Kettering Town legend Craig Norman has paid an emotional tribute to former team-mate Richard Butcher following his tragic death.
Butcher, who had been playing for Macclesfield Town in npower League Two, passed away at his home in Manchester overnight on Sunday at the age of just 29.
His football journey started in Northamptonshire and his career took off when he left Rushden & Diamonds, where he didn’t make a first-team appearance, to join Carl Shutt’s Kettering side in October 2001.
He went on to make a massive impact at Rockingham Road and scored a number of crucial goals as Shutt’s team claimed the Southern League Premier Division title thanks a dramatic final-day win at Tiverton Town.
Butcher left Kettering for Lincoln City during the following season having scored 14 goals in 58 appearances and he went on to forge a solid career in the Football League with the Imps and Notts County.
Norman was also a key player in that famous Poppies team and he struggled to find the words to describe his former team-mate.
“I was, like everyone else, shocked when I heard and I am still in shock now,” Norman said.
“Butch was the sort of player who would get goals and he had a great engine. He was a box-to-box midfielder who would have been a nightmare to mark.
“That was obviously a great season but that was mainly because it was a good bunch of lads and Butch was a big part of that.
“I spoke to Lee Howarth on Monday night and we will certainly be paying our respects when the time comes and I am sure the other boys will do that as well.
“I just can’t believe what has happened and my heart goes out to his family.
“They were the nicest people you could ever want to meet.
“We spoke to his mum on New Year’s Eve because we are still close and they doted on him. It’s tragic.
“I can’t speak highly enough of him as a footballer and as a man.
“I know people say the same things when something like this happens but Butch was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.
“In fact, he was probably too nice at times!
“But there was never any doubt in my mind that he would go on and have a good career.
“He was the complete player and this loss is going to take a long time to get over.”
Butcher’s untimely death has made it a devastating start to the new year for Kettering fans after their former chairman Peter Mallinger, who was at the helm at Corby Town, died last Friday.
The Poppies will hold a minute’s silence to remember both of them before their next home game against Eastbourne Borough a week on Saturday.