Scunthorpe United long-server Cliff Byrne looks forward to his benefit match at Glanford Park tomorrow
It is 79 days since Cliff Byrne was released after nine years with Scunthorpe United. CHRIS SUMPTER spoke to the Irishman ahead of his Benefit Match about why Sunday’s celebrations will make for every bit as difficult a day as his Iron career reaches closure ...
Having spent the summer mixing with new faces, the time has come to liaise with those of old.
While planning for the future remains Cliff Byrne’s priority as the defender grows accustomed to life away from Scunthorpe United, for 24 hours, at least, the past will take centre stage.
After a meticulous 10 weeks of contemplation and conversation, some of the most successful names in Iron history will converge on Glanford Park on Sunday, united, for a day, in honour of one man.
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There have been many highs – and a fair few lows – in the nine years since the Irishman first arrived at Scunthorpe, initially on loan, from Sunderland.
But while team-mates and managers have come and gone, Byrne remains a constant.
Terrace opinion on the extent of his ability and the decision to allow the 30-year-old to move on at the end of last season, differ from tongue to tongue. Not so a discussion of his commitment and dressing room presence.
It is why Sunday’s benefit game, arranged to laud such loyalty, will be as well attended by supporters as it will be by former colleagues.
To quote one of Byrne’s former bosses, Nigel Adkins, the marvellous man manager with the magically Midas touch, ‘failure to prepare, is preparing to fail’.
Few names in the defender’s vast contact book have been spared a phone call in the past couple of months. Even fewer have turned down the request to play a part on Sunday.
“It’s been tremendous, the response,” says the Irishman, who will represent both teams on Sunday – the promotion-winning side of 2009 and a Legends XI made up of players he has played with at Glanford Park.
“If I went through the names, I’d likely leave somebody out.
“I’ve tried to get as many players I’ve played with involved as I can, but I can only pick so many.
“It will be nice to see the lads who’ve kicked on to be successful – the high-profile strikers like Gary Hooper, Billy Sharp and Andy Keogh.
“They have individual talent and went on to do tremendous things, but only because of how well we did as a team and a football club.
“It will also be nice for the players to thank the fans for their support, because without the people of ‘little ol Scunthorpe’, those boys wouldn’t have had that stepping stone to get where they are today.
“Everyone has made the effort. I think there’s only three people that I’ve asked, that won’t be at the ground.
“Three or four more won’t be able to play, or play for long, because of restrictions put on them by their clubs, but they’re all still coming along.
“That’s a massive gesture in itself.”
Byrne says Sunday’s match, which follows Scunthorpe United’s Open Day, has come around ‘really quick’.
In his own words, it is a chance to say ‘goodbye’ given he did not know his destiny until after the campaign had finished.
“Nobody wanted it to finish like that, least of all me,” he says, of the failure to get the chance to say farewell.
Understandably, the emphasis at the weekend will be on celebration.
But having admitted to thinking about the Telegraph’s request for his top five Iron memories while featuring in a friendly for Preston North End, it is clear severing ties with Scunthorpe will make for a difficult day.
Byrne is unperturbed by the anticipated rush of emotion, even though, while keen to ensure the door at Glanford Park remains ajar for a return in some capacity, when it comes to his playing career, he expects it to be his final opportunity to be part of the home dressing room.
“People have said to me about it being an emotional day and while it’s hard to pre-empt and predict how I’ll feel, I’d imagine it will be,” he continues.
“I’ve spent a big chunk of my adult life at the club and have grown up a lot.
“From the day I signed to the day I left, I learned a lot.
“A lot of key moments in my life happened to me at the football club. I imagine they’ll come rushing back.
“You get into a routine. Nine years of coming into the same club and seeing the same faces.
It’s going to be different next year wherever I am.
“I don’t want to say it’s my final time to be there, but as it stands, that’s what Sunday will be.”
The visiting dressing room at Glanford Park is unlikely to be such a stranger.
After undergoing a ‘brain-frying’ part one of work towards his UEFA A Licence coaching badges, Byrne has been training with the Iron’s League One rivals Oldham Athletic and Preston North End this summer.
Unsurprisingly, the former of that duo saw enough to add Byrne to their ranks and he signed a one-year deal at Boundary Park on Friday, hours before starring for his new club in a 3-1 friendly win at Fleetwood Town.
Securing his future ahead of such a memorable weekend is timely. For despite previous achievements, his career, he is keen to strees, still carries unfinished business.
“I still believe I’ve got something to offer,” he adds.
“Everyone knows this year there have been plenty of players out of contract so things have maybe moved more in clubs’ favour.
“It’s nice to feel, and maybe it’s the wrong word, wanted, again. It’s nice to feel somebody sees you as part of their plans to be successful.
“It’s nice to have that bit between your teeth again and have something to play for.
“It is a new start for me. Very much so.
“I’ve had the opportunity over the summer to reflect and the kind words I’ve had from everyone, I’ll take with me.
“In football you do move on and you move on quickly, otherwise the game moves without you.
“It’s going to be strange driving by the club every morning. I better make sure I don’t get the indicator on and swing left just after KFC!
“Hey, it’s not something I’m used to, but a lot of players have had seven or eight different clubs in nine years.
“I’m just hitting it head on.”
Just like when it comes to his on field challenges, Cliff Byrne doesn’t know any other way.
Tickets for the Cliff Byrne Benefit Match are available from the Glanford Park ticket office, priced £10 adults, £5 seniors/under-16s and £2 under-10s. It will also be possible to pay on the gate.