A grin suddenly emerges on the face of Andy Butler, both forced yet natural at the same time. The Doncaster Rovers interim boss has had a rough introduction to management over the past month and could be forgiven for a grim complexion, but thoughts of an old friend’s smile bring out a sunnier look.
“I know people have compared me to a ham sandwich before,” he laughs, “but I’m a really positive person!”
If that view of his charisma is somewhat lacking in endearment, Butler is far more complimentary about the subject of conversation, a manager known throughout the game for his unyielding positivity and gleaming smile.
Butler and Nigel Adkins, it is fair to say, go way back. Adkins was the physiotherapist at Scunthorpe United as Butler was making his way through the Iron ranks and into the first team, and he would go on to manage the club and Butler when promoted to the helm in 2006 – ironically following the departure of a boss, Brian Laws, to Sheffield Wednesday, just as Darren Moore’s move to Hillsborough gave Butler his first chance last month.
Together they helped lead Scunthorpe into the Championship for the first time since 1964 and, though the connection lasted less than two years before Butler moved for pastures new, the pair have remained on good terms ever since.
When Butler was given the Keepmoat gig, Adkins was quickly in touch, offering the kind of guidance you can expect from a boss who has gone on to manage more than 500 professional matches, from Southampton and Reading to Sheffield United and Hull City.
“Over the last few months and taking over the job he started speaking and helped me with the experience, because he’s been there and done it,” says Butler. “I spoke to Nigel before he got this job, had a quick chat about stepping into management and he helped me through that. Then all of a sudden he becomes manager of Charlton!”
Good Friday brings a long-awaited and yet sudden reunion for the pair, who will face off in opposite dugouts for the first time as Adkins takes charge of just his second match since moving to Charlton Athletic a fortnight ago.
That has halted the supply of advice from master to apprentice for now, but luckily Butler has already picked up plenty of things from a man that he cites as a big influence on his whole career, not least his ability to always see the bright side.
“He’s a very professional, very positive person,” he said. “He loves the game, has that attitude and desire that rubs off on players. He’s a good guy in football.
“You’ve got to take the good things from the managers in your career, who I believe had a positive influence on my career, and he’s one of them. When he took over at Scunthorpe he was very much a believer in togetherness and the team desire to win games.
“I remember a couple of times when he first took over, we used to do little pre-match analysis on us sticking together and in between there’d be little clips of the Gladiator scene in the arena, where one player decides to go on their own and gets chopped in half, or if you perform as a tight unit the only way around is the outside.
“Little bits like that stick in your memory. He was great for that. Some players bought into it and some players didn’t, but I thought it was very good. I thought it was very interesting how he approached that.”
Turning around Rovers
After an initially successful start as boss with two victories on the bounce, Butler’s Doncaster are winless in five heading into the Charlton clash. When he says that the challenge of turning around their form has “been approached positively”, the influence of Adkins is detectable.
“You have to be positive in everything you do,” he expands. “You can’t go in as a manager and put players down, that’s not what I’m about. I want to build players up. If you build players up, confidence will come flooding back.”
The ham sandwich comparisons are revealed as he sets out his stall as what might be termed an Adkinite. “I’m a really positive person. I love football, I love the way we play, and I love the desire of the players.
“I just want to keep improving them as a team. I take great pride in how the team represents the club, and also how I present myself on the sidelines. I want my players to play attractive football and be good to watch. Football is an entertainment business.”
Both will look to put on a show when they go head-to-head, but Butler will hope to be the one with the biggest grin this time.