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Norwich City fan, Seattle Sounders legend and socialist Steve Buttle dies aged 59

PUBLISHED: 06:30 11 June 2012

Buttle in his prime, in the Seattle Sounders changing room.

Buttle in his prime, in the Seattle Sounders changing room.

Archant

Norwich born footballer and coach Steve Buttle, one of the first Englishmen to play in America, has died aged 59.

Norwich born footballer and coach Steve Buttle, one of the first Englishmen to play in America, has died aged 59.

Born in Norwich on January 1, 1953 and raised in Robin Hood Road in Tuckswood, the skinny man known for playing with a big heart died of cancer on June 5 this year.

Popular, honest and an individual, the passionate Norwich City fan was also a socialist who stood up for working class causes.

As a footballer he was close to signing for Norwich as a youth and as an adult.

He competed in youth leagues at Lakenham from the age of 5 and captained the Norfolk Youth team age 11.

Father Arthur Buttle of Lilian Close, Hellesdon, said: “All them boys around Tuckswood were really good footballers, because they played every day.”

He was close to signing for Norwich before being snapped up by rivals Ipswich at the age of 15.

Mr Buttle Snr said: “I took him to down to Trowse to train with the under 15s, and he was brilliant, but they told me to bring him back when he was older.

“When they didn’t sign him he cried, I said ‘don’t cry, I’ll take you to Ipswich’.

“The trainer there said ‘he’s a touch small isn’t he?’ I said ‘well give him first half and see’, they would not take him off after that.

“I said to my boy, ‘are you happy now?’ But as soon as Norwich heard they were not happy.”

Mr Buttle signed for Ipswich as a professional in 1971, and after a positive spell at Bornemouth between 1973-1977 - during which time he became close friends with now Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp - The Canaries came in for him in 1977, but he failed a medical.

He then became a legend across the pacific as the game grew in the 70s. A crowd favourite for the Seattle Sounders of the North American Soccer League, he even played against Brazilian Pele.

His Mother, Freda Buttle, who along with Mr Buttle Snr cared for him in his final days, said: “They really loved him in America, normally they love big players but he won them over because he could get round a big player.” He played with heart and honesty and was renowned for not looking like a typical footballer.

But it was his personality, not just his football, that won him fans.

“He would never hear anything bad said about anybody, he would just walk away, but he did have a good sense of humour,” said Mrs Buttle.

“He was one of the legends of the Seattle Sounders, but was not one for bragging. He was not showy about it”

A man with a passion for fairness, he was a socialist and advocate of footballer’s unions.

Former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson was a close friend of Mr Buttle, who returned to Norwich after his playing days were over.

He recalls hearing a story of Bobby Robson giving Mr Buttle a telling off for handing out socialist newspapers during his time at Ipswich.

Mr Gibson said: “He would fight on the side of people, he was a people person through and through.

“He was always on the side of the underdog, and would get involved in disputes in Norwich.

“He was also an inspiration for many young people in coaching them.”

Mrs Buttle added: “He still remembered the working classes even with all that was going for him.

“He would tell other footballers to support worthwhile causes.”

Mr Buttle leaves behind a family in America made up of ex-wife Janice Sheeley, and two children, John from Seattle, who is now going on to be a footballl coach, and Sarah, of Omaha, Nebraska, as well as four grandchildren.

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