Frank Byrne 

F.A. ‘Frank’ Byrne has usually been eclipsed by his illustrious brother J.F. ‘Fred’ Byrne despite the fact that Frank was also an England international and was more of an all-round sportsman than his rugby and cricket playing brother.

Frank was born two years after his brother, in 1873, and the earliest record of his sporting career dates from 24th June 1893 when he played in the same Birmingham cricket side as elder brother Fred in a match at Burton. Neither brother scored any runs but Fred did take one wicket as the home side won by 25 runs.

Later in the same year The Birmingham Daily Post reported on the revival of wrestling at the Birmingham Athletic Club under the direction of the splendidly named Othmar Egger whose star pupil was Frank Byrne. Wrestling seems to have been popular with a number of Moseley members, Egger having played for the club during its early years and former Athletic Club wrestlers having included ‘Messers. Tyler and Fowler’ both of whom had also played for Moseley.

Frank Byrne’s first recorded appearance for Moseley was at centre, on 14th October 1894, when the club played at Cardiff Arms Park against the home side. The visitors, who were led from fullback, by Fred Byrne, were defeated by one dropped goal, three tries and nine touchdowns[1] to one goal and three touchdowns. It is not clear whether or not this was Frank’s Moseley first team debut.

On 21st November 1894 Frank Byrne, along with five Moseley colleagues including his brother, appeared in the Midland Counties side which defeated Kent by two goals to nil, at Blackheath. As is the case with the date of Frank’s Moseley debut it is not clear if this was his Midland Counties bow or not. During the second half of the match Frank attempted a drop at goal which struck a post and rebounded for one of his team mates to score the Counties’ opening try which was converted by Fred.

Having appeared in Moseley’s winning Midland Counties Challenge Cup final team, against Coventry, at Leamington Spa, in 1895, Frank Byrne accompanied his brother and four team mates on an end of season tour to the West Country with the Warwickshire Nomads.

On 30th October 1895 The Reddings hosted an international trial match between Midland Counties and Western Counties in which both Byrne brothers together with two club mates took part. Fred Byrne was in his customary position of full-back and Frank played in the centre. The game ended in a draw during which Fred Byrne landed one conversion but failed to improve a try in the corner touched down by his brother.

Frank Byrne was selected for another international trial match in the following year when he played for the London and South against Oxford and Cambridge, at Blackheath. Also in the side was Moseley forward B.J. Ebsworth and sometime Moseley backs W.L. Bunting and R.H.B. Cattell who were then playing for Richmond and Blackheath respectively, while two future Moseley players, G.T. Unwin and E.M. Baker, were in the universities’ team. Byrne scored one of his victorious side’s tries and ‘did excellent service’ for London and the South.

Following this game the South side for the annual fixture with the North, in December 1896, was selected and confusion reigned. The Press reported that Frank Byrne had been chosen and would play either at back[2] or in the centre; however, this was not the case. Fred Byrne was actually the selected back and Frank was chosen as one of the centres but this was only clarified by the Press three days before the match. In the event the Byrne brothers actually partnered each other in the centre due to the withdrawal through injury of E.M. Baker. Also in the South fifteen was W.L. Bunting.

The match, which was played at Richmond, was won by the South by three points to nil. The only score of the game occurred five minutes before half time when Frank Byrne passed to his brother Fred who scored a try which he failed to convert. Frank Byrne, who had ‘a fine game’, was unsuccessful with a couple of attempted drop goals and also made some important defensive contributions. The Standard in its report of the match referred to ‘the brilliant brothers Byrne’ and opined that ‘F.A. Byrne particularly distinguished himself,’ while the Pall Mall Gazette thought that ‘If Saturday’s match be a true specimen of his powers he will be a great acquisition to the team, only it is necessary that he discard the habit of taking flying kicks [at goal]. Otherwise his activity, cleverness and resource mark him as likely to be an unusually luck find.’

Immediately after the match the selectors chose the side to face Wales in England’s forthcoming international fixture. Both Byrne brothers were selected, Fred in his normal position at back and Frank in the centre. Partnering Frank in the centre was future Moseley player E.M. Baker, who was then a member of the Oxford University club.

The match was played on a Rodney Parade ground that shortly after kick-off was several inches deep in mud and throughout the game a raw wind blew and brought with it rain, hail and snow.

In a quest for fast open play Wales had introduced heavier forwards, the theory being that scrums could be held firm thus allowing the halfbacks and three-quarters to run and handle in the maximum amount of time and space. The plan was never executed better than in this match and Wales achieved their first decisive victory over England by a score of 11-0 (one goal and two tries to nil).

The Times certainly thought that Wales’s play had gone according to plan and commented that the Welsh backs ‘simply outclassed those of England.’ Due to deficiencies in the English three quarters’ defending Fred Byrne, at fullback, had ‘much severe work’ in which he acquitted himself well. In the three quarter line itself ‘Pearson seemed always able to outwit Frank Byrne, opposite whom he played’ and ‘Frank Byrne neither made nor was given any opportunity.’ The correspondent of Gloucester’s The Citizen ‘was very disappointed with Frank Byrne whose play on Saturday was as mediocre as it was good in the North v. South match’ and did not think that he was ‘class enough to represent England.’

Following this defeat the England selectors made changes for the next match against Ireland. Fred Byrne retained his place at fullback but one of the casualties, not surprisingly given his performance against Wales, was brother Frank who thus joined the ranks of the ‘one cap wonders.’ Interestingly, one of the replacements for Frank Byrne and E.M. Baker at centre was another sometime Moseley player, W.L. Bunting who was then playing for Richmond.

Both Byrne brothers were at the centre of controversy after Moseley’s home victory over Gloucester on 13th February 1897. There were several unsavoury incidents during the game and Fred and Frank were both accused of ‘unsportsmanlike’ conduct by Gloucester. On the Monday following the match the Gloucester committee resolved to cancel the Moseley fixture in 1897/98 and added ‘that at some future time fixtures between the clubs may be renewed, but are afraid that this will be impracticable while J.F. and F.A. Byrne are members of the Moseley team.’ The accusations against the brothers were denied by Fred in an interview with the Gloucester Citizen newspaper in which he also disclosed that Moseley had been on the point of cancelling the following season’s fixture because of the behaviour of the Gloucester players when their visitors pre-empted them.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Birmingham Daily Post laid the blame for the trouble at Gloucester’s door reporting that the latter had indulged in dangerous tackles almost from the start of play. The reporter went on to say that although Moseley responded with some rough play of their own he ‘did not see anything reprehensible on the part of one of the local men but noticed several transgressions by the Gloucester players.’ As regards the Byrne brothers the Post correspondent felt that ‘The Byrnes are two of the “shining lights” in the Moseley team, and it is only natural that they should be singled out by their opponents; but that they should be absolutely bullied on the field and afterwards abused is a little too much for ordinary patience.’

Having received a letter from the Gloucester honorary secretary formally cancelling the following season’s fixtures the Moseley committee accepted the cancellations but called on the Gloucester club to publicly withdraw their accusations against the brothers Byrne. The Gloucester secretary’s response to this demand was unequivocal ‘We have nothing to apologise for.’

Notwithstanding the above events later in the same week both Frank and Fred Byrne were selected for the South in their forthcoming game with the North, at Dewsbury, as was sometime Moseley three quarter W.L. Bunting. Fred Byrne was in his usual fullback berth but Frank was chosen out of position at wing. In the event Fred did not take part in the game being replaced by the international cricketer, A.O. Jones, of Leicester.

Unlike on his previous appearance for the South Frank Byrne did not distinguish himself at Dewsbury failing to score when, with one defender to beat, he, ‘to the utter surprise of everybody, pulled up short…and after floundering in an irresolute fashion made an absurd and feeble attempt to drop a goal.’ Following the match Fred Byrne made the England XV for the Calcutta Cup match with Scotland but, perhaps not surprisingly, Frank did not.

On 26th March 1898 the Midland Counties played in the County Championship final, at Coventry, where their opponents were Northumberland. Moseley supplied no less than ten of the Midlands’ team including both Byrne brothers, while also in the side was sometime Moseley player W.L. Bunting who was then playing for the Bromsgrove club. This was the first occasion on which the Midland Counties had reached the final but unfortunately for them they were defeated by three goals and three tries to one try.

Frank Byrne retired from regular rugby around 1899, however, on at least one occasion both he and his brother were drafted in as emergency replacements for injured players during the Midland Counties Challenge Cup.

Having scaled down his participation in rugby Frank Byrne took a more active role in the family rubber manufacturing business and made a number of successful patent applications for such things as ‘an improved machine or appliance for cutting rubber washers and the like’ (1900) and ‘improvements in railway and like buffers and springs’ (1901).

Frank had married Agnes Dawson in 1898 and at this time the couple together with their two young sons lived at Calthorpe House in Erdington, where Frank resumed his cricket career playing as an opening batsman for the Erdington club. He also made at least two appearances for the Warwickshire Club and Ground XI lower down the batting order. On both of these occasions also in the Warwickshire side was E.M. Baker who was presumably Moseley’s former England international centre.

Golf was another of Frank’s sporting activities and his first club appears to have been Robin Hood. In October 1905 Frank made his debut for the Warwickshire golf side in their fixture with Nottinghamshire when one of his team mates was his brother E.J.  ‘Dan’ Byrne. Both brothers represented the county on a number of other occasions before the Great War.

In May 1906 Frank took part in the Midland Golf Competition, which was held at Sandwell Park and in the same month he also entered the Amateur Championship at the Royal Liverpool course at Hoylake and reached the third round of the competition, the world’s premier amateur golf championship.

By the time of the next Midland Golf Competition, at Malvern, in May 1907, Frank had left the Robin Hood club and had joined Olton Golf Club, however, his brother Dan remained a member of the former club. The 1908 Competition was staged at Olton and Frank Byrne, who was the club captain, was a member of the host club’s winning side.

Frank gained further representative honours, in June 1908, when he represented the Midland Golf Association in their match with the Walton Heath club in Surrey. By July 1909 Frank had joined another new golf club, namely Castle Bromwich, whom he represented in a match against The North Warwickshire club. In the following year he was again playing for Olton therefore his membership of Castle Bromwich may have been in addition to his long-standing membership of Olton. Further representative honours came Frank Byrne’s way in May 1910 when he played for the Midland amateur golfers who were heavily defeated by their professional counterparts.

At the time of the 1911 census Frank Byrne, his wife and nine-year old son Geoffrey Alban were living at Brunswick House, Warwick Road, Olton and Frank recorded his occupation as director of an India rubber manufacturing company. Being a resident of Olton Frank had transferred his cricketing allegiance to the Olton club for whom he appeared as an opening batsman.

In September of the same year Frank was a member of the Olton Golf Club team which won the Warwickshire Golf Union Challenge Flag over the Leamington and County course, at Whitnash.

Despite his successful golf career Frank Byrne still submitted a number of patent applications relating to the rubber industry such as for ‘improvements in or relating to the coagulating and curing of India rubber (1911), ‘improvements in liquid fuel burners’ (1912) and ‘improvements in or relating to apparatus to be used in the coagulating and curing of India rubber’ (1912). At the end of 1912 Frank Byrne travelled to Malaya (modern Malaysia), on behalf of the newly-established Rubber Curing Patents Syndicate Ltd., where he successfully implemented his process for tapping, curing and shipping rubber from the plantations to Britain. One year earlier Frank’s brother E.J. Byrne had conducted a similar experiment also in Malaya.

Following the success of the Byrne process Frank made further patent applications for a ‘new or improved process for the coagulating and/or curing of rubber latex’ (1913), ‘improvements in or relating to the manufacture of tyre covers and in moulds or appliances to be used in the said manufacture’ (1915) and ‘improvements in or relating to apparatus used in the coagulating and curing of India rubber (1915).

Frank continued playing competitive golf into his middle age, still being active during the 1920s and even though he was in his fifties he was still selected to represent the Midland Counties in their match against the South West, at Burnham, in 1925.

In the 1930s Frank Byrne retired to Sussex where, in 1932, he won a golf competition at the Worthing club. He died in Nairobi. Kenya, in 1949, at the age of seventy seven.

 

[1] A touchdown was recorded when a side grounded the ball in its own in-goal area.

[2] The equivalent of the modern fullback position.