Eddie Butler was true to his word about taking rugby seriously, if not himself – The Irish Times

Last Thursday was a sad and sad day. It was bad enough that King announced his retirement, having floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee for more than two illustrious decades at the top of world tennis, but even more shocking was the news of Eddie Butler’s death at just 65.

It was only through his death that she fully appreciate what a wonderfully talented, multidimensional and talented man Eddie was, as well as just being such a beautiful man. And what a privilege he is to be among his wider circle of fellow journalism, especially on overseas tours.

It was one thing to be a seriously accomplished number eight for Pontypool, Wales, British and Irish Lions, and quite another to drift into a career as a unique broadcaster and journalist through stints as a teacher and working for a real estate developer. He was also a polyglot, a novelist of fact and fiction, a charitable worker and activist for Welsh independence, and much more.

As the iconic voice of BBC rugby, surpassing even the great Bill McLaren, he will be remembered and loved even more. Besides being smart, cultured and straightforward, he has been blessed with a ridiculously lyrical voice. Whenever the BBC put together a rugby montage with Eddie’s sweet voices, it was fun to watch. He could have made reading the phone book fun.

His drift in suspension as a largely untrained announcer made him the best. Aside from his proficiency in English, as well as French, Spanish (which he studied at Cambridge), and Welsh, Eddy brought a reassuring, balanced soundtrack into a game in his absorbing double with Brian Moore.

Thanks to the BBC, we will always have Eddie’s voice. “The timeless sound of our winter rugby,” Robert Kitson told The Guardian last Saturday. They would no doubt praise his life and career, albeit a poor alternative.

As my angel Clerkin noted in these pages last Saturday, Eddie’s comment had a way of expressing the importance of the six-match he was commenting on, but also that she was still a lark as well.

In line with this, in the Observer on Sunday, Paul Reese mentioned one of Eddie’s slogans: “You can take rugby seriously but you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously.” In this he was completely faithful to his word.

It also helped that he had a peculiar way of dealing with words, and while his comments were what set him apart, Eddie wrote a lot more than he spoke. And he was a really great writer too.

About a decade ago, Eddie moved away from writing for the Guardian and Observer, or by any means the weekly grind of syndicated interviews, press conferences and match reports, in order to spend more time at his beloved home in a remote part of Monmouthshire with Susan and their six children.

Fortunately, Eddie remained a regular member of the press rooms on international days, and after completing his first fantasy novel, he revealed to me with those raised eyebrows, seemingly surprised: “There’s actually so much sex in it!”

He once explained to me that the turning point in his decision to step back from crushing the newspaper, was getting stuck in a traffic jam on a motorway en route to the Premier League game in the English Midlands on Saturday afternoon. There he then decided that he was tired of this grind and duly decided that he would no longer do it, and called his editor the following week to notify him accordingly. “I’ve had enough of it.”

Eddie was never part of the herd or ran with the herd. His slightly odd reporting, more of a match really, was anything but formula; More of his view of the match is told in the form of a story.

Through our long association with the Guardian, his signature prose style has often been used by The Irish Times, and one of my personal favorites was his essay on the 2011 World Cup Final at Eden Park in Auckland, when the All Blacks finished 24 years in mischief by faltering. Frontline against a French team that was hit by New Zealand and lost to Tonga in the pool stages and witnessed the players revolution.

“All the Blacks had a stressful night, which might not be a way to begin celebrating their victory. But they were made visibly uncomfortable by France, who were not unusually recognized by their nefarious selves in all the other stages of the tournament that we should have known throughout Time and without any reasonable doubt that it was bound to play in this way.They still go against the depths of the unfathomably brilliant rugby spirits, and we should cherish every rebellious sarcasm and cynical disregard as indicators of future beauty.

“However, there was still something of an elephant in the room. Refereeing the match. Craig Joubert did not rise to the level of the universal occasion, only rose to the kiwi event. The sixteenth man was not there, because the Eden Park crowd had already claimed the role, an expression About the will of a nation will not be denied.

But Joubert was no curious investigator here. He seemed to take the view that this was not a crime scene but a house party and it would be rude to investigate too much. In short, rule France but not the All Blacks. These seven weeks were not the best judges.”

And things went on, every gem word, until he concluded: “They were ugly and beautiful, contrasting like France throughout the World Cup. The All Blacks were the best and they won the title at their worst. They deserved everything that came their way, the hard way.”

He just nailed it, as Eddie always did.

gerry.thornley@irishtimes.com