May 3, 2013 by blake2108
I was sat on the 17:15 train from Ipswich last Saturday, amongst a fair few Birmingham City supporters, not too disappointed about the defeat that I’d just witnessed, when the idea of this post came to light.
Two blokes dressed as prisoners, with ‘Carson’ and ‘Pannu’ nametags around their necks brought up the subject of a player, whose match was not only the penultimate this season, but of his Blues career.
Jack Butland moves on after the final npower Championship fixture at home to Blackburn Rovers tomorrow, after six years at the club, and though the current season is his only full one in the first team, the 20 year-old is, or was, seen as a huge asset to Birmingham City.
He’s now a Stoke City player, and will most likely be playing in the Premier League for them next season, after signing a four and a half-year deal on transfer deadline day in January, a £3.5million move which saw the goalkeeper return to the club on loan for the remainder of the campaign.
Well, the two ‘prisoners’ and a few others on the train were discussing whether the transfer is a good one for the club. I’ve seen a number of people on social media talk about this before too. Some believe Blues have got the better deal, that Butland is incredibly overrated and the club’ll cope fine without him, whilst others think Stoke have committed daylight robbery with the fee they’ve paid for his services.
I myself fall into that second category. I’m not embarrassed to say I’ll miss him considerably and I really do believe the club will also.
In my opinion Butland, for his age, is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, never mind Europe. And while his Blues swan song on Saturday will only be his 70th match in club football, his international history speaks for itself.
Butland has played at every level for England from under-16s and upwards. He’s been to an under-20 World Cup, and in nine games at Under-21 level he’s yet to concede a single goal. He was also named ahead of big names in Roy Hodgson’s squad for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, and in August, still a teenager, the Bristol-born shot-stopper became the youngest goalkeeper to ever play for the senior England side – All this before he’d even made his debut for Birmingham City!
I’ve not even mentioned the fact that Butland is also an Olympic athlete, having been Stuart Pearce’s first choice between the sticks representing Great Britain at London 2012.
I know in recent years this country have had a limited number of top quality goalkeepers, but the fact Butland has been so heavily involved with the international set up the last 18 months or so speaks for itself. Many respected managers in the game see his potential. What I think people forget, and really do need to remember about the lad is that he’s still only recently turned twenty.
When you bear in mind goalkeepers typically peak much later in their careers, to have produced one this good at such a young age is something that the club can be very proud of.
Butland’s not missed a minute of action in the Championship this season, and he’s not done too badly for his debut season at this level. Obviously I’ve not seen every game this season. Saturday’s game will be the 14th league fixture I’ll have been to and while I don’t think he’s been Birmingham’s best player of the season, I certainly feel he’s saved more points than he’s lost.
I can remember games against Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff City in particular where he made errors but every goalkeeper does make the odd mistake from time to time. Some of the saves he’s made in games however, have prevented Blues going down by a terrible score line, and as I stress, it’s his first full season in football, and he’s twenty.
It’s scary to think how good Butland could become. He’s constantly learning and improving and it’s a shame the club and the fans won’t get to see it first hand.
Birmingham City have been known for their great goalkeepers and in recent years. Joe Hart used the club as a platform for his career and he’s now got an FA Cup and Premier League winners medal, as well as being England’s first choice ‘keeper. Ben Foster joined when Hart returned to Manchester City, and resurrected his career, very few Bluenoses will forget his man of the match performance in the 2011 Carling Cup final. Unfortunately with relegation the club had to sell him on.
But then there’s Butland, one of the club’s own, a man former Blues goalkeeping coach Dave Watson was quoted as being “the best goalkeeper he’s ever worked with”. The fact he’s come through the academy is a big reason as to why I’m so sad to see him go. Lee Clark has given a number of academy graduates their debuts this season and I feel it’s important the club holds on to these younger players for as long as possible.
What I’ll miss most about Jack Butland though, is his attitude. He’s the most levelheaded and professional footballer I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing play, and even meeting.
I’ll not forget the day I did meet him, waiting after a game for autographs and I’d been at the wrong exit. Having run to the other side of the ground he’d already driven out onto the main road, but he still pulled over for me to sign a photo. I know from experience most players wouldn’t do that, especially after a home defeat.
I feared he’d leave last summer, that he’d seek a move away, but he didn’t. Not even in January. I reckon if it was down to him he’d have stayed for another season at Birmingham at least. He turned down Chelsea, where I bet he’d have been offered substantially more than he’s currently earning, as he wanted to play football, aware that that’s best for him.
You then have to think about who’ll replace Butland in goal too. Colin Doyle is out of contract this summer and has never really looked like staking a claim as first choice, and that only leaves 18 year-old Nick Townsend as the only other professional ‘keeper at the club. Clark won’t have much money to play with either so replacing him won’t be easy.
Tomorrow will no doubt be an emotional occasion for Butland, saying goodbye to the club, the fans and teammates he’s grown up playing with. He’ll leave the club with my best wishes, and I hope with everyone else’s too. He may have split opinions based on ability and potential, but as a professional, he’s definitely number one.
Bloggin’ The Blues is a Birmingham City blog run by a Sports Journalism student. Please feel free to check out other posts over at http://bloggintheblues.wordpress.com/, and if you’re on Twitter, you can follow the blog @BlogginTheBlues