Thursday, January 24, 2019

The John Byrne Interview

We were delighted when 80’s icon, and recent Twitter convert, John Byrne agreed to talk to us about his time at QPR. Byrne talks us through his memories of his four years at Loftus Road. 

QPRnet: You had an interesting route to your QPR career because it was actually games against us that first brought you to our attention wasn’t it?

JB: That’s right it was in The League Cup and my team York had drawn QPR over two legs. I was coming off the back of a good season prior to this one, we had won a championship, so there were a few clubs looking at me but nothing had come off as yet.

I vaguely remember the first game at Bootham Crescent but it is the second leg at Loftus Road that sticks in my mind. It was so brilliant to play in that stadium under the floodlights and coming from York to run out at QPR was something to remember. Afterwards I said to our assistant manager Viv Busby that I would love to play here every week. Lo and behold a couple of weeks later I was!

QPRnet: How did the transfer come about and how might it differ from what goes on these days?

JB: Oh it was unbelievable, I finished training at York on a Thursday and I was washing my car when it all happened. I was living in digs, it was like Coronation Street, I had my car up the alley washing it when the phone rings for me and it’s Viv Busby from the club. He said that they had accepted a bid from QPR and I was booked on the quarter past five train to London and Alan Mullery would meet me at Kings Cross. That phone call was it, I didn’t really get a say and no one asked me if I actually wanted to go! I had about an hour and half to get a bag of stuff and jump on the train.

I got to Kings Cross and Mullers took me the Royal Lancaster Hotel on Bayswater Road and did a great job selling the club to me. At one point he asked me who we were playing on Saturday and it was something like Crewe away. He looked me in the eyes and went ‘we’re playing Manchester City’. I was basically looking for the pen at that point! Mullers then got me to sign the worst contract any player has ever signed in the history of contracts I reckon!

Remember there were no agents in those days so I didn’t have anyone to help me through this. I was just a young lad, I didn’t know how much money to ask for or even what the going rate was so I didn’t do myself any favours financially in fact I don’t think I was much better off from what I was on at York if I’m honest but I just wanted to play for QPR at the top level.

QPRnet: What is it like for a younger lad from the lower leagues to walk into a top flight dressing room on his first day?

JB: Daunting. I’ve got to be honest with you it is daunting and terrifying. It is a bit like going for your first day at school except you have already seen everyone else there on your telly!

Obviously in football there is all the banter to take into account and I remember thinking to myself that they would hammer me because my hair was in this blonde mullet. I got to the training ground at Greenford a bit late and I’m thinking I’ve got minging gear on, they are going to slaughter me! When I arrived the players were already out training and I looked across and one of them had a pair of lime green towelling socks on so I thought that’s not too bad they will probably get some of the stick whoever is was. Turned out it was Macca!  

The more serious thing though is you have doubts about your own ability, will I belong here? Will I be good enough to play for them? All that goes through your mind. I think times have changed though, it’s very rare to see a player jump up from the lower leagues to the top flight these days.

QPRnet: What is the step up like on the pitch?

JB: Pure quality. The first training session was a real eye opener with the quality of passing, the control, the pace, it was unreal.

I always remember when I first went to York City from school and I stood there in awe at the quality of the first team when I watched them train. Then to go to QPR and see it was another massive step up, it was phenomenal and a bit intimidating to be honest with you.

QPRnet: QPR were a club coming off a great season under Terry Venables but had lost him to Barcelona, did his shadow still hang over the club when you arrived?

JB: I think it was to a certain extent, it was difficult for me to fully understand having been signed by Mullery but you could feel it with some of the senior pros who loved him. The likes of Terry Fenwick, John Gregory and Steve Wicks were big Venables men and understandably as he was obviously a great coach. You got a feeling that a few of them weren’t overly impressed with Mullers at the time too.

The atmosphere was alright though for the most part. It dipped a bit for that Partizan Belgrade game though. I wasn’t involved but I watched at Highbury and they took me across to Belgrade. That was an experience! Our tickets were right over the other side of the stadium and these people were throwing batteries at everyone and we had to fight our way through to our seats with QPR tracksuits on. That was pretty scary.

QPRnet: You mainly wore the number 10 shirt, did you feel any pressure following in the footsteps of the likes of Bowles and Marsh?

JB: Well when I was a kid growing up my favourite players were the likes of Frank Worthington, Duncan McKenzie and, being brought up a United fan, obviously George Best. It was that type of flair player that I idolised and I used to copy them in the playground like you do.  

But when I arrived at QPR I didn’t really know the number ten shirt was the shirt so to even get mentioned in the same breath as Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles was brilliant. Even Simon Stainrod, he was such a maverick type of player I used to love watching him play. Naturally you want to do it too, you want to play with that touch of flair and style but ultimately you have to fit into the team set up otherwise your manager and team mates won’t be too pleased with you.

QPRnet: It took you until New Years Day to get your first goal, do you remember much about it?

JB: It was up at West Ham I think and I just slid it in at the far post if I remember right, it’s always a relief to get your first one though and take some pressure of you. I had missed worse than that so it was nice to finally get it in!

QPRnet: You were only a few months into your QPR career when the man who signed you was gone, how did things change under Jim Smith?

JB: We had the caretaker spell under Frank Sibley for a few months first, Frank was lovely he was a really nice man and probably too nice for football management. He really helped me a lot actually, he would always welcome a chat with you and put his arm round you to talk about your game. I had a lot of time for Frank.

Smithy was brilliant though, I loved playing for Jim. He just tells you bluntly how it is. He loved you, he hated you but he would never ignore you or freeze you out. I have a lot of time and respect for Jim and we did alright under him really didn’t we?

QPRnet: That first season under Smith included a game QPR fans will never forget when Chelsea were beaten 6-0 with you scoring twice. That must have been an incredible thing to be involved with especially considering your goals?

JB: It was a good day at the office I suppose! Everyone clicked, everything went right didn’t it. I think we were buzzing because we had the Milk Cup final coming up and we were all playing for a place at Wembley.

I remember Chelsea had a defender called Doug Rougvie and when it got to five or six he was looking for blood. He was raging mad and just wanted to break someone’s leg so I said to Gary Bannister I’m not going anywhere near him I am going to play over on the right wing, and he said fine I’ll go on the left. So that’s what the pair of us did to stay out of trouble for the rest of the match.

QPRnet: You picked up the first of your Ireland caps in 1985, how did you qualify for Irish football?

JB: Through my Father who was Irish. Obviously playing in the First Division it raised my profile a bit and with a good Irish name like Byrne it put me on the radar I suppose. The Ireland manager at the time was Eoin Hand and he approached me and asked if I was interested and I said yes.

I had a good nine or ten years, went to a World Cup and European Championships, I was involved in some big games for them, it gave me some really good times and my Dad would have been very proud.

QPRnet: It was also the season we had a run to the league cup final of 1986, before we get to Wembley what was the highlight of the run in for you?

JB: I missed the game at Anfield but I scored some goals along the way before that to help us get there. I remember getting the only goal at Watford when we won 1-0, I can see that one now actually, and I got the goal in the 1-1 against Chelsea which I guess proved crucial. It was a great run, we seemed to have done all the hard work but unfortunately we never turned up for the final.

QPRnet: Is that what went wrong for us?

JB: I don’t know, maybe. When I look back on it from a personal point of view I just remember that after we were introduced to the dignitaries I went off for the warm up and I had nothing in the tank. I had heavy legs before the game and I think a lot of the players felt like that.

At the end of the day we didn’t perform and Oxford were better than us but there should be no excuses we were a better side on paper and we should have won. Maybe we had already had our cup finals against Chelsea and Liverpool,  you can argue that.

Oxford had some good players don’t get me wrong but it was so disappointing I can’t even think about it sometimes. I remember trudging round afterwards and seeing all the QPR fans and you could understand why they were so angry because we hadn’t even put up a game against them.

It was one to forget. Years later I thought I might put it right for me at least when I got to the cup final with Sunderland but I got beat then as well!

QPRnet: There’s a few team mates I’d like to ask you about, first Gary Bannister what sort of relationship did you two have on and off the pitch?

JB: I spoke to Gary today actually for the first time in twenty five years, we were mates and we got on well. We are both from the same neck of the woods so we had a similar outlook on life and I liked playing with him.

Banner was saying to me that when he was at Sheffield Wednesday he played up front with a big lad called John Pearson who would just nod it on and he would score. I said not like me then, because I was useless in the air! So we weren’t your typical big man/little man partnership but we just clicked together.

Jim Smith used to give us hell though he would say ‘you two aren’t aggressive enough, you’re like two women in there, start smashing a few people about’ but neither of us were like that and I think it worked for us the way we were.

QPRnet: You mentioned Alan McDonald earlier, he must have been brilliant to have around the place?

JB: I’m not just saying this he really was fantastic. Macca was a gentle giant with a great sense of humour. He used to get canned by the lads for his gear sometimes! I always remember, and I told this one on the QPR podcast, he would bring tapes on the bus for away games that he had made and you could hear his Mrs shouting at him or the dog barking in the background! He was just brilliant.

He was Mr QPR through and through wasn’t he, he loved that club and he is such a big loss.

QPRnet: And then as your QPR career was coming to a close a lad called Les Ferdinand was starting to make appearances. Did you think he would go on to as well in the game as he did?

JB: He was very raw at the time. Really powerful, a big strong lad but what he achieved in the game and the player he ultimately became probably exceeded my expectations of him. It’s one of those things though when you have that sort of potential sometimes something just clicks, you get some confidence and build from there. That’s what happened with Les and he got better and better and better. It was great to see because he is a top fella, a really wonderful lad.

QPRnet: As you came towards the end of your QPR days, was it your choice to go or did the club want to move you on?

JB: I think it was a bit of both and I don’t think my form was particularly brilliant in that last season. Funnily enough we played Le Havre in a friendly at Loftus Road and then we went over there in the February and played them again. Eventually they came in for me so it was a bit like the York thing that took me to QPR really.

Smithy called me up and said ‘we’ve had a bid in for you from Le Havre’ and I said well I didn’t really like over there. He said ‘well they built a new stand, just go over there for a day out, you don’t have to sign, have a day trip with your Missus and get some duty free!’

So I went over and actually it was alright. They offered me a decent enough contract and they had done up the stadium like Jim said so things looked a lot better than they had previously. They wanted to get promoted back up to the first division and they thought I could come in and help which was flattering. I thought about it and obviously Smithy was prepared to let me go so I decided to give it a shot. It was disappointing to leave QPR but I think it was probably the right time to go.

QPRnet: Good times in France?

JB: Yeh I enjoyed it actually. I broke my leg after three weeks though, I think it was in my second game that happened so that was hard. But I came back, got fit again and had a really good second half of the season. I had some interest from some other clubs and Ron Atkinson at Sheffield Wednesday was looking at me so I came back from that pretty well.

QPRnet: You returned to England and had spells with Brighton and Oxford plus that great scoring run with Sunderland in the FA Cup?

JB: Yeh good times with Brighton, got to the play off final. Little spell at Oxford under Dennis Smith which I enjoyed and I got to The FA Cup final with Sunderland. I scored in every round except the final then missed a sitter on roughly thirteen minutes twenty seconds, I see that one every day!

So things didn’t really fizzle out or anything I came back and did well I think. I was lucky, I look back now and I had a good career, I played for some great clubs and whilst I might have had disappointments with finals I have got plenty of great memories.  

In terms of QPR my goal against Chelsea in the six nil is probably the thing I will always cherish. It’s got to be really when you think about it! You win six nil and score a nice individual goal like that. It’s a great memory and it is the one people always ask me about.

Mind you there was another time I played against Chelsea on Boxing Day when I went round the whole team and missed from eight yards. Plenty of people remind of that one too!

QPRnet: You had a good relationship with QPR fans how would you like us to remember you in the years ahead?

JB: The fans were always very good to me at QPR. I wasn’t great all the time, I’m not naive enough to think I was brilliant in every game so maybe it is lucky fans remember the good times! If people remember me as an honest player, with a decent first touch who scored a few goals then I’ll be very happy with that.

We would like to thank John for his time - if you want to share your memories of his time at QPR jump into our comments section below. 


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