The long and rich history of Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Football Club

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Ikram Butt

In the summer of 1990, Peter Fox, always on the look-out for new talent, plucked a young three-quarter from the obscurity of Leeds A team and turned him into a very useful player. He had unearthed another cult hero for Featherstone fans, a stockily-built, hard-working winger who was an instant hit with the fans.

After four years at Headingley with just a single first team opportunity, Ikram Butt had to move to Featherstone Rovers to become if not the first, then one of the very few Asian descent players in professional rugby. With a try on his debut against Bramley it was clear Ikram and rugby league were made for each other. He blended the right attitude with great upper body strength, always looking for work at a time when wingers running from acting halfback had just started to become fashionable. Never the fastest player, his style was more for shrugging off tacklers than sprinting past them, and his high levels of fitness gave him a long run in the first team. He was with the club for for five seasons and in that time appeared in 168 games out of the 176 games Rovers played, and scored 66 tries. His link up with centre partner Terry Manning provided the perfect bustling hard-working counterfoil to the prolific Paul Newlove/Owen Simpson combination down the other flank. What a tremendous three-quarter line that was.

Ikram’s best try return came in his second season when, despite his 21 tries, Rovers were relegated. The following year he won a Second Division Championship medal and played in the Premiership final at Old Trafford. Undoubtedly the high point of Butt’s career came in 1995, when he was selected for the full England team against Wales. Much was made in the media of the fact that he was the first Muslim to play international rugby for England, but Ikram just got on with the job. He also came close to appearing in the Cup final at Wembley, but Rovers were beaten in the semi-final by Ikram’s old club Leeds.

At the outbreak of Super League, Ikram signed for the London Broncos. He failed to settle down south and moved onto Huddersfield, then Hunslet, before finally retiring in 1998. Once he finished playing, he became heavily involved in community rugby league, being a role model for many youngsters in Yorkshire and promoting rugby league in the county’s Asian communities. He then founded the British Asian Rugby Association, which won him widespread praise, including from Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the House of Commons. He wrote a very interesting autobiography and still works promoting the game.

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