Who sponsors the AFC Bournemouth Under-10s?
(An abbreviated version of this story appeared as ‘Butler ready to serve’, in the Geelong Advertiser, Friday 1 May 2015, p. 58.)
The fairy story of English football this season has been the transformation of AFC Bournemouth from a team in danger of being relegated from senior football and going out of existence to the latest entrant to the English Premier League. That story is underpinned by the contribution of Geelongâ€™s Russell Butler, long time referee and supporter of all things good in football. Russell is the sponsor of AFC Bournemouthâ€™s Under 10s, helping make sure that this ascent is not going to be followed by an equally rapid descent as has happened to many clubs in the past.
He wakened up on Monday morning in England with a very sore head after a night of celebration at Dean Court after Bournemouth all but confirmed their promotion to the EPL with a three-nil win over Bolton Wanderers in the Championship, the second tier in England. It will take a nineteen-goal turnaround in the final games next weekend to prevent Bournemouthâ€™s automatic promotion. Even then they could still qualify via the play-offs.
Russell was born in Bearcroft, a suburb of Bournemouth in 1947 and came to Australia as a four-year-old. His family brought him here, because his motherâ€™s sister would not travel without her! â€˜Women!â€™ he says. The families settled in Tasmania and Russell took up football (soccer) with the Police Boys Club and later went on to play for Burnie Celtic and Hobart Rangers, which sounds as if he were a member of Glasgowâ€™s â€˜Old Firmâ€™. When he came to Geelong, it was the dark blues of Hamlyn Rangers, now Geelong Rangers, where he played. In 1974 he took up refereeing and since that day his height and his throaty voice, the result of blow he received while playing, have made him the whispering giant of the game in Geelong. He became a Grade One referee in 1988 and had officiated in well over a thousand games before he hung up his whistle in 1994. He did Premier League games, a Victorian League Cup final and Asian-Pacific Deaf competition at Olympic Park.
He has been secretary of clubs and leagues, has worked tirelessly both in Geelong and Melbourne to raise the standard of refereeing, and has been a strong advocate of a single team to represent the area at the highest level. He was the Geelong Soccer Personality of 1996, sponsored by the Geelong Advertiser. But he has never lost his attachment to AFC Bournemouth, a club that has spent most of its 125 years in the lower divisions, never rising above the second tier. Now it is on the verge of entry to the most watched league on the planet.
When Russell gets back home next month he will be finding some way to assist one of the local clubs or leagues or their officials or referees to improve their performance and their chances of success. He does not seek reward for his efforts but he has â€˜the good of the gameâ€™ imprinted in his DNA.
He is a member of Melbourne Victory, has helped Ballarat Red Devils in their ascent to the Victorian Premier League, presides over a group of refereeing colleagues who form a wine-appreciation society and makes this soccer-tragic feel at times that he is a dilettante by comparison. So that is why he has put his hard earned money, much of it earned as a porter at Geelong hospitals, into the Under-10s in far away Bournemouth. What an example of selfless dedication to sport and society.