Sam Butler: A story of success, setbacks and determination
After initially starting out playing soccer, Sam Butler went on to become a premiership player with the West Coast Eagles. After an injury riddled career and over 150 games, the reliable defender went One on One with Jack Hudson.
JH: You didn’t start out as a footballer, but instead played soccer. What was that like?
SB: I grew up playing soccer as with all young kids, it wasn’t my decision – I just did whatever the parents told me to do.
I started our pretty young, at about four or five-years-old.
If it were still up to them, I would’ve never played football at all, dad wasn’t keen on me starting out with footy when I did, thought it was a bit too dangerous and that I was going to get hurt.
Turns out he was right.
I loved playing soccer, I played soccer and footy in the last couple of years (before the draft), and footy kind of took over.
JH: Why did you make the change – did you believe you had a better chance of playing at a higher level?
SB: I didn’t know at the time whether it was, but the avenue to it was quicker.
Soccer, I wasn’t Harry Kewell and moving to England when I was 14, it would’ve taken some time to build up through, and there’s not the draft system.
I got drafted at 17 to go into footy, so that last 18 months before that time, if I’m gonna have a crack, I’m going to do it now and see if I can get drafted.
I already made the decision if I didn’t get drafted that year, I would’ve quit footy and gone back to soccer.
I was very happy I did get drafted.
JH: You played your junior footy at South Gawler. How did you find your time there?
SB: I loved it.
It all kind of happened because my best mate (who was living down the road), his dad was coaching the under 15s.
I was training a fair bit for soccer; I had a bit of representative stuff and had training every night.
He was very cruisy with it, he said there’s no pressure and you don’t have to train too much, soccer was on Sundays, he said to come down and play on Saturdays.
It all started innocuously, I just wanted to play with friends basically and have some fun.
For that first year, I enjoyed it more than I thought, and I ended up going onto bigger and better things pretty quickly which was unexpected.
JH: You were picked up by Central District early, so when was it exactly that you first walked through its doors?
SB: It was in that first year, I was playing under 15 at South Gawler and it was about halfway through the year I got the call and they asked me to come down and train with the under 17s.
Dad put a stop to that because they thought they were a bit too big for me, so he decided that wasn’t going to happen.
The year after I played reserves and went to did a full pre-season.
After that happened, I think I played some state footy as well.
JH: What was the experience with the AFL-AIS Academy like?
SB: It was awesome, we went over to Ireland at one stage, I’d never been overseas at that stage.
I was still pretty laxed with my football when I was in the academy, it wasn’t my priority, but it did show me if I was going to make it, the elite players in Australia I was running around with.
JH: You won a reserves flag with the Bulldogs as well. What do you remember about that day?
SB: I don’t remember much. I got my nose broken, I can’t remember if it was either the end of the first quarter or early in the second, but basically someone cleaned me up.
We played Port Adelaide, so it was no surprise.
I was out for the rest of the day, I was quite happy to go back on, but we won convincingly.
The only thing I remember was the celebrations after down at Elizabeth.
JH: A bit further down the track was draft day. How did you feel going into it and how many clubs did you speak to in the lead up?
SB: It was a funny one, because I’m working in Melbourne now with some of the recruiters, and I’ve had a couple of chats to them about that time.
I only spoke to the two Adelaide clubs, and I feel like they had to do their rounds.
We had a few guys at Centrals that year they were talking to, and the only other club I spoke to was West Coast, and they told me that I’m in the mix for their last pick, which was around 60 or 70, and they had 20 or 30 blokes in that mix.
I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to West Coast after that, and I didn’t really predict going at all, I didn’t have any high hopes until two weeks before the draft when the word started coming around that Port were going to look at me.
I had a relatively good finals series with Centrals and finished off the season pretty well, unbeknownst to me, it was all rumbling around pretty late.
When the draft was on, I was at schoolies in Victor Harbor, I didn’t see it, I didn’t know until I got the call from John Worsfold.
JH: What was it like moving interstate?
SB: It all happened quickly, myself and Beau Waters were both at schoolies so we had to drive back into town and meet the guys from the club…we were quite hungover, I don’t know if I should say that as we were both 17.
We met with West Coast, and I think it was the Tuesday or Wednesday after that we were in Perth ready to train.
It all happened quick, and a lot of people say that 17 is young to move away from your family and all that stuff, but to be honest, I don’t think you could do it in a better way.
The clubs are set up for it, I had an amazing host family in Perth, you go straight into having 44 other mates that want to look after you.
The transition was exciting, I obviously missed family and friends, but other than that, it was great.
JH: So you had no feeling of ever returning to SA?
SB: To be honest, no.
If I had the choice at the start, I would’ve loved to have stayed in South Australia and played for either Port or the Crows.
I had a fair few injuries early in my career, I was always taken aback by the support the club showed me through some of those times, and some of that stuff I knew I’d never leave.