The phrase 'model professional' is a term used far too frequently in the footballing world these days but one person who certainly fitted that bill was former City midfielder Richard Butcher, who sadly passed away on the morning of Monday, 10th January 2011 at the tragically young age of just 29.
One of a select band of players to have spent three separate spells as an Imp, "Butch" first arrived at Sincil Bank in November 2002, making his first outing in a City shirt for the reserves in a 4-1 win over Scarborough. Three days later he made his Football League debut and it soon became apparent that Keith Alexander and his assistant Gary Simpson had unearthed a hugely talented player.
Northampton-born Butch started his career as a trainee with his home-town club before he joined Rushden & Diamonds' youth set up after a spell with Raunds Town. He went on to appear in both the Hillier Cup and FA Trophy for the Diamonds, but only made the bench as an unused substitute in Conference games. Although he signed professional forms in March 2000, he failed to make the first team and was released as Rushden moved into the Football League.
With the glamour of the Football League being taken away, many young players in his position would have thrown in the towel and thought that their big chance had gone forever. Not Butch. He knuckled down, joined Kettering Town and became a pivotal member of the Poppies' squad which secured the 2001/02 Southern League Premier Division title.
His talents hadn't gone unnoticed by the City management team and his chance to make it in the Football League came two months short of his 22nd birthday with Messrs Alexander and Simpson unearthing a non-League gem which would certainly go on and sparkle on the Sincil Bank stage. "I think he's going to be a good addition to the squad," said Big Keith at the time in his usual laid back way.
Six months later Keith was leading Butch and his team mates out of the tunnel at the Millennium Stadium for the Third Division Play-Off Final against AFC Bournemouth; a day, albeit one that ended in disappointment, that will never be forgotten by the thousands of City fans present.
Butch's efforts, which included a memorable goal at Bournemouth towards the end of the season, saw him rewarded with a one-year extension to his contract. A "chuffed" Butch set himself a target of eight goals for the following season and by the time he was forced on the sidelines with a knee ligament injury, he was one shy of his objective; his long-range effort at Mansfield later being crowed 'goal of the season'.
"I must say that I've never seen so many tears from a grown man in my life as I did on Monday. The treatment room was flooded and water levels reached the changing rooms next door! But Butch was a bit happier later in the week and it was good to see a smile back on his face," read Keith Oakes' programme notes as he prepared to keep Butch company for a couple of months or so.
An archetypal box-to-box midfielder, Butch returned in time for the play-off semi-final against Huddersfield Town and reached his target of eight for the season when he netted the opening goal of the heartbreaking 2-2 second leg draw against Peter Jackson's side in front of 20,000 spectators at the McAlpine Stadium.
Although the goals dried up the following season, Butch had the proud honour of playing every minute of every match as he helped the Club reach the play-offs for a third successive year and with the Final against Southend United being his 123rd first team appearance for City, he decided to head for pastures new, penning a two-year deal with Oldham Athletic.
Sadly for Butch, things didn't work out for him at the higher level and in October 2005 he was back at Sincil Bank for a month-long spell on loan; making his 100th League start and rifling home a scorching volley at Leyton Orient during his brief time back in a Lincoln shirt. He returned to Oldham and completed the rest of the season making 39 appearances in all competitions, scoring four goals.
Butch later followed Big Keith to Peterborough United before netting 18 times in two seasons for Notts County. Following his release by the Magpies, in stepped City boss Peter Jackson who made Butch his first signing during the summer of 2009.
A change in management at Sincil Bank , however, saw first team opportunities become limited and in a bid to get some match action under his belt, he was allowed to link up with Keith at Macclesfield Town. He scored on his Town debut in a 2-1 win over Bury but the footballing world was soon reeling from the news that Keith had passed away at the age of 53.
Returning to Sincil Bank, Butch's last outing in a red and white striped shirt came, somewhat poignantly, as a substitute against Macclesfield on the final day of the season, before he made an emotional return to Gary Simpson's Silkmen on a permanent basis a couple of weeks later.
Now reunited with Big Keith for a final time, Butch, who married fiancé Sarah in the summer of 2010, will be missed by everyone who knew him. He was a credit to his profession and, to put it simply, was a very nice guy. He wasn't a bad footballer either.