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Gerry Byrne - The toughest of them all!

Bobby Collins injures Gerry in the FA Cup final! "Gerry's collar bone was split and grinding together yet he played on in agony. It was a performance of raw courage from the boy." - Bill Shankly

Gerry Byrne is best known for his heroic display in the FA Cup final vs Leeds in 1965. Bob Paisley was Liverpool's physio on the day:

"I knew as soon as Gerry Byrne went down on that lush Wembley turf that something was seriously wrong. Gerry was as hard as nails but as I ran across from the Wembley benches to where he lay on the pitch I didn’t need telling that we could be in a fix. Gerry had clattered into the chunky Bobby Collins. Gerry knew that there was no way Liverpool could survive an F.A. Cup final against old rivals Leeds United with only ten men.

As soon as I reached him I knew that my initial touchline diagnosis had been painfully accurate. He had broken his collar bone. My first reaction should have been to wave to the bench to call for a stretcher. But Gerry got in first. Looking up at me he pleaded: 'Don’t tell anyone!' I asked: 'Do you know it’s broken?' Gerry knew – but still insisted on playing on through the remaining 87 minutes and, as it happened, another half hour of extra time. He told me defiantly: 'I can get by.' And he did, in one of the bravest Wembley displays I have ever witnessed. I went back to the benches and Shank was sat there. I told them all that it was a broken collar bone but they wouldn’t believe it and just said: 'That will never be broken.' Gerry went on to have one of his typical games. Full of effort and quite a bit of skill and, despite nursing that fractured collar bone he made the first goal for Roger Hunt. Peter Thompson found him on an overlapping run – one of scores he had made during the game and his cross was headed home by Hunt, as he bent down low to meet it."

Your performance in the Cup final was quite unbelievable

I was a tough player. I played for 117 minutes with a broken collar-bone in the 1965 FA Cup final. I was more worried about my leg because Bobby Collins went over the ball and skinned my shin. I was getting that treated and never mind the collar-bone. It wasn't until after when I noticed my collar-bone. You can still feel the break in the collar-bone [leans forward for me to touch the collar-bone]. It would have probably been a red card today.

This was not the only instance Gerry played severely injured as Bob Paisley points out:

"The following season, Gerry dislocated his elbow in the European Cup Winners' Cup match against Celtic at Parkhead. He was in great pain, but our club doctor, Jack Reid, did a tremendous job on it and he stayed on until ten minutes from the end. I took him to hospital the next day, his arm was black from the wrist to the shoulder, but there was no break. The next day he played our League match against Stoke City!"

You got injured in August 1966 vs Leicester when 28-years-old and were never the same player after that.

I was picked for the World Cup with Ian and Roger and it was fabulous. I got injured after the World Cup. There was nobody near me. I twisted and my studs stayed in the ground. It's usually worse when nobody is near you. My knee used to swell up. I still haven't had a operation on it. I just had it cleaned up and there is a bit of bone floating about now. I can't straighten my leg or bend my leg.

Paisley was of the opinion that Shankly held on too long to his older players. Shankly said when he let you go:"When Gerry went, it took a big chunk out of Liverpool. Something special was missing."

The team started to break up and people were on their way out. He built the team up, which he had to. I retired in 1969.

You are number 46 in the 100 players who shook the Kop. You are still fondly remembered..

I was only at the one club and it turned out well.

Few players deserved a testimonial more than Gerry Byrne and on the 8th of April 1970, Liverpool fans honoured one of their favourites, but Gerry was quite pessimistic when the big day arrived.

On the night I was at Anfield and it went black, it was raining and I didn't think anyone would turn up. But there were 42,000 there. The people nicknamed me "the Crunch" and must have liked that.

For Steve Heighway, Gerry Byrne's testimonial was the start of his Liverpool career:

"I was quite surprised to be called by Mr. Bill Shankly, who invited me to play in Gerry Byrne's testimonial. Not only was it my first visit to Anfield, but it was also at the age of 22 my first ever visit to Liverpool itself. It was a filthy night with rain and sleet, but I recall that about 50,000 people were there. The two teams walked side by side to the centre of the pitch and I stood next to an ex-Everton full-back who was playing in the Celebrity team. With total honesty and complete naivety, I quietly said to him: "Which end is the Kop?" He looked at me as if I had come from another planet, pointed to the bulging end rather than just the full end."

Following the win over Belgian Champions Anderlecht in the European Cup, described by Shankly as one of the best teams in Europe, Shankly said your performance in 1964 was, "The best full-back display Europe has ever seen." That's no mean praise.

He did say that. I got that in black and white. I cut a lot of balls out. I could read the game well.

Any player you couldn't stand playing against?

There was a a lot of great wingers. Full-backs were full-backs then and wingers were wingers. Harry Redknapp at West Ham was quick. He was like a greyhound, Harry. I used to have a hard game against him.

Peter Thompson was a good winger and Ian. We had two wingers, two half-backs and a centre half and two full-backs. The players up front would drop back, we covered one another.

Ian Callaghan with Gerry

At this point Ian Callaghan had arrived for their meeting, Gerry came more to life seeing his old friend and reminisced about Shankly, standing up from the table imitating Shanks combing his hair in front of the mirror in Liverpool's dressing room as Shanks always wanted to look immaculate.

They enjoyed a few laughs when they refreshed their memories about their various adventures together...

- The first European match in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1964:

Byrne: We went to Scotland on the way up.

Callaghan: We got a plane from Manchester to Glasgow and then we had about a five hour wait. There was a holiday camp, Butlins holiday camp, still famous in Britain. We went there and spent a few hours.

Byrne: Before we got in, there was a gateman who stopped the bus. Bill Shankly said: 'Liverpool FC, on the way to Reykjavík.' The gateman said: 'You have taken a wrong turn somewhere' [laughs], didn't he?

- Battling for promotion to 1st division in 1962:

Byrne: The players had been promised extra two pounds for getting promoted. I remember Ronnie Moran shouting: 'Come on, lads. You want those two pounds!' [laughs] 

- About the post-match baths at Anfield when everyone shared a bath, (probably a bit unsanitary)

Byrne: Tommy Lawrence used to go first in the bath and the water was completely black when we went in...

Finally, I asked for Ian Callaghan's opinion on "The Crunch."

"Gerry Byrne was my first room-mate at Liverpool. The 1965 Cup final summed Gerry up really when he played for that amount of time with a broken collar-bone. No one else would have done it. Very talented, could play left or right. Very good with two feet. They don't come any harder. They talk about these hard men, but he was quiet natured and never got involved with the talking and the shouting. He used to tackle them and that was it. They stayed tackled."

Interview by Arnie ([email protected]) - Copyright - LFChistory.net

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