As the son of former England international John ‘Budgie’ Byrne, Mark Byrne always had big shoes to try and fill, but the former Hellenic and Cape Town Spurs footballer and coach carved his own path and wrote his own history.
Byrne, who died of cancer aged 59 on Sunday, was among only a handful of professional players to have competed in the South African top-flight across three decades.
He debuted under his father while still a schoolboy for Hellenic in 1979, against Arcadia at Green Point Stadium, and played for the club for most of his career, save for a stint at Cape Town Spurs in 1988 before leaving the paid ranks in 1993. He also had trials in England.
He was also a top-flight coach at Hellenic and Santos and part of a unique distinction in the 1998/99 season when his father was in charge at Cape Town Spurs, he at Hellenic, elder brother David at Santos, and brother-in-law Gavin Hunt at Seven Stars.
Byrne made a quick transition from player to coach at tiny Camps Bay, the Cape Town amateur club who he led against all odds to the end-of-season promotion playoffs, and within touching distance of a spot in the first division in 1994.
He was Hellenic coach in 1998 and had a second spell there in 2001, replacing Hunt. He was also briefly Santos’ coach in the 2004/05 season.
Byrne also had the unique distinction of working for Italian Serie A club Udinese on the staff of coach Luciano Spalletti. He served as the club's youth director for two years, with his appointment a remarkable achievement for South African soccer in that Byrne was asked by Udinese to head up their youth section; more specifically to turn it around and bring it in line with modern international trends.
“My main focus was to put in place plans and programmes which would see an Italian player coming through the junior ranks and into the first team squad,” Byrne said at the time.
Byrne was also a successful entrepreneur with his clothing factory, but sold it in recent years to concentrate on reviving Hellenic and producing young players. He was a regular in the stands at matches in Cape Town, scouting for talent.
By Mark Gleeson Courtesy of MTN FC