Jack Butland: A victim of ruthless misfortune


Rewind to 2012 and a fledgling 19-year-old was handed the gloves in his country’s home Olympics. Seemingly set for stardom, Jack Butland now battles to fulfil his potential seven -years later.

Jack Butland had long been talked about since an early age. It was simply a given he would dislodge Joe Hart in England’s goal; it was a case of when, rather than if.  He was a young English goalkeeper who had a commanding presence, despite his tender footballing years.

In his country’s Olympics, it was endorsement of his character that manager Stuart Pearce felt Butland, who had been on loan to Cheltenham that season, was ready to play on sports greatest stage.

Whilst Team GB failed to deliver in the tournament, Jack Butland’s profile among the common footballing fan was bolstered. Sure, being dumped out in the quarter-finals was a major disappointment, but the 19-year-old’s Olympics could only be seen as a positive for the Englishmen.

Potential is one thing, fulfilling it is another. The four games Butland played in provided hard evidence that this was a young man worthy of the England gloves for the next decade. Shilton and Banks were set to have a successor.

What made Jack Butland a standout figurehead was that he was simply English football’s worst kept secret. Despite hardly figuring for Birmingham in the Championship, he was already assumed to be more than ready for the Premier League.

The monumental climb that the countless amount of footballers have had failed to achieve was expected to be a walk in the park for the Bristol born boy. Rather than reach the mountain, he was set to be at the summit.

Newly promoted Southampton, a club who long had an innate skill to spot young talent, laid their cards out on the table first. A staggering six-million pound bid was put in, making the signing of Butland the second highest fee commanded by a British goalkeeper in history. However, Jack Butland reaffirmed his unwavering and distinctly rare character.

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Butland rose to prominence for Team GB – photo: Daily Mail

Perhaps what made the goalkeeper’s notoriety intensified was how the people who were close to him, spoke about him. Every individual that came across Jack would leave describing their conversation in glowing terms. Lee Clark, his manager at the time, emphasised the player’s “unbelievable maturity” on many an occasion.

The fact that Butland opted to stay at Birmingham for a further season in order to seek progression rather than profile and financial rewards proved he wasn’t just the usual run of the mill footballer.

The following year saw Butland consolidate his education, as regular Championship action at St Andrews guaranteed him the necessary tests and exposure. An ever-present in all 46 of their league matches, the academy graduate picked up the young player of the year at the end of season awards.

What made the decision to stay in the Midlands all the more impressive is that Butland understood that life of a goalkeeper is a precarious one; more often than not, a goalkeeper only enters their prime at an age when an out-field player of similar years is on the slide. The lessened physical demands placed on the man between the sticks means their career is often lengthened, allowing progression up the footballing ladder to not be quite as sudden or as steep.

There is always the danger that if a keeper who has a tinge of greenness is thrown in, they could sink rather than swim. In the most ruthless position of them all, glaring mistakes can drown the confidence or leave a lasting scar.

The summer of 2013 saw Butland put on the red and white stripes of Stoke, rather than Southampton. The man himself also admitted he had turned down offers from Manchester City and Chelsea to join the Staffordshire outfit.

Signing a four-and-a-half year deal at the Britannia, the Englishmen was set to play second fiddle to Asmir Begovic in the Stoke City goal.

Four loan spells followed over the next year as Butland waited in the shadows of the soon to be outgoing Begovic. When the Bosnian said his Stoke farewell, it was naturally assumed that Jack Butland would begin the charge to capture the England gloves.

However, international tournaments of sitting on the periphery soon proceeded. Some could argue that the old assumption that playing for a top four side will only guarantee selection rung true in this incident. Whilst at Stoke, fair to say Premier League minnows, Butland was always set to be swimming against the tide.

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Butland Euro 2016 dreams were ended months from the tournament – photo: TalkSport

With Euro 2016 months away and an ever-present in the Potters season, the time had come for Jack Butland to finally stake his claim on the international stage. Roy Hodgson selected the keeper in a friendly against World Cup champions, Germany. Years of expectancy had finally came to fruition; Butland was now in the England goalmouth, it just took a little longer than anticipated.

But a fractured ankle put a ruthless halt to that. Ruled out for over a year, Jack Butland now had to face the long ascent to the top again. Despite being only 24-years of age, the shot-stopper experienced luck that most would class terminal.

The long road of recovery coincided with the disastrous failures of his club as Stoke were relegated to the Championship and any future opportunities to prove his England credentials were blocked.

Two years later and Stoke’s demise can be accused of being in correlation with Butland’s fortunes. The man, who had seemed to carry a heavier burden to most, was set to be a mainstay of the English side. Yet he now found himself battling the footballing ladder and contending with the harsh nature of the Championship. All these factors seemed to have struck home reality.

The cold fact of the matter is, Butland’s fall from grace has been unfair and through no fault of his own. Years of working to reach the summit only to drop like a stone meant lasting scars were always going to be seen on the Bristolian.

In a televised game at Deepdale this season, the issues that were bubbling under the surface reared their head. Culminated in two calamitous errors in Stoke’s 3-1 defeat to Preston, manager Nathan Jones admitted the time was right for Butland to be dropped.

It’s rare that a supporter feels sorry for a professional football player – they get paid lots so they should just get on with it, right?

However, this was the exception to the rule. Months of struggle was epitomised by 90 minutes that the goalkeeper will never forget. The apprehension, the doubt and the vulnerability was exposed for all to see.

A product of severe bad luck and a created pressure by the footballing world meant Butland’s career was always going to be volatile. One thing is for certain though, Jack Butland now needs fortunes back in his favour if he is to get his career back on track.


About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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