The Respected Captain
After beginning the 1952/53 season on the left wing, Byrne crossed swords with Busby, and asked for a transfer. A dressing down from Allenby Chilton, and a swift return to full-back kept Byrne at the club, where he settled down and became vice-captain the following season. His calm and inspirational manner, coupled with his mental and physical agility, earned first the respect of the younger players, and then the captain’s armband.
In his first season as skipper, Byrne led the side to another First Division championship, as one of the oldest players in the team now known as the ‘Busby Babes’. In 1956 United made history when they became the first English team to enter the European Cup, reaching the semi-final on their first try. Assuming the role of father figure, Byrne would frequently step in to protect his young teammates from the rough treatment of older opposition players. Further success in the League followed in 1956/57 season, whilst the side also reached the final of the FA Cup.
Byrne was also a regular on the international stage, making 33 consecutive appearances for England. He was a hot tip to replace incumbent England captain Billy Wright.
Byrne had already begun to make plans for his own retirement and enrolled on a physiotherapist course at Salford Royal Hospital. It was here that he met Joy Cooper, who would eventually become his wife. At the time of the crash, Joy was pregnant with their first child, although Roger was unaware.