Doncaster Rovers v Plymouth Argyle - Andy Butler, he’s one of our own

IN normal times, Andy Butler would have been greeted with a chorus of ‘He’s one of our own’ from Doncaster Rovers fans present in the Black Bank as he clapped home supporters before his first Saturday game in charge.

Andy Butler: First Saturday home game in charge. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX LTD

Unfortunately, that will have to wait with this weekend marking the first anniversary of fans being absent from stadiums due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

From Balby to Bentley and Askern to Auckley, those with the red and white of Rovers in their blood from across the town and beyond will be supporting Butler from their own homes instead.

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They include lifelong friends, whose pride will be palpable. Another special person will be in Butler’s thoughts as well and would also have been proud.

Neighbour: Rotherham United manager Paul Warne.

Butler’s best friend Richard ‘Ricky’ Hawcroft tragically passed away after falling ill while playing local football in July, 2015 at the age of 31.

The pair were inseparable after growing up at the same school and later embarking on their football dreams at Scunthorpe United while also playing together in Sunday League football.

Throughout his football career – even when he was playing for Walsall – Balby-born Butler has never moved away from his home town of Doncaster. Becoming manager will mean a lot to so many people, including the family of his great mate.

Butler said: “I still speak to his wife Louise. It was obviously really sad what happened. But I think about Ricky every day and he would be really proud and hopefully I will do him proud. He’s a footballing lad and Balby-born, like myself.

“All my friends are behind me and I love them to bits as they have always backed me in whatever has happened in my life and career and always been there and have never changed. You have your friends who you really cherish and they will never change.

“Once this Covid situation changes, I will sit down with them. We do Zoom meetings and it will be nice to see them again.

“It would be a privilege to manage the team with your parents and family and friends there. But I am enjoying every minute of it and they pay to watch the games on iFollow and they will give me the little criticisms, which I will take on board!”

Butler, 37, fondly recalls watching Rovers while stood on the Popular Side at their former Belle Vue home as a youngster – gaining admission for a penny.

Now managing his home-town club, he feels rich in the sense of honour. It is an opportunity he will not pass up.

He added: “I used to pay a penny for a ticket. It was an initiative from the schools to get the young kids in. You’d stand there in the stand singing ‘Zigger, Zagger, Zigger, Zagger Doncaster’ and I didn’t even know what it meant!

“You brought it (the experience) home and even though the game had finished, you’d get that buzz. And now I want people to feel a real buzz about what we are trying to do.

“To be fair, I even watched James Coppinger! (at Belle Vue). Being in the crowd with the fans, I loved that feeling.

“I also remember when Rovers used to train on the bottom of Balby Carr when I was about 12 or 13. They used to play on the field, although they had to get the horses off it first!”

Times have changed from those days in the mid-Nineties when Rovers were a pale shadow of the club they have turned into now and was very nearly brought to its knees during the reviled Ken Richardson era.

Mercifully, Rovers hit rock-bottom and found a way back and enjoyed some glory years in the Noughties, while moving to a new home and untapping the potential of the club who re-engaged with scores of Doncastrians in the process.

As a Doncaster lad, it is something which struck a chord with Butler, with Rovers having since become one of the most community-orientated clubs in the land, while winning awards for it.

Ultimately, it all feeds off a successful first team.

Butler continued: “Rovers have got a fantastic fanbase and it has a real community feel to it. It is a credit to the club and how they have approached and done things and the initiatives they have done with (Club Doncaster) the Foundation. I still jump on the Zoom meetings for Fit Rovers and Fit Rovers Ladies and it is fantastic.

“The club wants the fans to feel part of it and they are and we need every little bit of help we can get from them. This year has been tough, but the fans have still backed us and bought their season tickets and are paying for their iFollow passes and it is all appreciated and every single player would like to thank them.”

Just like Paul Heckingbottom and Paul Warne were handed the chance to secure the long-term positions at rival South Yorkshire clubs in their soul in Barnsley and Rotherham United a few years back, so Butler has been given his own special opportunity.

He is not short of mentors. He has spoken of the likes of Dean Smith, Russ Wilcox and Darren Ferguson as being influences in his career, but ultimately he will do it his way.

Across at Rotherham, the work of Warne – who lives in Tickhill, the neighbouring village to where Butler resides – probably will not be lost on him, especially.

Warne has forged a club in his own image in playing style and built core values and enjoyed success.

Rovers fans do not usually like talk of Rotherham. On this occasion, they may just make an exception.

Butler added: “It is his team and it has the full work ethic and I have full of admiration for what he has done at Rotherham.

“He lives down in the next village from where we live and I bump into him every now and again. He is an example of someone who represents Rotherham as a club and is an excellent example.”

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