Future Moseley great James Frederick Byrne, the fifth son and sixth child of Thomas and Sarah Byrne, was born on 19th June 1871 at Chester Road, Sutton Coldfield. He was educated at St. Joseph’s College, Rugby, where he became interested in Association football because strangely considering its situation the college was a soccer school.
Despite playing soccer at school the young Fred Byrne also became interested in the Rugby game and on leaving St. Joseph’s he joined Moseley Football Club in 1886/87 playing at halfback for the club’s second team.
In the following season Byrne was still turning out for the seconds but he was moved into the centre in which position he made his 1st XV debut at the beginning of 1888/89.
Towards the end of that season Moseley were short of full backs and the committee decided that Fred Byrne was the man to fill the void and by 1891/92 he was playing regularly in that position.
In the latter season he made his debut, as a full back, for the Midland Counties team against Cheshire and also played in the game with Western Counties. Such were his performances that he was selected to play for the Midland and Western Counties against London, at Rectory Field, Blackheath where his team mates included Moseley colleagues, three quarter A. Rogers, the brother of J.H. Rogers, the club’s first international player and forward E.R. Lycett.
In the following week Fred Byrne turned out for London, the South and Midlands in their game with Oxford and Cambridge universities, at Richmond Athletic Ground and on this occasion another Moseley forward, B.H. Cattell, was also in the side. Unfortunately, Byrne was injured during the match and was therefore prevented from playing any more representative rugby during the remainder of the season.
Back to full fitness in 1892/93 he played for the Midland Counties in the fixtures with Cheshire and with Surrey before once more representing the Midland and Western Counties against London and then London, the South and Midlands against the universities.
As during the previous season, however, he was then injured, this time in a club match against Swansea, at The Reddings, and was once more prevented from taking part in any further representative matches. This latest setback was a real misfortune for Byrne as he had been selected by the Rugby Football Union committee to take the place of the injured W.G. Mitchell (Richmond) in the South side to play the North.
Fred Byrne, did, however, make his bow for the South, at Fallowfield, Manchester in December 1893 and despite being on the losing side he was selected for his international debut as the England full back for the season’s first match, against Wales, at Birkenhead Park.
The home side won the match by 24 points to three and the perhaps not totally unbiased Moseley and King’s Heath Journal reported that ‘Byrne’s full-back play was one of the features of the game, and his display throughout was of a high order.’
Fred Byrne’s play was also commended by the Athletic News which stated that ‘Byrne, the English back, was in every way a success; his fielding of the ball being as perfect as his tackling was sure. He always seemed to be in the right place, and never failed to return the ball with a bit of interest.’
The Sportsman was also impressed and commented ‘Byrne performed magnificently, his grand kicking and collaring comparing most favourably with the best full-back ever placed in the field by England. The Rugby Union Committee need look no further this season for a defender’ and the committee duly took note and selected Byrne for the season’s remaining two international matches.
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