From training in Denmead Park to Accrington - Portsmouth fan Matt Butcher's showing life after Bournemouth
The framed Bournemouth shirt adorns a wall outside Cowplain School’s gym.
Autographed and emblazoned with the name ‘Butcher’ and squad number of 36, it serves as a proud reminder of one of the school’s most high-profile pupils in recent times.
Matt Butcher spent five years studying at Cowplain before leaving in 2013 to embark on a professional career with the Cherries.
Several serious injuries inhibited the midfielder’s first-team involvement at Dean Court, restricting him to two cup outings.
Now, following a summer spent training in Denmead Park and cycling around Hayling Island, Butcher has earned himself a fresh challenge – Accrington.
The talented 23-year-old has started all three of their fixtures so far this season as he strives to establish himself in League One.
And the Pompey fan is bidding to carve out a reputation which goes beyond a signed shirt hanging at Cowplain School.
He told The News: ‘I’ve had a tough few years in my career. Before a loan spell at St Johnstone in January, my last professional game was May 2017.
‘Whenever I was getting back to full fitness following injury, something else would happen. Hopefully that is all done now and put it behind me – I need to kick on from here.
‘I had a year left on my contract at Bournemouth this summer and knew realistically it was more than likely I would be playing football elsewhere.
‘However, the club had been relegated from the Premier League, the manager had changed following Eddie Howe’s departure. They were going to deal with their things before starting thinking about mine.
‘I wasn’t training with them, as I had been with St Johnstone, so needed to keep myself fit.
‘The gyms weren’t open, so I borrowed a bike off my girlfriend’s dad and rode around Hayling Island and the city to keep fit.
‘My running was around Denmead Park, which became boring and mundane, so cycling changed it up and I really enjoyed it. On longer rides you can escape from everyone and think.
‘When I went back into Bournemouth for testing, in the background we were trying to sort out a plan for my future. The new manager (Jason Tindall) said he wouldn't stand in my way and to do what was best for me.
‘We spoke to a couple of teams, but Accrington felt a good fit and represented everything I wanted. Now I have that buzz from playing regularly in competitive matches.’
Butcher played youth football for Denmead before the team merged with Wimbledon Park Tigers and relocated to Farlington.
However, at the age of 13, he left after signing for Bournemouth following a successful trial.
He would progress into Eddie Howe’s first-team as an 18-year-old, appearing as a substitute in the Capital One Cup against Hartlepool in August 2015.
A second – and final – outing was handed to him with an FA Cup start in a 2-1 win at Birmingham in January 2016.
Among Butcher’s Cherries team-mates that day was a certain Sylvain Distin – a player he knew all about.
He added: ‘Pompey were my team growing up – and Matty Taylor my favourite player.
‘It was the goals he scored, being left footed like me and also wearing the number 14 shirt. It tied in quite nicely.
‘He was the go-to player when he was there and I’m pretty sure I had his name on the back of my Pompey shirt. If I had any name, it would have been his.
‘I would go to Fratton Park with my dad and brothers during the Premier League years, but it was always quite hard to get tickets.
‘When Pompey got to the FA Cup final in 2008, dad couldn’t manage to get me a ticket. We went into a ballot system because we hadn’t been to enough games.
‘Instead he went with a couple of mates. He had a day out with the boys and left us at home!
‘It was always quite difficult for us to get to matches, though, as myself and my brothers played football and there wasn’t a lot of spare time. As you get into football, you watch fewer and fewer games, but I still keep an eye on Pompey and my mates are season-ticket holders.
‘I actually had a couple of trials for Pompey – and Southampton – before joining Bournemouth.
‘During one spell with Pompey, I was there for six weeks and given a few games to see how I got on, but nothing came from it.
‘I remember Conor Chaplin being there, we’re the same age. Although I was there for a brief period, you kind of get to know people and I’ve come across him since in football.
‘With Southampton, I was invited to trial for their Centre of Excellence, but didn’t get asked back.
‘Then one time I was at school and Bournemouth came in to run a training session. My brother wanted to go, so I went along with him. I was the oldest by two years and stood out.
‘Off the back of that I received a phone call asking me to train with them. I suppose 13 is late to join a club, but that’s how I got into the game professionally.
‘Pompey’s my club, though. I played there when on loan at Yeovil in April 2017, which was incredible, a life-long dream.
‘It would be nice to do it again. We’re scheduled to be at Fratton Park on the last day of the season. If crowds are back, I’m sure I’ll have a few mates there – and I will also be able to pop in to see my parents in Denmead.’
Progressing through Bournemouth’s youth ranks, Butcher’s team-mates included defender Jack Simpson, who has gone on to make six Premier League starts for the club.
Meanwhile, Sam Matthews has featured for Bristol Rovers in League One, while this summer joined Crawley, and Joe Quigley’s nomadic career has seen him play for Gillingham, the Hawks and now Dagenham & Redbridge.
As for Butcher, aside from his two first-team outings, he featured on loan at Gosport for a game in February 2015, followed by spells at Woking, Yeovil and St Johnstone.
Now he’s at Accrington, having signed a two-year deal in August, and is relishing getting on with his career.
He said: ‘You can never say “What if”. You must deal with the situation you are given – and make the most of every situation you have.
‘At Bournemouth I had a problem with my right hip, which we tried to rehabilitate without surgery and I returned to training after about six or seven months.
‘I eventually had to undergo an operation. It turned out my hip was damaged from playing so much sport when younger. The surgeon explained that 80-90 per cent of footballers have an extra bit of bone growing on their hip – I was the small percentage that feel any kind of symptoms.
‘Then I came back for pre-season in the summer of 2019. It was a Saturday morning and the lads were preparing for their opening Premier League game against Sheffield United, while I was going out on loan. So four or five of us were doing a little session.
‘We were carrying out a one-v-one, I dropped my shoulder, like I do in training every day, and my right knee exploded as I planted my foot into the ground. Everything popped out sideways. There was no contact with anyone.
‘The lateral collateral ligament had off the bone, as did my hamstring. It was a freak and caught everyone by surprise. There had been no signs.
‘As I didn’t tear anything, the ligament was intact and the hamstring was intact. They had to bang it back in, which meant I was out for six months when it could have been longer.
‘It is tough when you get back from injury then something else goes wrong. It’s demoralising. You work so hard, then it’s all ripped away from you.
‘But I’m fine now and looking forward to playing well for Accrington.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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