Rugby world mourns passing of rugby ‘poet’ Eddie Butler

Thursday 22nd September 2022 4:00 pm
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Eddie Butler
Former Wales international Eddie Butler passed away in his sleep last Thursday (Pic from Huw Evans Agency )

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TRIBUTES have been paid from across the sports world and beyond to rugby commentator, broadcaster, writer and former Wales captain Eddie Butler after his sudden death on a charity trek in South America.

The shock news that the 65-year-old Raglan-based father-of-six had passed away at a campsite on the Inca trail left rugby-commentating colleagues like Brian Moore and Jonathan Davies devastated.

Players and people from across the world of broadcasting hailed his ‘lyricism’ on screen and page that effortlessly captured the moment, alongside his kindness and generosity.

Monmouthshire through and through, who gave his time to local clubs, he was remembered by Abergavenny RFC which said it had “ lost a true friend and gentleman”.

Past chairman Huw Beavan said: “Eddie was a passionate supporter at the club with three of his sons playing here, Jack, Jacob and Seth.

“His generosity and help at many functions at the club and his superb interviewing of numerous guests will long be remembered.

“He was no doubt the voice of Wales and Welsh rugby in particular and the voice over the video of our WRU Bowl victory in the Principality Stadium will never be forgotten.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Sue and all the Butler family at this very difficult time. RIP Eddie you will be dearly missed by us all.”

He was also remembered at Monmouth School, where he captained the successful 1st XV under coach Rod Sealy in the early 1970s, and Monmouth RFC, of whom he was patron.

Just days before his passing in Peru, his broadcast on the global reaction to the news of the Queen’s death underlined his special status as a multi-dimensional broadcaster, who encompassed history documentaries and the Olympics, as well as the sport he excelled in.

Many saw him as the natural heir to his early days mentor Bill McClaren, spending his words, said sports writer Peter Jackson, “as if they were £20 notes, invariably finding one to capture the moment when others would use 20”.

Former England hooker Moore, who formed a sparring double act with the Welshman in the rugby commentary box for years, posted: “My God, I’m going to miss this man…

“I am devastated by this news. Ed, I’m sorry I never told you how much I admired you as a broadcaster and as a man. Well, it wasn’t like that between us, was it.

“Condolences to Sue and your family. Sport has lost an iconic voice, I have lost a very dear friend. Goodbye Edward.”

And former Wales fly-half Davies, speaking emotionally on a special BBC Radio Wales tribute from the US while doing a Velindre charity bike ride, added: “Eddie was a presenter, a pundit, a genius broadcaster. He could turn his hand to everything. He was such a brilliant guy.

“He always had time for everybody. I just enjoyed working with him. It’s very difficult to put into words how good he was and how devastated everyone is. I can’t get my head around it.

“It was a joy to go into work. He was so eloquent. He had his own unique style. No one told him what to do or how to do it.

“He just had that Midas touch. He was a gentle, charming man. Very well educated, beautifully spoken.”

Former Wales and British Lions skipper Sam Warburton tweeted: “Stunned at the news and passing of Eddie Butler. Thoughts with his family.

“What an amazing contribution to rugby and broadcasting. A privilege to have played and co-commentated with his voice. RIP Eddie.”

England football hero and Match of the Day anchor Gary Lineker posted: “Awful news. A terrific broadcaster and wonderful wordsmith. RIP Eddie.”

And Wales great Scott Quinnell, who climbed Kilimanjaro with Butler as part of the 2010 Wales Captains’ charity climb for Velindre, described him as a ”wonderful man” with a “soothing voice”.

“He was one of those guys - a bit like Grav (Ray Gravell) - where you didn’t have to be in his company, you could just watch one of his programmes about the history of a part of Wales.

“You’d sit there for half hour, you’d lose yourself in the story, the pronunciation and the way he put the story across.

“At the end of it, you felt like you’d learned something but you’d had a cwtch with a big pillow as well.”

Former England skipper and World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “Eddie Butler was a true commentary great - the recognisable voice of the sport to millions and unrivalled in his storytelling behind the mic.

“Captain of Wales and a superb player, he was also a true gentleman. I am deeply shocked. My thoughts are with his family and BBC colleagues.”

Former England wing Austin Healey posted: “Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Eddie Butler.

“He was genuinely one of the nicest, clever and funny guys I’d ever had the privilege to meet… his turn of phrase either written or spoken was exceptional. RIP Eddie, like so many I will miss you.”

Wales star Jamie Roberts said simply: “Eddie Butler. One of a kind. RIP legend.”

Team-mate Mike Phillips added: “Shocking news about the great Eddie Butler. I can’t believe it! He was such a lovely guy. Thoughts are with his family.”

And current star George North, who lives in Goytre, posted: “So sad to hear about Eddie Butler. Not only a great player and a great commentator, he was one of the nicest and kindest people you’ll ever meet. RIP Eddie. You will be missed.”

Welsh Rugby Union chair Rob Butcher added: “For many Eddie was the voice of Welsh rugby and he will be sorely missed by supporters around the globe as well as his friends throughout the game and here at the WRU.

“He was a unique individual and the game in Wales owes him a debt of gratitude for his contributions both on and off the pitch.”

After leaving Monmouth School, Eddie played for Cambridge University where he studied Spanish and French.

The No 8 then became a legend at Ray Prosser’s all-conquering club side Pontypool, captaining the team between 1982 and 1985, and winning 16 caps for Wales as well as skippering the national side six times, and scoring two Test tries.

He was also called up to the British and Irish Lions squad that toured New Zealand in 1983.

Pontypool team-mate, front row legend and Wales room-mate Graham Price revealed that his nickname in the hard as steel club team was ‘Bamber’, after University Challenge host Bamber Gascoigne, due to his education and intelligence.

Price revealed: “My personal memories are ones of extreme fondness, dating right back to the day he first walked into the Pontypool dressing room as a gangly 19-year-old who’d just left Monmouth School and had been accepted to study at Cambridge University…

“It says everything about Eddie’s character, and his ability as a player, that he was able to blend into our dressing room, join in the banter and go on to successfully lead us to trophies as our captain.

“He won our respect for the person, and player, that he was.”

And on his later career, he added: “Not many can combine eloquence with the deep-seated rugby knowledge he possessed, having been there and done it himself on the pitch.

“Eddie was able to tick those two boxes brilliantly, unique in a way.”

After retiring from rugby at 27 and three years teaching at Cheltenham College, he carved out a remarkable career in journalism, broadcasting and commentary, starting with the Sunday Correspondent in 1988 followed by The Observer in 1991.

He joined BBC Wales in 1990, starting his commentary career alongside Bill McLaren before becoming the lead BBC rugby commentator.

BBC Two Wales aired a special tribute to him on Sunday night, following one by BBC Radio Wales.

And presenter Ross Harries said: “He was always such brilliant, stimulating company.”

TV commentator Miles Harrison posted: “Devastated by Eddie Butler’s passing. Loved his work. Loved his company. Truly great broadcaster but, most importantly, truly great man.”

And Nick Mullins added: “While the rest of us fumbled around in the dark to add anything worthwhile, Eddie made it all seem so simple.

“His genius, delivering effortless poetry and storytelling. We’ve all lost a unique voice.”

Refereeing great Nigel Owens added: “He was a lovely, lovely man. When you worked with him he always made you feel at ease… I really was so shocked and saddened when I read it.”

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted: “Extremely sad to hear of Eddie’s passing. Eddie was an incredible player and a supremely talented broadcaster. Wales will miss him terribly.”

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