FEATURE: The Butler who loves serving his hometown
There's a popular perception that footballers have an easy life.
Train for a couple of hours a day, feet up by mid-afternoon. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.
Well, that might be the case for a fair percentage of professionals in the modern game - but certainly not Doncaster Rovers defender Andy Butler.
Butler, 33, has thrown himself into all manner of extra-curricular activities at Rovers since he joined permanently from Sheffield United two years ago - very quickly becoming a proud ambassador of his hometown club’s community and family ethos.
And his hectic schedule actually takes some believing.
Because when you watch Butler on a Saturday afternoon at the Keepmoat he’s probably already come from a coaching session with Tickhill Juniors Under 8s, the local club who include his eight-year-old son Ashton among their ranks.
On a Sunday morning, regardless of where he has played the day before, he’s then off to coach Rovers’ under-12s, who he also takes on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
Throw in the school and community visits for good measure, as well as his unwavering support for the charity and educational work of Club Doncaster Foundation, and Butler is a busy lad.
Oh, and Thursdays are for swimming with his boy. It’s a good job he has an understanding other half.
“She understands I’ve got to do it,” he smiles.
“Obviously things are different from playing in the Premier League. You don’t just step straight into a villa in Spain when you stop playing.
“You have to work [when you stop playing] and that’s something I’m keen to do.
“I try and help the club’s Foundation as much as I can and hopefully that might be something I step into after football. It’s something I’m looking at.
“I’m also looking at doing a teaching course. It’s just about getting as many different strings to your bow as possible.”
Butler’s sterling work behind the scenes saw him nominated for PFA Player In The Community at last year’s Football League Awards, missing out on the prize to former Rovers man George Friend. It is hoped this year he can go one step further.
“I enjoy helping the club out,” said Butler, when asked why he invests so much of his free time into Rovers.
“They’ve got some really good staff, at the Foundation and throughout the club, they’re really friendly and always willing to help you whenever they can. They’ve been brilliant to me.
“Coming from Doncaster myself, I like doing things and it promotes the club’s family theme and also gets youngsters into football. So if it helps the club and helps get a few more fans in, it’s a good thing to do.
“I really enjoy doing it, and I like to keep myself active.
“I’ve done a few courses with the PFA and then you think to yourself ‘what else can I do?’
“I know people think we work for two hours a day but we do a lot of work outside of that.
“You do get a little bit of free time and you have to balance that with your kids.
“I love promoting the club because it helps everyone and hopefully generates future fans.
“Every club I’ve been at I’ve always tried to help, but it’s extra special when it’s your own club.
“People start sending me pictures of my face on the back of a bus, or in Frenchgate, which is a little bit weird!
“But I don’t do it because of that, I do it because I enjoy promoting the club’s way of thinking.”
The coaching aspect of Butler’s work has taken on more prominence over recent months.
A qualified referee, the former Scunthorpe United, Huddersfield Town and Walsall centre back has put his officiating on the back-burner to concentrate on his coaching badges.
“I’ve been wanting to get into coaching and it’s something I spoke to Ben [Mawson - head of coaching] and Kieran [Scarff - academy manager] about last year,” he said.
“I went down when I could and just really got involved with them.
“They asked me if I wanted to do an age group with a guy called Shane Pallet and it’s gone from there. The under-12s are a really good age group.
“We try and instil good footballing principles into them, and that comes from the gaffer [Darren Ferguson]. He’s spent a bit of time with the kids and we’re trying to instil what he wants to do all the way through the age groups.
“It’s been brilliant for all the coaches to learn from the manager. He’s the most professional manager I’ve ever worked with.
“And the kids do try and play football. I wish I had that ability when I was 12! I didn’t have any of this coming through academies, I was a Sunday League player until I was 15 or 16.
“I enjoy watching the kids develop, and the reaction you get from them by being there is great,” he added.
“It’s not because I have to do it, I want to do it.
“It’s not a chore.
“And if one day one of those lads makes it into the first team, it’s job done.”
Focused on the ongoing promotion push, Butler is also keen to champion a new mentoring system - which will see the first team pros all take a designated youth team player under their wing - in the dressing room. He clearly embraces the club’s culture - and can see some encouraging signs too.
“Relegation can lead to clubs falling apart. But I think this one’s really took the challenge on and kicked on,” he said.
“With the staff here, and the drive that they’ve got to get into the community, it’s starting to have an effect.
“I’ve seen no end of young kids now walking round in Rovers shirts and that never really happened a while back. Even though we’ve dropped into League Two, I always see shirts round Tickhill and Harworth.
“It’s just nice to be able to play a small part in that, and try and help the club moving forward.”
WHAT THEY SAID...
Gavin Baldwin (Club Doncaster chief executive): “We feel that Andy perfectly encapsulates what we want Doncaster Rovers to be – a force for good at the centre of our community.
“Time and time again he helps us raise the bar with community engagement, and this has a real knock-on effect on the rest of the club and helping us inspire other staff to question what little extras they can do to help others.”
Darren Ferguson (Doncaster Rovers manager): “I made Buts club captain because he has complete respect of the dressing room.
“You can see his leadership whether on the pitch, at the training ground, around the stadium or with supporters.
“He has a great rapport with everyone and is motivated to be the best he can be in all aspects of his life.
“He is a great example to our younger players of the all-round focus and determination needed to be a top player and top person.”
Harry Middleton (Doncaster Rovers midfielder): “Buts is a driving force in the dressing room, and someone I really look up to.
“As club captain he shows us every day how we need to lead our lives to succeed as a footballer, and his commitment to help his hometown is something I can really appreciate.
“As another local lad, he helps inspire me to help improve those who don’t have the privileges we enjoy.”
Luke Thornhill (Club Doncaster media manager): “Andy is a natural leader who always puts his hand up for player visits and goes above and beyond what is required.
“He stays longer than is required, then organises follow-up visits and always asks for updates afterwards.
“He doesn’t do it for the attention, but because he feels he can make a difference.
“He is a great ambassador for Rovers and role model to current and aspiring professional footballers.”