It had been something more at home in a soap opera – the will they/won’t they transfer saga of a generation... John Byrne to Sunderland was one of those that seemed like it would always happen, but never quite got there. That was, until October 1991.
Having tried to sign Byrne upon his arrival at Roker Park, again the previous summer to replace Eric Gates, and one or two other times in between, Denis Smith got his man at the third time of asking – and this transfer reached, according to newspaper reports, almost ‘farcical’ levels – including Smith waiting for over seven hours for a phone call from Brighton manager Barry Lloyd, who was upset about the player’s move, to confirm the deal.
We have agreed terms with both the club and the player, but he promised to speak to Barry Lloyd before he signed.
The forms have been completed by Brighton. All we need is Byrne’s signature, but we waiting from 9am for a call from Lloyd which never came.
We tried to get hold of him all day, but he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.
Still the deal, which had been financed by the sale of Gabbiadini to Palace the month prior, was completed – £225,000 heading to the Goldstone Ground in exchange for the services of the skilful forward. It was one of a number of deals going on as Smith tried to reshape the side – Hull’s Andy Payton was also a target, as was North Ferriby’s Dean Windass, who’d spent time on trial at the club, but hadn’t been able to get into the reserve side due to the amount of contracted players who needed game time. Finnish striker Kimmo Tarkio was also on trial with the club.
Thomas Hauser was looking for an exit, meanwhile, Smith turning down Stoke manager Lou Macari’s £100,000 bid for the German striker.
The move for Byrne had been on the cards since the previous home game three weeks earlier against Brighton. Byrne – who alongside his teammates wore outfits proclaiming NOBO and featured striped shorts to complement their striped shirts – had opened the scoring after only four minutes with a lovely strike past Tony Norman.
On that occasion, Sunderland – playing their first home game since Marco’s departure, and fielding Anton Rogan for a debut and on-loan Peter Beagrie for a home debut – emerged victorious in an entertaining game, winning 4-2 including a Beagrie goal, which prompted a double somersault celebration, to the surprise of some of his onrushing teammates.
After the game, Smith’s interest in Byrne was made known and, on completion of the two-and-a-half year deal, Byrne said:
This is probably to fourth time Denis Smith has tried to sign me for Sunderland. I always had a feeling that sooner or later I would be playing for him.
I have played for QPR but I would always say that Sunderland are a bigger club. I’ve always wanted to play on a big stage.
Byrne made his Roker Park bow against Bristol Rovers a couple of days later, and in the build up Smith was excited about the potential of a front three consisting of Byrne, Beagrie – for whom he was intending to complete a permanent deal – and Brady.
I’m looking forward to seeing Byrne and Beagrie link up. Brady too – I’ve been pleased with Kieron recently. He’s worked hard, his weight is right down and he looks sharp and busy.
Perhaps he is growing up, He’s 20 now, which is still young, but he’s been in the picture for a few years, Now he’s in the first team again, and hopefully it will be for a long time.
Sunderland and Bristol Rovers played out a 1-1 draw, with Byrne, Brady and Beagrie all showing nice touches but unable to make a real breakthrough after Gary Bennett had equalised Andy Reece’s early opener.
Sunderland: Norman, Kay, Bennett (Hauser 69), Ball, Rogan; Atkinson, Bracewell, Armstrong; Brady (Pascoe 79), Byrne, Beagrie.
“While Byrne and Beagrie in particular showed some delightful individual touches and an appetite for work, the unit [Byrne, Beagrie, Brady] as a whole has not yet gelled,” reported The Journal’s Paul Nunn after the game:
Too often, Beagrie did the spade work, then crossed too deep or too late. And too often Byrne made superb runs off the ball which went unheeded by his teammates, or made deft layoffs that players had not anticipated.
If Brady – as frustrating as ever on Saturday – does justice to his undoubted talent. and Smith can complete the capture of Beagrie this week, Roker can turn the corner on their disappointing seasonal opening.
Unfortunately, that was the last we saw of Beagrie in a Sunderland shirt and the short-lived B-Force was no more. Despite being – allegedly – available for around £400,000 a deal couldn’t be agreed and Beagrie headed back to Goodison Park.
Brady missed out on the 13 altogether the following week, in a 3-1 victory over Watford which saw Byrne net twice past a young – and very erratic – David James.
The arrival of £900,000 Don Goodman a few weeks later put paid to the B-Force reuniting, and the prospect of what was potential the most exciting forward line up of a generation – or longer – was erased before it even began.