An appreciation: Tony Byrne

By SFC Media time Tue 14 Jun Club

The club pays tribute to former Southampton full back Tony Byrne, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 70.

Anthony Brendan Byrne was born in Rathdowney, County Laois, Ireland, in February 1946. In his early years, Byrne’s sporting background was in hurling before he emigrated to London with his parents at the age of 12.

Four years later he began his career as a footballer at Millwall, where he was originally a midfield player before switching to left-back.

When he came to The Dell with the Lions’ reserves in March 1964, he did a marking job on George O’Brien – well enough, he believed, to persuade Ted Bates to sign him, still only 18, that summer.

Byrne made only one first team appearance for Millwall before he was signed by Bates for a fee of £8,000. Although he made his Saints debut in an FA Cup tie against Crystal Palace in January 1965, Byrne took a long time to break into the Southampton first-team, mainly because of a broken leg sustained in a reserve team match in April 1966. 

He eventually overcame this setback to make his league debut on 18 April 1967 in front of a 54,921 crowd at Old Trafford as relegation-threatened Saints went down 3–0 to Manchester United. He was slightly built for a defender but there were some initial doubts about his long-term chances of holding down a place in the team. 

His best season with Saints was 1969/70, in which he made 35 league appearances, playing in defence alongside Joe Kirkup and John McGrath, as the club again fought to avoid relegation. He scored his first league goal in the final match of the season in a 1–1 draw against Derby County. Having given away Derby's 88th-minute goal after a poor back-pass, Byrne quickly turned from villain to hero as he slotted in a bobbling ball in the 90th minute in a dramatic climax to the season.

Byrne earned international recognition at that time too, winning 14 Irish caps before completing a total of ten years at The Dell where he made a total of 114 first team appearances.

In August 1974 he moved to Hereford United to join former Saints’ colleague Terry Paine for three seasons. Paine felt Byrne was “under-rated” and added that he had: “strength off the ball: so quick and aggressive.”

Byrne finished his playing career with Newport County and briefly moved into coaching. He made more appearances for Saints than any other of the five clubs he represented over the course of his professional career, finishing with a total of 229 league games scoring 4 goals.

After retiring from football, he worked in a factory making beer barrels, then in the building trade. In his sixties, he went part-time, gardening in a retirement home – a throwback to his summers in Southampton, when he was a green-keeper at Romsey Golf Club.

Tony Byrne

02/02/1946 - 13/06/2016

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