Born in Moston on the second of November, 1972, rumour has it that his thighs were fashioned through years of dedicated pie-eating.
Following the breathtaking play-off final, Paul Butler made the move further north in 1998 to give Peter Reid’s Sunderland defence some unadulterated aggression in the wake of a promotion push. It was a move that would, of course, end up in a record breaking Championship winning season for him.
Butler began his career close to his home town, plying his trade for Rochdale back in 1991. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the 6’2 centre half: he was often dirided by ‘Dale fans, with claims his defensive partner Alan Reeves kept the big man in check. As he proved throughout his career though, consistent performances at the heart of the defence wins the fans over, as he became the clubs 'Mr. Reliable', which eventually earned him a move to nearby neighbours Bury for a modest fee of £100,000 in 1996.
The dependable defender shone brightly at Gigg Lane and their move up the league was helped immensely by the form of the big centre back. With Peter Reid on the look out for a no-nonsense centre back, he made the signing of the burly Bury player a priority.
A fee of £1m was enough to prize him from Greater Manchester, as our loveable Scouse manager tweaked a team that had been a penalty kick away from starting the season in the top division. Although many fans knew little of the imposing centre-back, his ability in the air and timing of the tackle gave us a sense of what he could bring to the table. He scored his first goal in a 5-0 drubbing of Tranmere Rovers in our second home league game, a match which saw the return of former forward Craig Russell, who didn’t get a sniff from Butler that day.
He started the season alongside Jody Craddock, though an injury to the stocky part-timer gave him a chance to develop what would become a formidable partnership with the long serving Andy Melville. His first season at the club was a breeze; Sunderland winning the league by a clear 18 points, a tally helped by a solid defence that conceded only 28 goals.
Much like the team as a whole, Butler’s transition to the Premiership went smoothly as he struck up a partnership with the experienced Steve Bould. So impressive in fact that we went into the Christmas period cemented firmly in the top four, where only a Roy Keane inspired Manchester United fightback stopped us from finishing the year in second place. The former Rochdale man played almost the entirety of the season as we finished an impressive seventh, with a famous 2-1 win at St. James' Park the highlight of our return to the summit.
The following year was the beginning of the end for Paul Butler though. The pre-season purchases of Stan Varga and Emerson Thome meant competition for places was bigger than ever and despite a career-ending injury to our captain and former Arsenal man Steve Bould, a resurgence in the form of Jody Craddock put paid to our big number six’s career on Wearside. Rather surprisingly, he did gain a cap for Republic of Ireland despite this downturn in form, however a disastrous forty five minutes against Jan Koller saw him replaced at half time and never seen in the green shirt of Ireland again.
Shortly after making his only appearance for Republic of Ireland he moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers on an initial loan, before Dave Jones paid us £1m for his services on a permanent basis. At Wolves he went on to win promotion from the second tier for the second time in his career, playing the full 90 mins of the 2003 play-off final alongside Joleon Lescott as The Wanderers smashed three goals past Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United side. He would go on to play for Leeds United and Milton Keynes Dons before ending his career at Chester City. More recently he was a coach at Doncaster Rovers.
Since retirement he has been named in many Irish fans "worst ever XI" for his performance during his sole international cap. He was arrested and sentenced in 2011 for assaulting someone at a golf club - that was how we all remember Butler though isn’t it? Hard as nails, no nonsense, lacking in genuine quality but not in bottle. For all he was limited, he is still remembered fondly by both Sunderland and our pre-season opponents Bury.
Also played for both:
Tom Beadling, Fred Thompson, Gordon Armstrong, Wayne Entwhistle, Peter Barnes.