Featherstone Rovers sold star scrum-half Steve Nash to glamour club Salford (those were the days!) in 1975 and needed a new number seven. They of course explored their junior options, but in the end felt the need to break their own transfer fee record in an attempt to find an adequate replacement. A nuggety style halfback and local lad, Phil Butler had made his debut for Rovers in October 1974, during a prolonged period of injury for Steve Nash. His pugnacious spirit and never-say-die attitude won Butler the respect of fans by now accustomed to the very best standards of half-back play. Phil played a total of 20 games in his first season. Once Nash had left, Butler was able to step up, but in the very first game of the new season a cruel shoulder injury put him out of action and put Rovers in a quandary. The shoulder was to plague Butler throughout his career, but in September 1975 Featherstone needed a solution to their problem.
The money received from Salford left Rovers relatively cashed up, an almost unique situation in the club’s history. Some of the money was therefore spent on Welsh international scrum-half Peter Banner, Salford’s erstwhile number seven before Nash’s arrival. Banner had played for Wales in the same 1975 World Cup tournament where Nash had played for England, and was undoubtedly talented. Eyebrows were raised at Rovers’ need, indeed one journalist described the idea of Featherstone Rovers buying in a scrum-half as ‘like carrying coals to Newcastle’. Club historian Irvin Saxton remarked that in the club’s entire history only Joe Kirkham (from Dewsbury in 1921) and Cyril Gilbertson (also from Dewsbury in 1948) had been brought in by the club from outside to play at seven. Banner never really settled at Post Office Road managing just 20 appearances in 1975/76 before transferring to Leeds. The main reason he never settled was Phil Butler regaining his fitness.
After tussling with Banner, it was youngster Dale Fennell who Butler faced as a rival for his place. Over the next three seasons they shared the honours, Butler’s chances being consistently hit by a series of injuries. After almost two full years out, he came back in 1981/82 to regain his first team spot from Terry Hudson, a real comeback tale. Inevitably though, injury struck again and he was forced to quit in 1982. In total he made 71 starts at scrum-half and played 78 games in total.
Undoubtedly Phil Butler’s finest hour was our Challenge Cup quarter-final against Leeds in 1976. Playing behind an awesome pack, Butler cut Leeds to shreds with a superb display. Rovers won a memorable encounter 33-7. The semi-final was well on the way to being another historic occasion for Rovers, 9-0 up at half-time against Widnes and Butler in fine fettle. A recurrence of that wretched shoulder injury forced him off, and a second-half collapse saw Rovers beaten 14-9 and denied Wembley in cruel fashion.