FOOTBALL is in mourning following the death of Northampton-born footballer Richard Butcher.
The Macclesfield player and former Cobblers youth-teamer died in his sleep at his Manchester home on Sunday night at the age of just 29.
Butcher, whose parents still live in Far Cotton in Northampton, was on the Sixfields roster for a year from 1999, but failed to make a first team appearance.
The midfielder moved on to play for county neighbours Rushden & Diamonds and Kettering Town, before establishing himself as a consistent League player with Lincoln City, Oldham Athletic, Peterborough United, Notts County and Macclesfield.
In June, 2007, Butcher was linked with a return to the Cobblers when Stuart Gray was in charge at Sixfields, but the move from Peterborough fell through and he instead signed for Notts County.
Butcher played for Macclesfield as recently as January 3, and scored a goal in their 2-2 New Year’s Day draw at Bury.
He played a total of 356 senior games in his career, scoring 49 times.
A Cobblers statement said: “Northampton Town Football Club are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former midfielder Richard Butcher at the age of just 29. Locally-born Richard started his career as a youth trainee here at Northampton Town.
“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Richard’s family and friends at this very sad time.”
Cobblers boss Ian Sampson, who was a player at the club when Butcher was part of the youth set-up, said: “It’s very sad news and very shocking.
“He was only 29 and he had his whole life ahead of him.
“I was only speaking to his mum three weeks ago because they still live in town and Richard was a Northampton boy.
“I knew him because he was an apprentice here while I was a player and it was a long time ago, but he was a cracking lad who got on with everyone.
“It’s just devastating news and my thoughts go out to his family.”
Brackley Town manager Jon Brady, who played with Butcher at Rushden & Diamonds, said: “I’m shocked, it’s frightening.
“He was one of the nicest kids you could ever wish to meet.
“My assistant at Brackley, Darren Collins, took him to Kettering because he wasn’t getting into the first team and Butch went on to go a lot further than most others.
“I’d always meet him out after (games) and he was always friendly, always smiling.
“I don’t think anyone could have a bad word to say about him. He was a lovely, lovely kid.”
Professional Footballers Association chief executive Gordon Taylor expressed his anguish at the news and vowed to do anything he can to help Butcher’s family.
“It is a terrible shock,” said Taylor .
“We’ve lost Adam Stansfield at Exeter and to lose Richard Butcher is just terrible and quite tragic and on behalf of all the members and staff at the PFA we wish to offer our most sincere condolences to his family at this terrible time and our prayers and thoughts are with them.
“We will be in contact with the family to see what help we can provide at this sad time.”
Macclesfield chairman Mike Rance said: “We are all absolutely devastated by Richard’s death.
“He was probably the best professional at the club and his conduct and professionalism were always exemplary.
“Richard was an intelligent, articulate and thoroughly likeable young man who will be very sadly missed by his team-mates, friends and family.”
Butcher married in August and was already planning for the next phase of his life after football.
“He had started a course at Manchester Met and was planning for the future with a view to what he might do after he finished playing,” explained Rance.
Keith Alexander, who signed Butcher for Lincoln, Peterborough and Macclesfield, died last March when boss of the Moss Rose club aged 53, and Rance added: “This is another massive blow to the club but we are going to have to come to terms with it.”
Various footballers also paid tribute to Butcher on their Twitter pages,
Cobblers striker Leon McKenzie said: “Just would like to send all love and support to a footballer who has just passed. God bless friends and family. RIP.”
Former Cobblers striker Junior Mendes also said: “Just heard about Butch. I can’t believe it.
“An absolute gentleman he was. A pleasure to have known him. Thoughts go out to his family. RIP.”
Ex-Cobblers loan man Guy Branston said: “I can’t believe such a lovely lad as Richard Butcher has died so young.”