Stuart Pearce's 19-year-old first choice keeper due to face Neymar, Hulk and Co in London 2012 Olympics warm-up game
For Jack Butland, the schoolboy fantasy of being a footballer has become reality. The 19-year-old is living the whirlwind rise from obscurity to the game's big time that is the dream of many an aspiring player. Next Friday the Birmingham City goalkeeper lines up as first-choice No1 for Stuart Pearce's Olympic Great Britain XI in their opening London 2012 warm-up. At the Riverside Stadium the opponents will be a Brazil side whose tilt at the gold medal is led by Neymar, Hulk, Alexandre Pato, Thiago Silva and Marcelo, all senior internationals and mostly Champions League veterans. They pull on the famous yellow jersey that features five World Cup-winning stars and a lineage that includes Garrincha, Pelé, Zico, Romário and Ronaldo.
Against this challenge Butland has experienced as a professional just 24 League Two appearances on loan for Cheltenham, all Town last season. Before a summer that began with selection by Roy Hodgson for England's quest at Euro 2012, his most glamorous experience was Cheltenham's play-off semi-final at Torquay United in May. Not that he played. By then Butland was back with Birmingham after being recalled following an injury to Boaz Myhill.
Cheltenham's manager, Mark Yates, says: "He came to watch us at Torquay in the second leg and stood behind the goal. That's the kind of person he is. He made his way to Torquay by himself and supported the mates he had for the season. That shows what he's about."
That show of esprit de corps from a teenager just starting in the game is one illustration of the "old head on a young boy's shoulders" those who know Butland well repeatedly cite as being part of his character. To this is added a 6ft 4in frame and a talent that has won Butland 27 caps at England under-16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 level plus the 2009 European Under-17 championship, when Spain were beaten in the final.
When John Ruddy broke his finger in England's pre-Euro 2012 training camp, Hodgson recognised Butland's potential by taking him to Ukraine and Poland as his third-choice goalkeeper. Now he could end his summer of surprises as an Olympic champion. Of his meteoric rise, Yates says: "He'll take it in his stride. Without being blase or big‑headed about it, he knows he's a good keeper. He knows he has loads to learn and improve on because he's 19. But the basics are there, he's going to be a top keeper. We just helped him. If it hadn't have been at Cheltenham it would've been somewhere else because he needed games. The inclusion [for] the Euros was a meteoric rise but it was for experience. I don't think there was really a chance of him featuring. But he would have just got on with it."
Butland, who is from Bristol and went to school in Clevedon, got his break playing for the Jamie Shore Soccer International Academy. Shore, a former Norwich City and Bristol Rovers midfielder, says: "The success has been so quick for him. He came to us at 14 and was spotted by Birmingham and went there, never really looked back, and got international recognition up to 21. He's got a great technique, he's intelligent, level-headed, he's got a great personality. He's a grafter – he wants it so bad."
Shore believes Butland is better than some of his own contemporaries, including England's current second-choice keeper, Robert Green. He says: "I was with Richard Wright in the England squad at under-16 level and with Rob Green at Norwich. It sticks in the memory what attributes they had, what types of character they had, and they're no patch on Jack."
Butland's elevation to the senior England squad felt hasty, but Shore says: "It's a stepping-stone success, and some people may have been saying that being selected for the Euros was premature but actually he's been in the [under-20] World Cup [in 2011], he knows all the England coaches and you're in a bubble, you're quite institutionalised: that's what you're training for. I think he's going to be a very big name."
Butland's move to Birmingham came when he impressed for Shore's academy against a junior club affiliated with the Blues. When Blackpool were a Premier League club two years ago and Shore was head of their youth side, Butland attracted the attention of the manager, Ian Holloway. At Birmingham last season Colin Doyle was the first-choice keeper; Butland wants regular football and may depart – Southampton, newly promoted, retain an interest. Wherever the teenager's future lies, Shore tells a story that suggests why he may keep on rising to prominence and prosper at this month's Olympic Games.
"About three years ago, when he was a scholar [at Birmingham], I drove through Clevedon and past the playing field of his school and chance would have it Jack was there practising kicking a ball with a mate. That just sort of sums Jack up." Read More
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