Since its inception, Notts Alumni has provided an interesting look at the careers of renowned football players who have at some point worn the black and white stripes of Notts County.
Sometimes they’ve covered professionals who began or flourished at Meadow Lane and are currently still active (Kelvin Wilson, Kasper Schmeichel). Other examples regard veteran players who are in their professional twilights or even semi-retired (Mike Edwards), recent retirees (Mark Draper, Michael Johnson) or even legends from yesteryear (Tony Hateley, Raddy Avramovic, Les Bradd).
Today's piece is provided for you with a heavy heart, because it relates to a former Notts player who is sadly no longer with us.
Richard Butcher was born on the 22nd January 1981 in Northampton, and came through the youth ranks of his local club Northampton Town.
Though he was promoted to the senior team in 1999, the manager who originally put him forward, Ian Atkins, was dismissed and replaced with Kevin Wilson early on in Butcher’s maiden season. The new head coach never picked him, and so the young midfielder left without making a single appearance.
Staying in Northamptonshire, he signed for Brian Talbot’s Rushden and Diamonds, then of the Football Conference, but again, didn’t get a game, and so moved clubs again, this time to Kettering Town of the Southern League.
Finally, he was gifted regular first-team football with the Poppies, who had been relegated from the Conference the season prior, and helped them back into the highest level of non-league football thanks to his 13 goals in 44 appearances, a great tally for a midfielder.
His next move was a year later to fourth-tier Lincoln City, joining up with Keith Alexander’s Imps in November 2002. He helped the club reach three successive play-offs between 2003 and 2005, but sadly, Lincoln weren’t able to make the step up to the Second Division. All in all, Butcher made 104 appearances for the Midlands club, scoring a modest 11 goals in that time.
Despite the Imps not being promoted, Butcher made the step up the leagues anyway, as he signed for third-tier Oldham Athletic. His time with the Latics was mixed, playing the majority of games in the 2005-06 season, but being sent on loan for a month back to Lincoln City, and leaving the Greater Manchester club at the end of the season.
He reunited with Keith Alexander at Peterborough United; again, he played part in most of the team’s games in 2006-07 (43), and again he left after only one season.
Then came his spell with Notts County. Snapped up by Ian McParland at the start of the 2007-08 season, the club had just come off a relatively decent season, finishing in 13th place in League Two and claiming three League Cup scalps in Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Southampton, and were looking to build on this after very nearly going extinct.
As it was, the next two years would prove to be the most testing of the club’s history from a footballing point of view. They survived the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons by the skin of their teeth. However, Butch was a shining light in a pit of darkness. He was a great leader, physical and commanding, knew how to control the game, and helped out in defence.
And on top of all that, he also scored some brilliant goals, and frequently; his tally of 18 goals in 80 games, or roughly a goal every four games, is better than some of the strikers we’ve had at the Lane in recent years. Were it not for him, we may be talking about a club that used to be called Notts County, which was relegated from the Football League and eventually wound up.
It’s a shame that Butcher didn’t stick around for the silly season of Sol, Sven and Schmeichel, but he made the decision to return to his beloved Lincoln in the close season, signing a two-year deal at Sincil Bank. Sadly, as it often had been in his career, changes took place at the club, which destabilised things.
This time round, manager Peter Jackson, who signed him, was replaced by former Blackburn Rovers striker Chris Sutton in the hotseat, and the Premier League winner seldom gave Butcher a game. Once again, it was time to up sticks and head off.
Butcher’s final club, his eighth in 11 years, was Macclesfield Town. He signed for the Cheshire club in February 2010. Sadly, tragedy struck the Silkmen and the town when manager Keith Alexander, who had been such an influential figure in Butcher’s life and who had signed him several times, including for his most recent club, suddenly died of a brain aneurysm a month later.
The midfielder signed a two-year deal with Macclesfield in May 2010 after the expiry of his Lincoln contract, joining up with the Silkmen squad as a bona fide permanent player in July.
His final game was on the 3rd January 2011 against Rotherham United.
Just a week later, Richard Butcher passed away at his home in Swinton, Salford. He was 29 years old.
The death shocked the footballing community. Tributes came pouring in from people within the English game, as they were forced to come to terms with a second premature loss in the space of a year.
The next match for Macclesfield Town, an away game at Burton Albion originally scheduled for the 15th January, was postponed in respect to Butcher and Macclesfield Town. Butcher's shirt number, 21, was retired as a mark of respect.
On the 22nd January 2011, at Macclesfield's next home game, a minute's applause was heard before the game and 30 white doves were released, to represent Butcher's 30th birthday.
Family, friends and fans paid tribute to Butcher at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank stadium on the 2nd February 2011. A private service was then held at Lincoln Crematorium service following the thanksgiving service at the stadium.
A coroner's verdict delivered in June 2011 determined Butcher's death to have been caused by the heart condition cardiac arrhythmia. Similar cardiac issues have claimed the lives of a number of professional football players over the years, sometimes on the pitch during a game.
A year on, bronze memorial plaques featuring Butcher and Alexander arm in arm were unveiled at Sincil Bank and Moss Rose.
It’s been seven years this week since Richard Butcher passed away at the age of 29, but he will always be remembered by all who knew him or knew of him, as a Notts County player, as a professional footballer, and as a great person.
Thanks for the memories Butch!