DEPARTING Nicky Butt believes that righting the wrong of Newcastle United’s relegation ranks alongside winning a Champions League medal on his illustrious CV.
Butt lifted the Championship trophy with Alan Smith on a memorable day at St James’ Park on Saturday – just a few minutes after he had stepped off the bench to win a penalty for United.
His contribution helped to ensure Chris Hughton’s champions ended the season unbeaten at home, the first Newcastle side to achieve that feat in any division for 103 years, and was a fitting way to sign off in front of United’s fans.
Butt will leave Newcastle after six years this summer but hinted afterwards that he may play on. Preston North End have an interest in the combative midfielder while Ipswich boss Roy Keane also spoke of his admiration for his former team-mate after Saturday’s game.
Even though his appearances have been more fleeting than he would have wished, the 35-year-old will leave Newcastle with fond memories of his final season.
“The emotion of it grabbed me – anyone who doesn’t get a bit emotional in that situation would be a weirdo,” he said.
“It was a great day and I am happy it has ended this way. To go out there at the end and get the trophy was up there alongside everything else I have done.
“I have enjoyed everything I’ve done in my career but out there on Saturday, that could have been the Champions’ League. You have got to enjoy it. Getting relegated was the lowest point of my career. Last year was really bad and it was always in the back of our minds this season, it was terrible and we wanted to put it right.
“We have got the club where we want it to be – and it is a massive thing for us.”
The story of Butt’s Newcastle career has not always been a straightforward one. Loaned out to Birmingham in the wake of the disappointing FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United four years ago, it looked like his spell on Tyneside would be an ignominious one but he fought back to win over his detractors.
He has been a key figure on and off the pitch this season, his professionalism and application drawing plaudits from boss Hughton and his fellow pros.
And Butt revealed he will leave with fond memories of an “amazing” city.
“This is a club in my heart, it grew that way,” he said. “It is an amazing city – a tight place where everyone adores the club. It is a one city club and it is almost unique in the way everyone wears the shirts. You come to the ground and see women, kids, the whole family with their shirts on.
“It is a way of life here, in the fabric and something that makes the city tick.
“We have see a lot of that this year because we have been winning games. We have been out for meals and got pats on the back and people shaking our hands. I will always look at the results and I’ve already fixed up my tickets to come back next year.” Butt – who will make a decision on whether to keep playing after a short family holiday – reckons the Newcastle he leaves behind can establish themselves in the top flight but has warned they must be “realistic”.
“You can’t go up thinking top six or top eight – they have to improve on what we have done. But it is important they don’t get too carried away,” he said.
Meanwhile, reports in France have linked United with a move for Paris St Germain’s attacking midfielder Ludovic Giuly.
According to respected sports ‘paper l’Equipe the 33-year-old, who has also played for Barcelona and Roma, is interesting Hughton. However, that move it would not fit in with United’s policy of recruiting players under the age of 25 with significant sell-on value.
l NEWCASTLE have been rewarded for their Coca-Cola Championship triumph by having four players included in the Professional Footballers’ Association divisional team of the season. Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll have all been included after the Magpies secured an immediate return to the Barclays Premier League.
Carlisle’s former Sunderland left-back Ian Harte, who scored his 18th goal of a prolific season against Southampton on Saturday, was last night named in the League One team.