It’s 50 years since death of Norwich City captain Barry Butler in Sprowston car accident
- Credit: Archant
If Norwich City could make it three straight wins at Crystal Palace this afternoon, it would not only take them a step closer to Premier League survival but would also be a positive way to mark a particularly poignant anniversary.
It was 50 years ago today that the Canaries were hit by one of the biggest tragedies in their long and proud history when captain Barry Butler lost his life in a road accident in Sprowston at the age of 31.
The sudden death of a man who was a key figure in the famous 1958-59 FA Cup run left a whole generation of supporters in a state of shock – and prompted the club to launch a player-of-the-season award in his memory that still bears his name.
Since that terrible day in April 1966, a few months before England won the World Cup on home soil, the presentation of the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy has been a regular feature of the final home game of the season, giving supporters a chance to salute their favourite – while also sparing a thought for a star of yesteryear who never gave less than 100pc during 349 appearances in the yellow and green.
Former colleague Bill Punton, who was a pall-bearer at Butler's funeral at St Peter Mancroft Church in the heart of Norwich, still has fond memories of the man – both on and off the field.
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'First and foremost Barry was a lovely chap, that's the most important thing to say,' he stated.
'We were very good friends. In those days the players and their wives used to get together on a Saturday night after a game and go out for dinner – they were very happy times.'
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Punton also has happy memories of their time together on the pitch – and has no doubt that he played alongside one of the greatest players ever to pull on a Norwich shirt.
'Barry is probably the best centre-half who has ever played for the club,' he said.
'On the field he was a leader, a real leader.
'If anyone ever pulled out of a tackle he let them know about it straight away. If one of the midfield players didn't get back to help the defence they got a rocket too.
'He was the man who kept the team going all the time. The other thing to stress is that he was also a fine player. He was obviously good in the air but he was also comfortable with the ball at his feet, too, and could play football from the back.'
While Butler's passing was a terrible blow for players, officials and fans of the Canaries, the people who suffered most were his immediate family – wife Thelma and sons Greg and David, who were just six and three respectively at the time.
Thelma went on to rebuild her life and later remarried, but she carries the scars of the events of April 9, 1966 with her to this day.
'It was obviously a terrible shock – it is something that always stays with you,' she said, from her home just outside Bristol.
'It was an extremely difficult time and I was suddenly put into a position where I had two young boys to bring up on my own and that had to be my focus. They were only little and they needed looking after.
'I didn't stay in Norwich. I moved back up to the North East, where I come from originally and where all my family were.
'Even with their support it was still a very tough time.
'I looked at the calendar at the start of the year to see when April 9 fell because obviously I knew that would be the 50th anniversary of Barry passing away. I remember telling my aunt recently 'Do you know it's nearly 50 years since Barry died'. I can't really believe it.
'I still think about him, obviously. I have got a case full of cuttings from the local papers and get those out occasionally and go through them – so many happy memories. It was just such a tragedy the way it ended.'
Thelma's sons took the name of their stepfather, but their mother always made sure they knew who their dad was, and how much he had meant to both her and the supporters of Norwich City.
'They knew their dad had been a footballer but it wasn't until they got older that they realised what a big name he was, especially in Norfolk where he was quite famous,' she said.
'We have been along to quite a few reunions to meet up with Barry's former colleagues at Norwich and my sons were so impressed when they realised how highly their dad was thought of, how popular he was.'
Do you have memories of Barry Butler and the team? Contact email@example.com