Jack Butland: great expectations
By Graham Hill
Jack Butland had the look of a jubilant X-Factor winner last summer. Still just 19, the Birmingham City goalkeeper was being hailed as the next big thing. But, just like with any new kid on the block, he admits it is a tough ask to keep a successful formula going week after week.
Butland was thrust into the limelight seemingly from nowhere when he was named in Roy Hodgson’s squads for the European Championships last summer. He stepped in when Norwich’s John Ruddy was ruled out. Butland was tipped as a name for the future and received glowing references from fellow 'keepers such as Joe Hart and Ben Foster.
After that, Butland was handed a prominent role in Team GB's Olympic squad. All this before he had even played a game in the Championship. Butland had spent most of the previous season on loan at Cheltenham Town. But even then he was the subject of interest from a number of Premier League clubs with Southampton thought to be ready to pay £6million for him.
Birmingham held on to Butland, though. They had just seen Foster depart for West Bromwich Albion and new manager Lee Clark felt a season in the Championship would do Butland good.
But once Butland had come back down to earth, he found the incessant demands of English football’s second tier taking its toll. Butland has emerged from the close season with a big reputation. And nerves soon kicked in.
Birmingham were on the receiving end of a few early season defeats, including a 5-0 hammering at home by Barnsley. His club were struggling but only now can Butland admit to a nasty of stage fright. However, Butland was still an international standard ‘keeper.
And when he played in the controversial Under-21 match in Serbia, he responded superbly. England won 1-0 and amid all the brawls and blatant racism, Butland stood his ground despite being pelted with missiles by hostile Serb fans.
And now Butland hopes he can use the experience to help him fulfil his undoubted promise. Butland explained the problems he has been having.
He said: “At the start of the season I was a little nervous and holding back and not doing that because I was frightened to make a mistake. But I know I am capable of performances week in week out like the one against Leicester which I thought was probably my best game for Birmingham.
"I will never lose confidence in my ability. There were nerves to start with, but the games have gone on. I have kept two clean sheets against Serbia for the under 21s and that builds your confidence again. As the season goes on and I get older I will experience a lot of things with international experiences and with Birmingham - and it will make me better as a player.
"The nerves were after the summer with England. A lot of it was expectations on myself. I wanted to keep up the same standards. People will make mistakes. I mad a few at the start of the season. I am not going to deny that. I put it behind me and I have learned from them. I was putting a bit too much pressure on myself, but I have relaxed and the confidence is starting to come back out. My recent performances have shown that.”
Butland has also been using England team-mate Hart for inspiration. He hopes to one day emulate the Manchester City goalkeeper - and is quick to take lessons from him in the art of being one of the most exposed and vulnerable players on the pitch.
Butland added: "You have to shut things out. Joe is fantastic at it. He puts things behind him in a split second. As soon as that ball hit the net when Poland equalised against England in their World Cup qualifier, he would have been thinking about the next save.
"There is no doubt you have to be switched on and if you make a mistake as a keeper often it ends up as a goal and you have to deal with that. I am learning from the likes of him. And experiencing it myself will make me stronger.”