In this day and age, the opportunity to sign for Wigan would, in the case of most players, be jumped at, but back in 1979, when John arrived at Central Park, it was very far removed from the illustrious environment of the present club.
“Things might have been deteriorating at Salford, over a couple of years, but when I got to Wigan it was like a club in crisis.”
Far from challenging for major honours as they always had been, the 1980/1 season found the Riversiders languishing in the second division, and the fact that they were selected as the first post-war team to play in London in the opening fixture against the newly formed Fulham club was just about as good as it got for them, other than attaining their return to the first division at the end of the season.
For John, his fortunes on the pitch somewhat reflected those of the club, with his breaking his leg part way through his first season, 1979/80, and then returning to face that second division opposition for the following season, upon his return to fitness. Consequently, the assurances of Maurice Lyndsey, of better times to come, failed to make any impression on him, and a move to the team of his childhood aspirations, St Helens, became a dream come true.
Delightful as it was for him to see the club, which had released him as a youngster, having to pay a quite substantial transfer fee for him, on his arrival there, John found yet another club in something of a decline. Even more dispiriting for him was that he sustained another long-term injury this time to his knee.
“I just could not get fit after it. It was swollen all the time, so I then had two dicey knees with that together with the injury I’d sustained at Wigan. As a result of these, I had both knees replaced in 2015.”
Nevertheless, he did, once fit, retain his place in the first team for some time, until the arrival of a certain Mal Meninga put paid to it completely.
“I looked at the size of him and decided that they’d probably prefer him to me, so, at the age of thirty-four, it seemed the logical time to call it a day.
“The game of rugby league has brought so much pleasure to my life, and to my family. It would be hard to think what else I would have otherwise been doing, all those years I was playing. Being selected for the 74 tour was a fabulous experience, and the memories I returned with will stay with me always.
“Initially, I would have loved to have stayed at Saints, my home town club that I’d fanatically followed everywhere as a child, and had the chance to force myself into the great sides they produced. Instead though, I gained so many fond memories of all my other clubs, Keighley, Rochdale, and Wigan, and all the great friends, Theresa, my wife, and I made and still see to this day, and of course, I did eventually end up where it had all started, at Knowsley Road, St. Helens.
“Pride of place must definitely go to my time at The Willows, with the star players, and the great free, fast flowing rugby, they produced. People still speak to me now about those magical Friday night games and it fills me with pride to have been a part of such a special period for the Reds.
“My most grateful thanks to the great game of rugby; it was a hoot.”
The Complete Article, Featuring John Butler, Will Shortly Be Available In The FEATURES Section Of This Website, Where No. 1 In This Series, Featuring Second Rower, Mike Coulman, Can Already Be Found