Immortalised so succinctly in A Love Supreme’s classic track Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants, Paul Butler was an easily recognisable and integral part of Peter Reid’s second promotion winning team – and he arrived at the club 24 years ago today.
July the 10th 1998 was a busy day for Reid all told, who in addition to the Butler deal also completed the free signing of Gerry Harrison following his departure from Burnley and had tied down local youngster Paul Thirlwell to a new long term contract.
It was Butler that would have the biggest influence on the coming season though, helping form a watertight defence in front of goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, who had himself only just moved Wearside a week earlier.
A central defender, Butler had been playing for Bury under former Sunderland man Stan Ternent and had come up against the Black Cats four times during 1997-98 including in the first cup tie to be played at the Stadium of Light.
Nobody that saw the Lads that season could deny their attacking flair, but Reid wanted to change things at the back ahead of the new campaign and so paid around £1 million to Ternent’s replacement Neil Warnock for his prime target.
It was clear from the start what Sunderland were getting.
Butler was a no frills ‘old school’ centre back who was hard to get the better of either in the air or on the ground. Both he and his regular defensive partner Andy Melville started 44 league games each in 1998-99, which was only bettered by Sorensen, and having such a settled, reliable unit contributed to a fantastic record of just 28 goals conceded as the side romped to promotion and the Division One title.
Butler had contributed to the goal difference further with home strikes against Tranmere Rovers and Port Vale, and after an impressive debut season he made the step up to the Premiership where he continued to be a regular.
He scored once more at the Stadium of Light, in an early season win over Leicester City, and shortly after successfully shackling Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson in the Wear-Tyne derby in February 2000 he made his international debut for the Republic of Ireland.
The arrival however of club record signing Emerson Thome later in the year would see Butler soon make way.
After a handful of further appearances in the Worthington Cup, in which he scored his first away goal for the side in a 2-1 win at Luton Town, he moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers on loan before then making it permanent in January 2001.
Having already won the third tier whilst at Gigg Lane he completed a promotion hattrick with Wolves as part of the team that won the 2003 First Division Play-Off final.
After Molineux, Butler moved to Leeds United and eventually retired aged 36 with nearly 700 senior appearances and a good career behind him.
All that pie energy must have done him some good.
Born: Manchester, 2 November 1972
Sunderland 1 (Phillips 75)
Queen Park Rangers 0
Nationwide Football League Division One, Stadium of Light 8 August 1998
Final SAFC appearance:
Bristol Rovers 1 (Ellington 63)
Sunderland 2 (Hutchison 48, 87)
Worthington Cup 3rd Round, Memorial Stadium 31 October 2000
Total appearances/goals for SAFC:
93 (+ 2 as sub)/4