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Aberdeen FC

Jimmy Calderwood 20 years on: Richie Byrne reveals boss’ efforts to help him see his son during Dons spell

Former Aberdeen full-back Byrne reveals how Calderwood was like a father figure to all the players and helped him behind the scenes at Pittodrie
Sean Wallace
Jimmy Calderwood and Richie Byrne. Image: Mhorvan Park/DC Thomson.
Jimmy Calderwood and Richie Byrne. Image: Mhorvan Park/DC Thomson.

Every Aberdeen player would “run through fire” for Jimmy Calderwood because he was an inspirational father figure, says Richie Byrne – revealing the boss even let the defender and his family live in his house.

Former Pittodrie full-back Byrne revealed Calderwood went the extra-mile to help him see his son after he signed for the Dons.

Calderwood initially brought Byrne to Dunfermline from Irish club Shamrock Rovers in 2003.

When he took on the Pittodrie managerial role, Calderwood moved to sign defender Byrne for a second time.

Byrne, 42. says Calderwood did all he could to help him regularly see his young son after the Granite City move.

And this also included arranging journeys for his son up from Dunfermline and setting up child care at Pittodrie when Byrne was training.

It was all to take pressure off the defender.

For Byrne, it is what Calderwood did behind the scenes to help players which inspired loyalty.

He said: “Jimmy was amazing for me.

“When you look at all the great managers they are all father figures, and that’s what Jimmy was.

“When I first came to Dunfermline, Jimmy let me stay at his house with my kid and partner at the time.

“I stayed there until I got my own house.

“When I moved to Aberdeen, I had a load of problems with seeing my kid and all that.

“Jimmy and Sandy Clark (assistant manager) were finding ways to get my kid up and take that pressure off me.

“Jimmy said if I didn’t have a childminder, bring him into the club and we’ll get the girls to look after him – so the girls at the club would look after my kid when I was training.

“It is all these things he did that people don’t hear about. And that’s why most of us would run through fire for Jimmy.

“He was brilliant.”

Jimmy Calderwood signs for Aberdeen in 2004. Image: DC Thomson.

‘It was the standards that Jimmy set’

Left-back Byrne was in Calderwood’s team who memorably qualified for the UEFA Cup group stages in the 2007-08 season.

That Aberdeen side knocked out Ukrainian club Dnipro to reach the groups.

Calderwood led Aberdeen in a Uefa Cup group alongside Atletico Madrid, FC Copenhagen, Panathinaikos and Lokomotiv Moscow.

In a glamour group clash, the Dons faced Atletico in Spain.

Byrne started for an Aberdeen side who lost 2-0 to an Atletico team boasting Diego Forlan, Luis Garcia and a young Sergio Aguero.

Aberdeen boss Jimmy Calderwood prepares to send on Scott Severin. against Inverness Caley Thistle. Image: SNS.

The Dons would go on qualify from the groups to set up a last-32 clash with German giants Bayern Munich.

After a sensational 2-2 draw at Pittodrie, the Reds lost 5-1 at the Allianz Arena.

Byrne reckons those legendary Euro nights stemmed from the seeds of Calderwood setting high standards in everything.

After Aberdeen’s European Cup Winner’s Cup final triumph Real Madrid legend and manager Alfredo Di Stefano praised the club’s family foundation.

Di Stefano said: “Aberdeen have what money can’t buy – a soul, a team spirit built in a family tradition.”

Calderwood was driven to keep those bedrock family foundations of the club going.

Aberdeen's Richie Byrne (right) battles with Rangers' Daniel Cousin. Image: PA
Aberdeen’s Richie Byrne (right) battles with Rangers’ Daniel Cousin. Image: PA.

Byrne said: “It was the standards that Jimmy set in everything.

“Jimmy insisted we all eat together.

“Another rule was after the game no phones and everyone had to stay in the players’ lounge for 90 minutes.

“So you had to sit and talk to everyone and their family.

“All the players knew everyone’s family.

“Jimmy got the whole place painted nice and then put in a table tennis for us as well.

“It is things like that that were important.”

‘At the end of season Jimmy made all the boys go to Spain together’

Such was Calderwood’s drive to build a sense of community at Pittodrie, he insisted every player went on a holiday to Spain at the end of the season.

Byrne insists those trips to the sun helped build unbreakable bonds.

Bonds from that Calderwood team remain still strong now to the extent he plays on the PlayStation with former team-mates Richard Foster and Gary Dempsey.

Byrne said: “Jimmy wanted us to go out together and have nights out as a group.

“If you didn’t go on the Christmas night out you were fined.

“At the end of season, Jimmy made all the boys go to Spain together.

“The whole squad had to go to Spain.

“When you’re away you could be rooming with someone you didn’t really know that well. Then after a few days, you think: ‘I really get on with him, he’s a great guy!’

“Even now myself, Richard Foster and Gary Dempsey play the PlayStation together.

“We use the PlayStation to have a group chat and reminisce about games.

“These are bonds for life and that’s what Jimmy made.”

‘It was a great team and that was down to Jimmy’

The camaraderie and unity forged by Calderwood off the pitch inevitably came to fruition in games.

For Byrne, that was clear when he finally ended six months of injury hell.

He returned to action in a 2-1 win at Kilmarnock on March 31, 2007 – his first game since a 3-1 loss at home to Hearts on September 24 the previous year.

Jimmy Calderwood took Aberdeen to play Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena while he was in charge at Pittodrie. Image: SNS.

Byrne said: “I will never forget a match we played when I just came back from my first hamstring injury.

“I had torn it off.

“Once it was torn off it was never put back on.

“My first game back was against Kilmarnock and I couldn’t run properly.

“I could run fast, but I couldn’t sprint.

“I had a tough game against Mo Sylla and we were fighting it out for the whole game.

“At one point he got by me.

“I  was in a tackle and turned to sprint to get to him, but I couldn’t – but Chris Clark came out of nowhere.

“He knew I was struggling and came from central midfield and absolutely clattered Sylla.

“They did their own work in that team and also extra, if they knew someone was struggling.

“They would come in and pull their weight for you.

“It was a great team. And that was down to Jimmy.”

Read more from our series on former Aberdeen FC manager Jimmy Calderwood: