Peter Butler is the highest points scorer in Gloucester’s history by a distance. He was a phenomenal place kicker who so exercised the minds of the press that even if he was not playing, a likely headline would be “Gloucester miss Butler”. He totalled 3,006 points for the club and another 654 for Gloucestershire. He appeared in seven County Championship finals and was on the winning side in three. He won two England caps, and also played for the Western Counties or the South-West teams against three touring countries.
Peter Edward Butler was born on 23 June 1951, just a stone’s throw from Kingsholm in Alvin Street. He attended The Crypt Grammar School, where he was taught his rugby by Horace Edwards, a fine player in his own right, who played in two war-time internationals for Wales. Peter played for the school fifteen at fly-half. He went to Birmingham University, where he was ignored in trials and started in the University’s third fifteen. He worked his way up and eventually captained the full University team.
His first game for Gloucester was on 6 September 1972 against Moseley. He immediately set his stall out with four conversions and a penalty. Peter would now take over the full-back spot from Eric Stephens, another outstanding place kicker. Butler appeared in 33 games that season and scored 324 points. His talent was recognised at once, for in October he was selected to play for Western Counties against the touring All Blacks at Kingsholm. Counties would lose 12-39, but Peter kicked two penalties, and converted a try scored by Mike Burton. Peter West of The Times wrote, “Butler kicked the goals impressively. He emerged from this test with some credit. He could play for England one day”.
The 1973-74 season was Peter’s greatest as a kicker. In all games he scored 574 points, just seven short of the world record set by Moseley’s Sam Doble. That season was the club’s centenary and Don Rutherford organised a star-studded International XV to play at Kingsholm. The Cherry and Whites put on a superb display to win 24-14. Peter scored a try and two conversions.
Further recognition was forthcoming in the following 1974-75 season. In December Peter played for the South and South-West against the South-East and Metropolitan in the first version of the Divisional Championship. He kicked a conversion and drop goal in a 9-19 defeat. He was selected to go on England’s tour of Australia in the summer of 1975 and won his first cap at Brisbane on 24 May. Australia won 16-9. Peter, who was accompanied by Peter Kingston and Mike Burton in the team, scored a conversion and a penalty. Peter West wrote, ”Butler made a sound, resourceful first appearance. His positioning was good and he kicked two fine goals”.
In November of the following season Peter kicked two penalties for the Western Counties against Australia, and in March 1976 he won his second and final cap against France in Paris. Chris Williams was at fly-half, and Mike Burton in the front row. It was an ill-starred game for England and although Butler kicked a penalty and conversion, France triumphed 30-9.
In 1976-77, Gloucester had high hopes of a good run in the John Player Cup. The first two rounds, against Harlequins and Bristol were negotiated comfortably enough, but in the next round the team was drawn away to Gosforth, the current cup holders. On a windy day, conditions were not conducive to kicking, and Peter missed six kicks at goal, although to this day he maintains that three or four were over, but kicked so high above the posts the touch-judges could not be certain that they were good. Gloucester lost 3-0 to the one successful penalty kicked.
However, the 1977-78 campaign saw Gloucester, under the captaincy of John Watkins, ensure that this time they meant business. The same fifteen played in each round of the cup. On the way there was a re-match with Gosforth at Kingsholm which Gloucester won 19-10. The final at Twickenham was against Leicester. Richard Mogg scored a try in the corner, which Butler converted superbly, and Gloucester won 6-3. Peter had scored 40 of the 88 points scored through the cup campaign.
In November 1978 Peter played for the South and South-West against New Zealand, but his season was ended prematurely due to a broken collar bone.
A broken wrist delayed his start to the 1981-82 season until March, when he played a couple of warm-up games for the United, before appearing against Abertillery on 30 March. Meanwhile the Cherry and Whites had been making steady progress through the rounds of the John Player Cup, with Paul Ford at full-back. Four days after the Abertillery game Gloucester played at Coventry in the semi-final, and Peter was selected. He kicked two penalties and two conversions in the 18-9 win. Early in the game he suffered a broken thumb, but played on and could have played in the final, but Paul Ford was selected instead. The semi-final proved to be Peter’s last game in England for Gloucester. He went on the club’s summer tour of South Africa, and his final game was on 8 May 1982 against Club of America. He scored a drop goal.
Peter had an extraordinary career playing for Gloucestershire. He won 60 county caps, only one short of the record of “Bumps” Carpenter and John Bayliss. He made his first county appearance on 26 September 1972 against Monmouthshire, scoring all Gloucestershire’s points with three penalties. He played right through the season’s campaign, missing only the semi-final against Eastern Counties due to injury, when Eric Stephens took his place. He was back for the final against Lancashire at Bristol, but the county were beaten 17-12, with Butler kicking a conversion and two penalties.
In 1973-74 Peter played in all the Championship games, including the final, again against Lancashire, at Blundellsands. Gloucestershire won 22-12, with Butler kicking four penalties and a conversion. The Times said, “Butler scarcely put a foot wrong”. Gloucestershire scored 99 points through the competition, and Butler had contributed 59 of them.
The following season John Bayliss captained Gloucestershire. Again, Peter played through the campaign, which ran smoothly until the quarter-final against Hertfordshire. The unconsidered Hertfordshire were leading 12-9 (three Butler penalties) having scored the only try of the game, when Mike Burton was sent off. The county had to rely on Peter to kick two more penalties to see the 14 men home. He scored another 16 points against Warwickshire in the 28-3 semi-final win at Kingsholm. The final, also played at Gloucester against Eastern Counties, resulted in a 13-9 win, Butler scoring with a conversion and penalty.
In 1975-76 the county again had John Bayliss at the helm. Yet again Peter played in every game. The final was against Middlesex at Richmond. Gloucestershire won 24-9, to achieve a hat-trick of wins. The game was a personal triumph for Butler. He scored all of the county’s points with a try, conversion and six penalties. It also meant that out of the county’s 126 points scored in the campaign, Peter contributed a remarkable 90.
He was present through the following five seasons, when the county made three finals and two semi-finals, all being unsuccessful. The last of those finals was at Kingsholm against Northumberland on 31 January 1981. Gloucestershire lost 6-15, and it was inevitable that the points came from two Peter Butler penalties. That was Peter’s last appearance for Gloucestershire.
For the county Peter had scored 654 points, consisting of three tries, 69 conversions, 160 penalties and eight drop goals.
The 3006 points Peter scored for Gloucester consisted of 24 tries, 492 conversions, 624 penalties and 18 drop goals.
After leaving Kingsholm Peter played one season for Lydney, helping them on a run in the John Player Cup through to the third round, where he kicked a penalty in the 9-16 loss to Sale at Regentsholme.