during his time doing National Service. Playing for the Army Byrne played alongside and against future international footballers.
Both Duncan Edwards and Bill Foulkes were teammates and these experiences formed an important part of his apprenticeship prior to turning professional.
Byrne had represented the England Youth team as an outside right but it was not immediately obvious which position would best suit his talents.
Playing on the flank was not his forte. Byrne did not possess real pace and although he could certainly beat a man he did so more naturally in central positions, going past opponents with a subtle body swerve or change of pace rather than with pure dribbling.
Inside forward suited this aspect of his game and his ability to spot and play a pass also made him highly effective in this role.
The youngster also possessed a real eye for goal, however, which gave an obvious temptation to stick him straight into the centre forward position.
Although Johnny Byrne settled in well enough mainly at inside forward this puzzle would not be fully resolved until football moved away from the traditional 2-3-5 formation and adopted the new 4-2-4 system.
Playing as a second striker alongside an out and out centre forward with the freedom to roam was ideal for Byrne and with many sides favouring two out and out target men or mixing and matching with one big 'un and one little 'un his more rarefied talents helped him to stand out as special.
In the beginning, however, Johnny Byrne's progress with Palace was erratic. His early performances with the reserves were eye catching and he was quickly thrust into the first team after an injury to Mike Deakin.
Byrne's debut came against Swindon Town in the old Division Three South but although he did enough to earn a fairly regular place in the side he did not immediately set the world on fire in a struggling side.
At the end of his first season in the team Palace found themselves in the 4th division after the north and south sections merged to create Division Three and Division Four.
The club could only manage a mid table position in 1957-58 and Byrne found himself in and out of the team. Palace could see the potential but did not yet entirely trust or understand it.
Brighton came calling with a bid believed to be in the region of £10,000 and involving the journeymen inside forwards Johnny Shepherd and Denis Foreman.
Palace were not unwilling to do business but were not entirely satisfied with the terms. They asked Brighton to improve their offer and the south coast club baulked.
This would prove to be a huge mistake. Not only did Brighton miss out on a player who was soon to emerge as one of England's biggest stars they passed up the chance of robbing their arch rivals of perhaps their greatest ever player before he had truly blossomed.
Johnny Byrne's place in the Palace first team was never in doubt from the start of the 1958-59 season and the goals began to arrive more regularly. Not in the quantities that would class him as prolific at that time but more than enough to make him a vital member of the team, especially when considered together with the chances he consistently provided for others.
Despite Byrne's rapid improvement Palace still struggled to mount any kind of promotion challenge and the frustrated youngster now requested a transfer. His club did not stand in his way but, despite much window shopping, nobody was prepared to meet the asking price of £20,000.
It was hard to understand such reticence. Johnny Byrne had never played outside the 4th division but his talents were clearly designed for a bigger stage. Perhaps their were doubts about his temperament, he was already becoming one of football's personalities and was widely recognised by his nickname "Budgie", a reference to his non stop chattering.
Perhaps his liking for a drink was already common knowledge within the game but these have not normally been things to put potential buyers off an outstanding talent.
Whatever the reasons behind this reluctance to meet the asking price plenty of managers would be left kicking themselves when Byrne did eventually move a couple of years later.
It was the 1959-60 season which saw Byrne truly burst onto the scene in a big way. He started the season in a blaze of glory, scoring at around a goal a game and by Christmas he had plundered just short of 20 goals.
Now the attention from the big clubs was for real but Palace had finally realised the true value of their commodity. It was going to take a lot more than £20,000 to take Byrne away from Selhurst Park, especially as he was now being widely tipped for England recognition.
Despite plying his trade in the 4th division this did not seem idle chatter. Johnny Byrne played with a swagger and style befitting a top flight footballer. The quality of his touch, his movement and awareness, the timing and precision of his defence splitting passes as well as his confidence in front of goal all marked him out as being worthy of a much bigger stage.
He was still a young man, however, and this attention probably affected his game. After Christmas the goals dried up completely and Palace again ended up on the fringes of the promotion race.
This barren spell in no way affected the clubs' new found determination that their rising star must stay. They decreed that Johnny Byrne was not for sale at any price. There were plenty of clubs willing to test their resolve.
Although Byrne's star was very much in the ascendant by this time another important event occured towards the end of the 1960 season which would further boost his development as a footballer.
Arthur Rowe, the man behind the famous push and run Tottenham side of the early 1950's, had been with Palace for a couple of seasons as assistant manager and coach although his influence had been curtailed because of illness.
In April 1960, however, Rowe took over as manager and his insistence on good football and good footballers would help bring out the very best in Byrne.
Rowe was a longstanding admirer of Byrne's. As a scout for West Bromwich Albion he had recommended the player years earlier as Byrne took his first tentative steps in league football.
Albion had not been convinced and Rowe now had good reason to be thankful that his advice had not been followed.
Palace were in among the promotion race from the word go with Byrne orchestrating their attack and scoring freely. He hit four against both Accrington Stanley and Southport and ended the season with 32 goals in league and cup as Palace clinched promotion as runners up behind Peterborough United.
This season also saw Johnny Byrne called up to the England Under 23 side making him the only player from Division Four to represent England.
Byrne took his place in a side containing the likes of Gordon Banks, George Cohen, Brian Labone, Bobby Moore and Terry Paine and immediately looked at home in such company.
In fact Byrne looked the class act among the forwards and gave a particularly impressive display in a 4-1 drubbing of West Germany. He scored one of the goals but it was the outstanding combination with his wing half partner Moore that really caught the eye.
Their understanding was completely natural and the fact could not escape Moore's manager at West Ham, Ron Greenwood.
Greenwood, along with every other first division manager, was well aware of Johnny Byrne by this time but this game substantially hardened his interest.
Palace manged to hold onto their prized asset as they began life in the third division and also pulled off something of a coup by signing the former England international Ronnie Allen from West Bromwich Albion to partner Byrne in attack.
It was inconceivable that Palace could hang onto Byrne unless they continued to rise through the divisions, however, and despite a steady start to the season the club was never remotely in a challenging position. Byrne's departure became increasingly inevitable.
Byrne was a busy man at this time. In November 1961 his profile was raised still higher when he won his first full England cap. As well as turning out for Palace in the 3rd division he also made two further appearances for the Under 23's in the same month.
The two Under 23 games brought resounding victories over Israel and Holland but his full debut was something of an anti climax.
He formed a highly experimental strike force with Ipswich Town's Ray Crawford and England could only muster a stuttering performance and a 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland.
With the transfer deadline looming the following March and Palace completely out of contention for promotion West Ham confirmed their lingering interest.
Negotiations had been surprisingly protracted with the Hammers failing to meet Palace's valuation and also making efforts to try and sort out some kind of player exchange deal.
At one stage a young, apparently nondescript, wing half called Geoff Hurst was thrown into the equation but again Palace were not interested.
Both players, West Ham United and perhaps the whole country would come to have good reason to be thankful that this was the case.
With his attack in real need of strengthening, interest elsewhere growing and the transfer deadline looming Ron Greenwood was forced to meet Crystal Palace's asking price.
The fee was worth £65,000 to Palace, mainly in cash but with their former winger Ron Brett thrown in as a makeweight. This does not sound a lot now but the fee represented a record between two British clubs at the time.
West Ham certainly needed perking up. They had lost their previous game at Burnley 6-0 and had a tired looking attack.
Johnny Byrne made his debut in a 0-0 draw at Sheffield Wednesday but was not able to work instant miracles. He scored his first West Ham goal in a 4-1 win over Cardiff City but that would be the only one he managed in eleven games by the end of the season.
Without winning another full cap Byrne's international career received a definite boost at this time as he starred in two comprehensive victories for the Under 23 team.
He scored twice in a 4-1 win against Turkey and formed a magnificently quicksilver partnership with Jimmy Greaves in a 4-2 success against Scotland.
Greaves was already an established international at this time but having just returned from an ill fated spell in Italy a game with the junior side was deemed appropriate.
Greaves and Byrne were extremely similar both on and off the field but this did not prevent them forming a devastatingly effective partnership on the pitch.
Razor sharp in thought and movement and sharing a true goalscorers' instinct they shredded the Scottish defence time and again.
Byrne was also selected for a game between England and Young England, representing and scoring for Young England in a 3-2 defeat.
After a steady rather than spectacular first full season with West Ham Byrne really began to establish himself as an important talent.
He was included in the England squad for their summer tour and was selected for the final game against Switzerland. The result was a resounding 8-1 victory with Byrne scoring twice and Bobby Charlton rattling home a hat trick.
West Ham's side was also developing nicely but was still lacking an adequate partner for Byrne. Greenwood wanted a strong, hard running target man who would take the weight off his chief playmaker. Someone who could take the brunt of the physical punishment dished out by opposition defences and allow Byrne the freedom to roam and cause damage.
Having failed to find the right man in the transfer market Greenwood decided to look within his own ranks for a possible solution. The strapping wing half Hurst was given the chance to forge a new role for himself at the club. He had been making little progress as an honest but limited midfield grafter but quickly showed himself to be an effective foil for Byrne.
Hurst's capacity for hard work and physical punishment was of huge benefit to Byrne whose efforts were selectively stealthy. There was no blurring of the roles, Hurst was there to work for Byrne, to battle it out on the front line while his colleague directed operations from behind.
Basically Hurst was a labourer and Byrne a craftsman.
The converted forward accepted his lot without complaint and was soon an integral part of the West Ham side and his partnership with Byrne one of the finest in the first division.
In fact the Hammers had struck gold as Hurst proved himself to be far more than an honest toiler. He was strong as an ox and his control was excellent. On top of that he showed himself to be uncomplicatedly effective in front of goal.
Byrne, on the other hand, was all finesse and delicate touches. His ability to find space was uncanny and his vision in unlocking defences superb.
Johnny Byrne was slightly heavy looking, almost stocky, yet his movement was truly graceful. He appeared to glide across the pitch, seldom straining, and his beautiful balance and control rarely faltered.
The Hammers remained far too inconsistent to challenge for the league title but they were more than capable of beating anyone on their day and embarked on a series of cup adventures.
Byrne plundered 33 goals in total during the 1963-64 season, 9 of them in cup ties, as West Ham reached the semi finals of the League Cup and the final of the FA Cup.
The Hammers lost out to Leicester City in the League Cup but more than made up for this disappointment by lifting the FA Cup.
Byrne's biggest contribution to this triumph came in the quarter finals when his two goals helped his side to a narrow 3-2 win against Burnley.
He was not on target as Manchester United were famously beaten in the semi finals and Preston North End edged out at Wembley but he certainly played his full part in the success.
In the final especially, when West Ham struggled to find their rhythm until well into the second half, it was Byrne's clever movement and subtle passing which offered his sides' greatest threat.
Typical of Byrne's awareness and technique was the inch perfect, instant return pass he played into John Sissons which allowed the young winger to score without breaking stride despite being surrounded by Preston defenders.
Byrne's consistent excellence during the course of this season saw him given an extended run in the England team alongside Jimmy Greaves.
He scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over Uruguay and would have claimed a hat trick had his early header not been tipped onto the crossbar.
He did then register a treble with an inspired display in Portugal. With the scores level at 3-3 in the last minute Byrne struck with a sublime chip into the top corner when faced with a crowded box and a keeper only marginally off his line.
England then embarked on a venture into South America to take part in a mini tournament dubbed the Little World Cup.
Results here were not great with defeats against Brazil and Argentina and only a draw with Portugal.
In these games the suitability of Byrne and Greaves as partners at the very highest level appeared dubious and Alf Ramsey began his inexorable move away from gifted but unpredictable forwards to less talented but more reliable players.
It is likely that Ramsey was more suspicious of Byrne and Greaves off from the pitch than on it and the renowned disciplinarian was never likely to embrace the irreverent personalities which both Greaves and Budgie possessed.
While Greaves was looked upon at this time as a joker his pack could not do without Byrne was certainly expendable.
Byrne had shown Ramsey what he could do on the pitch but had given him more food for thought off it.
On the eve of the England party leaving for the game in Portugal Byrne had been one of a group of players who had broken Ramsey's curfew and gone out for a drink. Although Ramsey would not omit a player on one indiscretion alone, so long as his form held, it was the kind of incident which would not have been forgotten.
On the trip to South America Byrne decided to push Greaves into a hotel swimming pool as the squad assembled in their official suits for a visit to the British Embassy.
The players would have loved this but Ramsey, a stickler for protocol, would have bestowed on it his deepest frown.
Johnny Byrne was also, along with Bobby Moore, the organiser in chief of the West Ham squads' social diary. Both Moore and Byrne liked a drink, a lot.
While Moore knew when, and was able to, stop Byrne's will power was not so great. Neither was he such a committed trainer as his club captain.
At this time there was little sign of it on the pitch but Byrne was in the process of spoiling his career through drinking.
Not only was there no sign of his football suffering in 1964-65, Byrne was at his very best.
The goals really flowed as the Hammers played with real confidence at home and abroad. A hat trick in a thrilling 3-2 derby win over Tottenham was the highlight as Byrne found the net with regularity.
As well as hitting the target 25 times in 34 league games Byrne struck three times in the Cup Winners Cup as West Ham battled towards the final.
He scored one of the goals which gave the Hammers a narrow 2-1 first leg advantage in their semi final with Real Zaragoza and was back in the England side for the Home International clash with Scotland at Wembley.
Byrne was a man with the world at his feet, one of the 1st division's top forwards, on the verge of a European final and now having the chance to re-establish himself in the England team a year before the World Cup finals.
His England recall started wonderfully well. England tore into Scotland from the off, slicing through their defence time and again. Two goals were scored and it looked as though another of the hammerings which had been dished out to the Auld Enemy in recent times was about to be inflicted.
Then England were reduced to ten men when the left back Ray Wilson was struck down by injury. Johnny Byrne was not an obvious choice as emergency full back but slotted in and England still looked to be mainly in control.
When Byrne then suffered an injury to his knee the men in white were effectively down to nine men, though Byrne gamely battled on.
The game ended in a 2-2 draw but, more importantly, the injury to Byrne was a serious one. There was ligament damage to the knee and Byrne had done himself no favours by playing on.
He not only had to sit out the rest of West Ham's European campaign, his replacement Alan Sealey scoring the two goals which gave the club victory over 1860 Munich in the final at Wembley, he was still not fit come the start of the following season.
Byrne returned and showed glimpses of his previous form but was troubled by injury throughout the season.
It was now that Byrne's drinking, coupled with the effects of his injuries, began to debase his ability.
While he was able to star in a European tie in Greece against Olympiakos he had spent his two days in the country prior to the game recovering in bed from the drinking he had indulged in on the flight over.
When asked how much more champagne he required midway through the flight Byrne apparently replied "Just one more crate."
His contribution as West Ham reached the League Cup final, losing on aggregate to West Bromwich Albion, and the semi finals of the Cup Winners Cup, losing to eventual winners Borussia Dortmund, was good enough to have him included in Alf Ramsey's provisional 28 man World Cup squad.
When it came to pruning the number down to 22, however, Johnny Byrne was surplus to requirements.
This was the beginning of the end for Byrne in the top flight.
Byrne and West Ham started the 1966-67 season in fine fettle with November a particularly productive month. Six goals flew past Fulham while seven were slammed past the mighty Leeds United in a League Cup tie.
This was followed by a 4-3 win at Spurs and a 3-0 thumping of Newcastle at Upton Park.
Although Byrne was still easy on the eye and could be devastating at times the real leader of the forward line was now undoubtedly Geoff Hurst.
Byrne now looked decidedly heavy and having never been overly pacy he could now appear sluggish. Away from home, in particular, he could go missing.
After West Ham had lost comprehensively in the League Cup semi finals to West Brom Greenwood decided that his team could now do without the mercurial talents of Johnny Byrne.
Crystal Palace, pushing for promotion from the second division, decided that their former star was the man to provide the final thrust towards the top flight.
£45,000 exchanged hands and Byrne was back at Selhurst Park.
Stoke City had also been in for Byrne and perhaps a move to the Potteries would have been more conducive to resurrecting his career. The Stoke boss Tony Waddington proved himself an expert in getting the best out of ageing stars but Byrne preferred to stay in the capital.
The move back to Palace never looked like working out. Byrne managed only one goal in 14 games as the Eagles' promotion bid petered out limply.
Byrne was only a shadow of his former self and within a year had left Selhurst Park. Although the move took him back into the first division with Fulham there was little to inspire confidence that Byrne was on his way back.
Fulham were rooted at the bottom of the table and inevitably destined for relegation.
Johnny Byrne quickly jumped ship as the Cottagers continued to struggle after dropping into the 2nd division.
Uprooting completely Byrne took up a post as player manager in South Africa with Durban City and he would enjoy the slower pace of football there, carving out a niche for himself in that country and able to live life in the way he wanted.
Byrne even coaxed Bobby Moore out to play for one of his sides in the mid 1970's and the pair no doubt enjoyed a few hazy sunsets together over a glass of lager.
In summing up Johnny Byrne's career, Ron Greenwood not surprisingly, was in a position to give the most precise appraisal.
His ability moved Greenwood to describe Byrne as a "forward who has everything," and "the English Di Stefano."
West Ham's manager also understood why such a talent did not produce more, however. "He was everybodies friend but his own worst enemy," Greenwood tellingly commented.
While taking into account the debilitating effects of his knee injury it is impossible to believe Byrne would have faded from top class football so quickly had he been more disciplined off the field.
In contemplating the career of Johnny Byrne, however, it is certainly wisest to be grateful for what he did give to the game rather than lamenting what else he could have offered.
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