Andy Butler revelling in his coaching baptism at Doncaster Rovers Belles

AS BAPTISMS for a new manager go, it was a particularly sobering one for Andy Butler.

Andy Butler talks to the Rovers Belles players. (Pictures: Heather King/Doncaster Belles)

In reality, it proved the darkness before the dawn.

Amid the post-match debrief of his first game in charge of Doncaster Rovers Belles – a 12-0 County Cup semi-final shellacking at the hands of Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium – Butler looked into the whites of his players’ eyes and detected desire and a willingness to learn in defeat.

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The following weekend in the FA Women’s National League Division One Midlands, Belles beat Burton Albion 2-0 and followed up with a 5-0 victory over Solihull Moors.

Andy Butler talks to the players during the defeat to Huddersfield in the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA County Cup. (Pictures: Heather King/Doncaster Belles)

Management was fun again for Doncaster-born Butler, who combines his duties with the Belles with midweek academy coaching sessions at former club Doncaster Rovers. Not to mention his professional playing commitments with League Two side Scunthorpe United.

As to whether he has got the managerial bug, the 36-year-old answers in the affirmative.

The former Rovers captain told The Yorkshire Post: “In our first game against Huddersfield, we’d had one training session and lost 12-0.

“They were a few divisions higher up, but I learned a lot from that and it is going in the right direction.

Andy Butler in his Doncaster Rovers days (PIcture: PA)

“We are in Midlands Division One, so it is a lower league. We are improving and although nothing will probably happen this year, we will build a platform for next year if we keep a good core of players together.

“I have been impressed by the overall work-rate and how much they want to learn and improve. They really listen to you.

“They have taken it on and we did a Power Point presentation about what we demand and who we are. I want them to enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy playing football, there is no point playing.

“The key thing is to stay up in the league and right now I am looking at the teams above us and not below and want to close the gap.”

Andy Butler on the sidelines for the Belles. (Pictures: Heather King/Doncaster Belles)

As a Doncastrian, Butler, who hails from the suburb of Balby, is appreciative of the fact that the Belles have been part of the town’s sporting landscape for many years – with the club founded over half a century ago in 1969 as the Belle Vue Belles.

Among those who follow sport on the periphery across the country, the first words which crop up when talk turns to Doncaster’s association with sport often refer to the Belles 
and not the St Leger or Kevin Keegan.

The Belles – part of the Club Doncaster sporting umbrella – may have endured difficult times of late, but you cannot keep a good name down.

Now in the fourth tier of the women’s game as opposed to dining at the top table in their heyday, the club face a long road back, but they are still fighting.

Butler, whose Belles side play home games at Rossington Main FC, said: “The overall reaction has been really good from Rovers and Belles fans. Hopefully, we can get a few more going and there has been forty odd more fans in from one game to another.

“We average just about 200. It doesn’t sound a lot at the moment, but we know that more will come if we are winning games and getting higher up the divisions.

“There is plenty of interest. There is one guy who travels from Scotland to watch the Belles play.

“It is something like a nine-hour journey for him to watch the game – he put on Twitter that he has to get on three or four trains to get to see the Belles.”

On being handed his managerial break at Belles, he continued: “Zoey (Shaw), who was in charge before gave me a quick ring and asked if I would be interested.

“She knew I was doing my (coaching) badges and everything and said that as I knew the place, would I be interested in having a go at it. I jumped at it, it was a no-brainer.

“It gets me managerial experience and it is something I can put my stamp on.

“I looked at refereeing and that is probably not viable. So I went down the coaching route. Rovers academy has been brilliant for me and I have learned a lot from that, so I am chomping at the bit to have a go at management.

“John Buckley was in charge (at Belles) and spoke highly of them and how well the women’s game is coming on.

“You saw that in the World Cup and with the TV rights that the game is really growing and it is getting better.”

Butler certainly has not been short of managerial influences in a playing career which began in the early noughties.

The likes of Nigel Adkins, Darren Ferguson and Dean Smith have all been particular coaching influences in their own way, but mastering the precious art of managing individuals ultimately comes from within.

“You learn from good and bad bits from managers. The bad bits, you don’t follow on and do,” Butler observed.

“I learnt from my youth team manager Paul Wilson about the value of hard work and also learned from Russ Wilcox, who was my first reserve team manager at Scunthorpe and is now first-team manager.

“With Nigel Adkins, it was all about positivity while Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly were both unbelievable coaches. I also took a lot from the attention to detail of Darren Ferguson and Gavin Strachan.

“You pick bits from each individual manager and hopefully I can add my own stamp at the same time.

“The thing I am learning now is about managing players. With 11 starting and only five on the bench, some players miss out and are not involved, so you speak to them.

“As in my (playing) profession, I’d like managers to talk to me about what I can do better if I wasn’t in. It is something new for me and all part of the experience and hopefully it will take me on in my career.”

Time-management, given his work and family commitments which ensure that he never has much peace, are another key facet for Butler.

Constantly busy he may be, but you get the impression he would not have it any other way.

He added: “Someone the other day said: ‘ You must get a lot of time.’ I replied: ‘I don’t’.

“I get back from football and do the school run and am then taking the kids swimming or to a football thing.

“My little boy is playing for Tickhill Juniors and my little girl does athletics.

“So it is a full-on and then I get back and I am coaching.

“But I took it on and enjoy doing it. If I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t. I have got an understanding family as well and my wife is really understanding that I have to do this for certain parts of my career.

“Ideally I want to keep playing. Even at 36, I look at James Coppinger who is 52 now I think!

“But seriously, I look at him and think: ‘You know what if he can do it, what an inspiration for others’.”