Back to the Stadium of Light we all go for the first time in 2023, and what better way to return to action than against Russell “Jumpers” Martin and his incredible weird Swansea City side. The Swans haven’t won away from home since October, and have only won once since that time too, so place your bets now on Joe Allen ruining our Saturday.
The one time darling of Sunderland’s academy, Dublin-born midfielder Tommy Butler was hotly tipped to make a name for himself in the late 90s/early 00s. A mainstay of Ricky Sbragia’s all-conquering reserve team (back when reserves were a thing), the tricky winger won the Republic of Ireland’s Under 15 player of the year in 1997 and had played in the 99 World Youth Cup, it’s safe to say there was some quiet excitement about Butler’s prospects on Wearside.
Making his debut in the League Cup against Walsall in September 1999 (a game which also saw the likes of Andy Marriott, Mark Maley, Neil Wainwright, Chris Lumsdon and Carsten Fredgaard make rare appearances), you’d have expected the then-18 year old to kick on, but he had to wait until May 2000 before making a league bow; a six-minute cameo in a 1-0 win over West Ham.
The 00/01 season didn’t bring much more joy for Butler either, and after only a single FA Cup appearance by October, he was loaned out to Darlington until December – no goals and 10 appearances didn’t make for happy reading. A brief run of sub appearances back at Sunderland at the end of that season amounted to 46 minutes of playing time, and it was clear to see something simply wasn’t clicking for Butler.
The following two Premier League seasons brought just 15 more league appearances (although he did make his international debut), you’d be forgiven for thinking the drop to the Championship with countryman Mick McCarthy taking charge would see a change in fortunes for Butler.
However, only 14 appearances between August 03 and January 04, with no goals and no notable contributions to speak of would spell the end of Butler’s Sunderland career. A knee injury had scuppered the second half of Butler’s season, but come the summer, he even went as far as to consider retirement. An unpleasant contract dispute kicked off between player and club before a settlement was eventually reached and Butler was allowed to leave for what most assumed was the sad end to a once promising career.
Butler reappeared later in 2004, making 12 appearances in the SPL for Dunfermline before heading back to the North East with Hartlepool. The spell at Pools seemed to reignite Butler’s career somewhat, as his 18 months as Jeff Stelling’s best mate saw him net his first league goals of his career, and although he suffered relegation in his final season, his displays earned him a move to Swansea, then of League One, in 2006.
The Irishman became one of the key players in Swansea’s incredible rise up the leagues, winning League One in his second season, putting in notable displays against the likes of then-Premier League Sheff Utd in an FA Cup upset. Butler was a regular still in the club’s first two seasons back in the second tier, endearing himself to the Jacks for getting himself sent off in the South Wales derby for having a go at the ref over a penalty decision, despite not actually getting on the pitch.
Injuries then took their toll and Butler didn’t make an appearance in his final two years at Swansea, missing their promotion to the Premier League, and ultimately unable to make any appearances back in the top flight, he was released in 2012.
After a gap of three years, Butler headed back to football and to the North East, turning out for the likes of Alnwick Town, Newcastle Blue Star and most recently Wear United. Since retiring, Butler headed into coaching and took in a brief spell as manager of the Newcastle United Women’s team before disappearing again.
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What an utterly bizarre career this man has had. A product of the Cardiff academy, making 42 appearances for the Bluebirds between 2012-17 (20 of which were in the Premier League), John’s had more loan spells than you can shake the proverbial at. Stints at Barnsley and Chesterfield then naturally led him to joining Glasgow giants Rangers in 2017 (first on loan, of course).
A little over a year with the Gers was enough to John, before he decided on his next strange move, back down to Wales with Cardiff’s nearest and dearest, Swansea City in 2018. A popular man indeed. Three years in the Championship brought him only 11 appearances before he was sent off on his next loan odyssey: Phil Parkinson.
Declan John arrived at Sunderland on transfer deadline day in the January 2020 window, and looked to be a sensible signing, as we famously kept running out of full-backs in League One. However, his six-month loan deal saw him make precisely zero appearances, and made the matchday squad precisely zero times, as Covid-19 brought an early end to the season. Back to Swansea he went, incredible.
The following January he was sent out on loan again, this time to Bolton where he made himself a regular and ultimately earned a permanent switch in July 2021. John’s crowning moment of glory in his Sunderland story came on 29th January 2022, almost 2 years to the day since he arrived on Wearside (supposedly), he scored the SIXTH in Bolton’s 6-0 demolition of Lee Johnson’s Sunderland side which ultimately saw the end of Johnson’s time in charge.
So I’m not saying that we should all thank Declan John for his contribution in getting Sunderland out of League One, but we should definitely give him the keys to the city.
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