TODAY’S South Yorkshire derby will take on a particular emotional resonance for Andy Butler.
Two rivals separated by just 15 miles on the A635 may collide and joust for bragging rights in The Pitmen’s Derby, but a brief pause in hostilities will see both remember a person very dear to the Doncaster defender who tragically passed away in the summer.
Richard ‘Ricky’ Hawcroft was Butler’s best mate, with the 31-year-old former Scunthorpe United youth player losing his life after falling ill during a pre-season friendly game for his side FC Real Bridge and Balby Rovers.
The pair were inseparable after growing up at the same school and later embarking on their football dreams at Iron while also playing together in Sunday League football.
Butler and friends and family of Ricky will celebrate his life with a minute’s applause in the eighth minute of today’s game – with eight being the number he wore as a player.
Butler is thankful for the club’s support in the venture, with Ricky’s daughter Brooke to be today’s matchday mascot, leading the teams out onto the pitch at kick off.
A collection for Yorkshire Air Ambulance, who attended to Ricky after he collapsed, will also be made at the game.
Butler, who was best man at Ricky’s wedding and now has a tattoo in memory of his best friend, said: “He was a Doncaster lad and a best friend to me. I enjoyed my time with Ricky and want to remember him.
“He just loved football and played in the Sunday League every weekend and he was close to me. He was a big football fan.
“It will be an emotional day. I have got friends and family who will be there for me at the game.
“I can’t thank the club enough and it means a lot to me and, hopefully, it will get a good reception.
“They didn’t have to put in on. But they just showed what a family club this is.
“The minute’s applause is in the eighth minute and hopefully both sets of supporters will join in.”
While no doubt aware and appreciative of the applause that will take place in memory of Hawcroft, Butler will very much be focused on events on the pitch, with he and his Rovers team-mates aware of the desperate need for three points.
Rovers are without a win in six games and for a 20-minute spell during Tuesday night’s 2-2 home draw with Swindon Town, they actually found themselves bottom of the table. For a club who were a Championship side back in 2013-14, it represents something of an acute embarrassment.
Just ask Butler, although despite the club’s lowly status, he has scoffed at talk that they are in a dogfight at the foot of the League One table.
He said: “People keep saying we are in a relegation fight. But no, we are not. The message is we will get there.
“As a player, you don’t want to be down there; we know we have got to do better.
“With the players we have got, we should be higher.
“The gaffer is starting to put things across that he wants to do and, on Tuesday, you could see it was going in the right direction. I’m a little bit embarrassed to be down there. But it’s not through lack of effort and little decisions have gone against us.
“That can mount up, but we have players in that dressing room to change it around and it will change around.”
When you are without a win in six, little things invariably go against you as they did on Tuesday with a late deflected header from Swindon’s Jon Obika ensuring that a cherished three-point haul fell from Rovers’ grasp.
But Butler is accentuating the positives following a much-improved second-half display.
He added: “I thought we should have won.
“Their first goal was a bad mistake and me and Aaron (Taylor-Sinclair) should have done better and sometimes when you are 1-0 down, you give up. But after a five-minute spell when we found it tough, I thought the lads were brilliant.
“We pressed and harried and forced them into mistakes and the amount of balls we won in their half was unbelievable. It was just a bit of luck in the last minute; some days that header would have gone wide and, on other days, it goes in.
“But there were lots of positives. No-one is down; there are 30-odd games to go.
“Once we get one win, I think the belief will come back to our play. We get that win under our belts and we will keep climbing.
“We all need that little boost and there’s no better place to get it in a derby against Barnsley.”
With Rob Jones still awaiting his first win of his interim-spell in charge and the Rovers hierarchy likely to have reached a resolution in their manager search by the time the club return to league action after the international break on October 17, Butler admits he and his team-mates are also desperate to boost the caretaker boss’s claims.
Jones officially threw his hat into the ring to be Paul Dickov’s successor late last week and while results have not massively enhanced his CV, his impact with Rovers players has certainly gone down well and they are all rooting for him, according to Butler.
He said: “Rob has said openly that he wants the job and us as players will back him all the way.
“We are pleased with what he has done and we want to win as he has put a lot of work in and he deserves it.
“He is a passionate person and enjoys his job. And if that rubs off on us, it’s good for everyone.
“I didn’t play alongside him as he was injured for a while. But he came back in at Leyton Orient (last season) and scored the winner. That’s what Rob is about.
“He drives you and gets that extra 10 per cent out of you.
“He is what every player strives to be; a leader who tries and motivates his team-mates.”