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Monday 09 October 2006
What the Butler sees

Following the Hampton & Richmond defeat, Graham Stacey caught up with fans? favourite Richard Butler in a search of some post-match positives.

As a ying to the revolving door world of non-league football?s yang, Wimbledon striker Richard Butler is now in his third year at the Meadow of Kings ? making him pretty much the closest thing we have to a club stalwart at the Dons.

Having just been promoted from the CCL, the Dons entered the 2004-5 season in a new league and with a new management set-up. And with freescoring striker Kevin Cooper leaving the club, the side looked desperately short of firepower. But Dave Anderson wasted no time in signing up the man whom he saw as able to not only take Cooper?s place in the side, but also bring a new dimension to the Wimbledon attack.

Arriving from Ashford Town (the Middlesex variety) in return for a couple of pre-season friendlies, the then 19-year-old ?Little Buts? entered the fray as a somewhat unknown quantity. And when he failed to hit the target with any sort of regularity in his first dozen or so outings in the yellow and blue, Dons fans were beginning to question the new manager?s prowess in the transfer market.

By the end of the season, of course, words were being eaten as top goalscorer Butler walked off with an unprecedented four (that?s all four) Player of the Year awards ? as Players? Player, Fans? Player, Young Player and Junior Dons' Player of the Year. In fact, if there had been an All Round Good Egg of the Year award that particular term, the odds are that he?d have won that as well!

Fast forward to the present, and Butler is one of the side's longest serving players ? rivalled only by the likes of fellow class of 2004 members Steve Butler and Antony Howard. So who better to gauge just how the present squad is shaping up?

?As a team I think we?re doing alright,? he says. ?We?ve definitely got a good group of players here, probably the best I?ve known, and the attitude within the camp is spot on.

?But there are a lot of new faces here and it always takes time to settle as a side, though I think we?ve looked stronger and stronger with every game. We?ve got to make sure that today was a one-off. If you look at the first half I thought we were all over them really, but it just didn?t happen for us. Then there?s always a danger that, if you don?t take your chances when they come, the other side could nick the result. And that?s what happened.?

But while Butler admits that we can be our own worst enemies at times, he also believes that a rich vein of form could be just around the corner. He said: ?We didn?t have the best of starts last year. If you look back, I think it took us up until about Christmas to really get playing well. This year I think we?ve settled a bit better and perhaps we?re just due a little bit of luck. If we get a little lucky break I reckon that could be a turning point in our season and we could go on a run from there. That?s all it takes sometimes.?

Butler himself has suffered at the hands of fate in recent times; with the groin strain he suffered towards the end of last season continuing to cause him trouble. He said: ?It?s taking me three or four days to get over a game at the moment, which isn?t ideal. I can still feel it and it?s a case of having to manage the injury now. I don?t need another operation or anything, but I?m working with Mike [Rayner] and there are exercises I have to do before and after a game. I came back quite quickly last season and maybe that?s caught up with me a bit.?

Since first suffering the injury, Butler has seen several striking partners come and go. Kiwi international Shane Smeltz left for Conference side Halifax, while Roscoe Dsane and Darren Grieves arrived, with Paul Barnes having been signed towards the back end of last year. So, what does Buts think of his new attacking partners? He said: ?We?ve got several different types of players who give us different options, and that?s got to be a good thing. Grievsy obviously is great for knockdowns and gives you lots of flicks to run onto. When he plays you have a target to aim for. When Roscoe plays it?s more of a case of giving him ball to feet. To be honest, it doesn?t bother me who I play alongside, as long as I play!?

But, further than merely playing, Butler is coy about his personal targets for the year. He said: ?I honestly don?t have any sort of target in terms of goals. It?s just not something I?ve ever done. I want a good goalscoring record, of course, but I don?t set myself a number - it?s not superstition or anything, just something I?ve never really thought about too much.

?In terms of the team, I think we have to be looking at promotion, realistically. If we don?t get promotion, we?ll be very disappointed. We came close last season and I hope we can learn from that and go one better this time around.?

Picture: Richard in typical action against Oxhey.Butler?s contract runs out at the end of the current season, and rumours abound that he?ll be playing at a higher level next season even if Wimbledon make the step up. But Butler ? who plys his trade as a carpenter when he?s not turning out in the yellow and blue - says he?s still as committed to the Dons cause as ever. He said: ?I think it?s every young boys dream to be a professional footballer, and I think most people offered that opportunity would take it. But that?s not down to me. All I really care about is enjoying my football and, at the moment, I?m doing that. I?ve got to get my head down and keep improving as a player, and do as well as I can here. Then whatever happens, happens. I?d love us to rise through the leagues and for me to be here as we do.

?But going professional is a big step. You see how many conference sides fall into financial difficulties, and it can?t happen overnight. It costs a lot of money to go full-time and you often have to change the whole team. Some players have careers outside of football and just can?t afford to go full-time ? so the clubs have to make it worthwhile or look elsewhere. That?s not cheap and it means breaking the side up.

?To be honest, I don?t know enough about it to know whether it?s affordable or not, but it would be great to think that we could do it. We certainly seem to be going in the right direction.?

Given how he has risen to every challenge before him up to this point, it seems a good bet that the 21-year-old would take the Conference South in his stride. One thing's for sure; Butler wouldn?t melt!