GaryTaylor-Fletcher (Blackpool v Liverpool)





                                     RICHARD BUTCHER                                     

 Lost friends Alexander and Butcher are in our hearts as Macc face big  guns

Just before two o'clock on Saturday  afternoon, a giant banner will be hung at Macclesfield Town's Moss Rose ground.  It reads: 'Keith Alexander, Richard Butcher - Forever Silkmen.'

It is unfurled for every home game but for  the FA Cup third-round tie against Bolton, the unofficial ceremony will be more  poignant than usual, taking place as it does on the first anniversary weekend of  Butcher's death at the age of 29.

Alexander, the Macclesfield manager, passed  away 10 months earlier, in Passed away: Keith AlexanderMarch 2010. He was only 53. Tragic loss: Richard Butcher


Tragic losses: Keith Alexander (left) and Richard  Butcher (right)

You do not have to search for tributes to  both men at Moss Rose. They come to you. The supporters' bar has been renamed  'Keith's Bar'. Turn to the back page of the match-day programme and a blue shirt  upon which 'Butcher' is underscored by the number 21 shouts out proudly from its  centre.

The salute of Alexander's successor Gary  Simpson carries a personal touch. Every match Simpson wears '21' on his back for  Butcher and yellow socks in memory of Alexander, who did the same throughout his  managerial career.

Simpson said: 'What has happened is never out  of my mind and I'm sure it's never out of the minds of some of the players. It's  unprecedented for any football club.

'On a personal level, the Gaffer and  Butch  were the two people that I was closest to in football. And as  friends. Keith  was a larger-than-life character. He could communicate at any level and for the  black community he was a leader. In terms of  running a football club and being  a figurehead for that club, there was  nobody finer.

Here's to you: Alexander has a bar named after him at Moss Rose

Here's to you: Alexander has a bar named after him at  Moss Rose

'Butch was a fantastic lad. If you had a  daughter, he would be the ideal person you would want her to walk in the door  with.'

No-one in Cheshire felt the double tragedy  with greater force. Simpson spent 15 years as Alexander's assistant, while his  bond with Butcher was forged when he spotted the 21-year-old midfielder playing  for non-League  Kettering and persuaded him to join the Alexander   revolution at Lincoln.

The unsteadiness of  Simpson's voice as  he  chronicles events hints at the private grief which he has yet to fully  overcome.

His has been a remarkable, if wholly  unwanted, journey. It began in  unbridled shock after Alexander, who had  suffered two cerebral aneurysms in 2003, collapsed at home after returning  from  Macclesfield's midweek game at Notts County. He never regained  consciousness.

Alexander had given a player a lift to the  game that night. It was Butcher.

'I can remember ringing Keith as he  was  dropping Butch off,' added Simpson. 'We said, "Speak to you in the  morning".  Then, at 10 to eight the next morning, I got a phone call off  his son Matt to  say he had died and that they had turned the life   support machine off.

Memory: Butcher's retired shirt number appears on the back of every home programme

Memory: Butcher's retired shirt number appears on the  back of every home programme

'I notified the club. The players were off  that day. They reported to the ground the day after and it was very upsetting  for everybody. It devastated the club.

'I took over as caretaker because it was  imperative that we stayed in the league and that the lads stuck together. I just  said, "Let me get you safe. Let me get you a few points on the board". But I  didn't know what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to stay or  whatever.'

Alexander's death united the  Macclesfield  squad and they retained Football League status. Butcher, on loan from Lincoln,  made his transfer permanent in the summer. No one  could have foreseen that a  cardiac would claim his life at  his Manchester home

  Simpson said: 'Butch was a great kid, the  fittest kid I've ever come  across. He was like a son, always on the phone to  me. When he didn't  turn up for training in the morning I just had a feeling  there was  something wrong.

'I rang  and rang. I just couldn't get hold  of him. I ended up ringing Futch  (Butcher's former Lincoln team-mate Ben  Futcher, then at Bury) because I knew he lived near him.

'I asked him if he'd seen Butch. He  said,  "No, but I'm not far off his house, I'll pop round". He rang back  and said,  "The car's on the drive, but the curtains are closed. I'm  knocking and I can  hear the dog barking". I said, "You'll have to smash  the  door down. Something's not right". He said, "I can't find anything to smash the  window with. I'll ring the police".

Never forgotten: New manager Gary Simpson honours both men at every match

Never forgotten: New manager Gary Simpson honours both  men at every match

'Within two minutes the police arrived and  broke in. They went upstairs and found him in bed. Futch rang me and broke down  and said Butch was dead. I just said, "You're joking!"

'He was just the last person you would have  expected it to happen to. Again I had to notify the club and the chairman. He  came to the training ground the next day. It was upsetting, devastating trying  to speak to the players. With all the will in the world, we were all  crying.

'To lose Butch hit the  players a lot harder. He was one of them and we struggled. I don't think we won in 10 or 12  games but we stayed up again.'

For the second time in 10 months, the club  opened up a book of  condolence, scarves were tied to railings and a minute's  applause for  another footballing life cut tragically short echoed around Moss  Rose.

Big clash: Macclesfield host Bolton in the FA Cup third round on Saturday

Big clash: Macclesfield host Bolton in the FA Cup third  round on Saturday

For Butcher, that was on January 22 last  year. It would have been his 30th birthday and 30 white doves were released to  mark it. His Macclesfield No 21 shirt has been retired.

Through it all Simpson saw it as a duty of  care to his departed friends to stay strong, to lead.

'I was trying to get through the upset  myself. I was taking the first team one night and the reserves the next. Some of  the players helped me and they were tremendous.

'You're waking up at ridiculous hours, you've  got headaches and you think you're just not well. I didn't know how much stress  and pressure I was under and how much it had taken out of me until I eventually  went away and relaxed in the summer.

'Keith and Butch are a huge part of what we  are about, that spirit we have to have at Macclesfield to compete, the  togetherness we have.

'They will never be forgotten.'

1999-2000Northampton Town0(0)
2000-2001Rushden & Diamonds0(0)
2001-2002Kettering Town44(13)
2002-2005Lincoln City104(11)
2005-2006Oldham Athletic36(4)
2005Lincoln City (loan)4(1)
2006-2007Peterborough United43(4)
2007-2009Notts County80(18)
2009-2010Lincoln City15(0)
2010Macclesfield Town (loan)8(2)
2010-2011Macclesfield Town7(1)