the rugby lyricist found his words and his feet in a Pontypool jersey

the rugby lyricist found his words and his feet in a Pontypool jersey

At first glance, Eddie Butler and Pontypool didn’t fit naturally. Privately educated at Monmouth school and with an accent that was more home counties than Torfaen Valley, the Cambridge University student could have graduated from institutional clubs like Newport and Cardiff rather than one that played in a public park and he was regarded by many in the Welsh media as a neanderthal in their approach to the game.

But how it worked. Butler has spent his 14-year playing career since 1976 with Pontypool, joining a club he described as a commune. They were then run by Ray Prosser, a coach whose game plan was forged when he toured New Zealand with the British & Irish Lions in 1959. His mantra was men handlers, not ball handlers and not ball handlers. had favorites. Even the famous Pontypool front row of Graham Price, Bobby Windsor and Tony Faulkner knew they would face his wrath if they got out of line.

Related: It was enough for us to bask in the reflected glow of Eddie Butler’s talents | Robert Kitson

Butler told the story of how, before his Cambridge University team played Pontypool, Prosser had told his players to keep their fists to themselves and not take the law into their hands, no matter how much they felt the need. : His new recruit’s family were watching and he didn’t want them to leave with a negative image that could lead his son to look elsewhere.

Pooler, in Butler’s words, were “claw red, quite violent indeed”. They weren’t known for turning the other cheek but, with players listening to Prosser’s orders, they did nothing as Cambridge killed the ball, fell on the wrong side and hid offside, becoming more and more daring as the awaited punishment did not materialize.

There were only a few minutes to go when, after another blatant crime, Faulkner’s instinct took hold and flattened the criminal. The prop was the most experienced player on the team but, when he grasped the implications of what he had done, he turned to the sidelines and defended himself: “I’m sorry, Pross, but he had to have it.”

Butler remained and would join Pontypool’s Welsh Legion forward. The club may not have been part of the Welsh rugby establishment but, unlike another successful 1980s team, Neath, they revered tradition. Prosser’s favorite away match was Cardiff, relishing the relative grandeur of Arms Park. Butler was never an outsider and has captained the club since 1982.

Eddie Butler of Wales at Twickenham in 1984 when the guests beat England 24-15

Eddie Butler of Wales at Twickenham in 1984 when the guests beat England 24-15. Photography: Colorsport / Shutterstock

Each player was given a nickname to Pontypool and not many ended up in or. Butler was called Bamber, after then University challenge quizmaster Bamber Gascoigne. He packed his bags into the fray at number 8 behind Kevin Moseley, who responded to Boris, resembling the Frankenstein monster in height and gait, who was most famously played by Boris Karloff. And another second row was known as Rizla because, he felt, when he jumped for the ball in a lineout, all you could put between his feet and the ground was a cigarette paper.

Butler won the first of his 16 caps in Wales in 1980. He went on to captain his country and was a replacement for the 1983 Lions in New Zealand, but did not find the satisfaction he enjoyed at the club level. He became one of many players, his Pontypool colleague Graham Price and opener Gareth Davies were others, who retired from international rugby as they continued to play for their clubs frustrated by a selection policy that often seemed inconsistent. .

Wales had been the dominant force in Europe in the 1970s, but the simultaneous retirement of several prominent players, including Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies and Phil Bennett, meant there was a rebuilding. Expectations remained high and when unusual defeats followed one another, including the one in Romania in 1983 when Butler was captain, the prospect took over.

The media, whose praise for Pontypool rarely exceeded the reluctant, turned to Butler. One article called for a captain along the lines of Frenchman Jean-Pierre Rives, who often finished a game with blood on his face and shirt. The implication was that Butler was not the warrior Wales needed. He was replaced by one, Mike Watkins, but the prostitute retired after just four games.

The last was against Australia in Cardiff in 1984, a 28-9 defeat. It was also the day Butler decided he had had enough. Speaking with him years later, he said he struggled to understand the gratuitous abuse that was being hurled at players. It was something he felt at the end of his career with the Observerwhen online columns were followed by a comment section that sometimes included personal attacks.

Eddie liked to paint his own image rather than seeing the game through the eyes of others. He wasn’t one for the post-game press conference and its repetition of clichés. On tour he preferred to work for a Sunday newspaper rather than a newspaper because it gave him a chance to explore a country rather than go through the daily routine of training sessions and mentions.

Eddie Butler takes the lead when Pontypool faced Australia in November 1981

Eddie Butler takes the lead when Pontypool faced Australia in November 1981. Photography: Colorsport / Shutterstock

He was a lyricist. His columns looked simple, but they were carefully sculpted and sought the best in the players rather than the worst. As he said: “You can take rugby seriously, but you don’t have to take yourself too seriously.”

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