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With all the commotion and excitement currently engulfing the Stadium of Light it would be easy to forget that Sunderland have a game to prepare for this weekend. Where’s an International break when you need one? This Sunday the Sky cameras are focused on Molineaux as SAFC make the trip to the midlands to take on Mick McCarthy’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, possibly with a new manager at the helm?
You know the script by now, each week we take a look at a “Cult Hero” (often just someone who was well liked, lets not get too literal) who has represented both sides. This week’s selection is a Roker Report favourite who we’ve discussed on the Podcast.
Well, when I say discussed, we kind of debated the merits of our former centre back providing the goods for an imaginative St. Pauli-esq “Sausage Train” at the Stadium of Light. Well worth a google search if you’ve never heard of the German side’s ingenious addition to their ground.
If you don’t listen, shame on you, that’s the kind of magic you are missing out on!
So without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, a warm welcome please for Paul Butler!
The powerful centre back’s footballing career started at Rochdale in 1991 where he quickly became an integral part of their setup despite a disastrous start in his early days at the club which saw him enter the
fray as a substitute and within minutes give away a penalty before being stretchered off injured. Butler also overcame some accusations from sections of the crowd that he was being carried by his defensive partner Alan Reeves. Paul quickly dispelled such claims following Reeves’ departure and went on to become an ever dependable, reliable defender.
Bury were quick to snap up Paul following his impressive form for £100,000 and Butler continued to develop as a player and was instrumental in helping his new side rise to the Second Division. The defender spent two years with Bury before Peter Reid paid one million pounds for his services in the summer of 1998.
The big, burly defender was a key part of the Championship winning side in his first season on Wearside. Whilst his distribution of the ball may not have been the finest the archetypal no-nonsense defender had great timing of his tackles and was also decent in the air. I’m sure I am not alone in holding the back line of the 1998/99 alumni in such high regard and Butler was an absolute rock that year playing alongside the likes of Chris Makin, Andy Melville and Michael Gray. The Pie Man’s form also earned him a place in the PFA Football League First Division Team of the Year, which unsurprisingly featured a number of other Sunderland stars including, Gray, Clark, Johnston and Quinn.
Butler’s form that season also saw him earn a call up to the Ireland side for a friendly against the Czech Republic in February of 2000 with Mick McCarthy tipping him to be the potential star his Ireland side was missing. Yes, this really did happen, the Mancunian defender was eligible via his Irish wife. What should have been a moment that Butler could have taken great pride from, a story to tell his Grandchildren turned into a nightmare, thanks to perennial SAFC transfer target, according to the rumour mill, Jan Koller. The giant
striker made mincemeat out of poor Paul and grabbed both goals as the Czech Republic went in 2-0 up at half time and Butler was swiftly substituted. Unfortunately, much like an elephant, the Irish never seem to forget and Paul is often named in such illustrious lists as “The worst Ireland XI… EVER”.
Following promotion to the Premier League Sunderland strengthened their backline and Butler found himself well down the pecking order behind the likes of Stanislav Varga, Emerson Thome and Jody Craddock, who funnily enough have also all starred as part of this feature.
Wolves gaffer Colin Lee approached Peter Reid in the hope of agreeing to Paul joining his struggling side, who had no fewer than fifteen players out injured at the time and managed to fight off competition from Bolton Wanderers who had also declared an interest in a loan deal for the strong centre back. Sunderland agreed to the deal with Wolves in late 2000 and Butler did enough to convince the incoming Dave Jones he was worth a million quid in January of 2001 following just five games.
Butler’s first season with the midlands side would see him end up on the treatment table requiring surgery on a groin injury but he was to come back stronger the following term earning the Captain’s arm band and leading the side to the play-offs where they lost out to Norwich. The following year however saw Wolves avenge that play-off heartbreak with a 3-0 victory over Sheffield United in the corresponding fixture.
Paul would again be an ever present for Wolves’ first season back in the Premier League but grew frustrated at the club’s stance of not opening contract negotiation until the club’s fate that year was sealed. Butler was not alone with both Steffen Iversen and Alex Rae also being kept in the dark. Ultimately once talks were opened Butler decided to jump ship and joined fellow-relegated side Leeds United in the summer of 2004.
Whilst Paul’s stay on Wearside was a relatively short one his contribution to the side which romped to the Championship that year cannot be understated and will always be affectionately remembered, so raise your glass and the pastry of your choosing for Paul!
Don't forget that the latest Roker Report Podcast was released this morning, recorded before Steve's departure but because we're git class we knew he was going and discussed his time with the club, possible replacements and all that jazz - check it out lovers.