The big interview: Chris Sutton - "I had to hide in a toilet against Arsenal once – it was the safest place for me!"
Portrait: Richard Cannon
Chris Sutton is midway through his FourFourTwo photo shoot at the BT Sport studios in Stratford, when Robbie Savage bursts through the door.
“What on earth are you doing popping emoji balloons? Pathetic, pathetic man!” Savage shouts, laughing, before exiting as quickly as he’d arrived.
Chris resists the temptation to respond to his fellow pundit, briefly smiling before the stern look returns, and he gets back in character to mercilessly destroy some more balloons. It’s clear from meeting Sutton that his hard-faced television persona is partly that – a persona. “I’m perceived as being miserable, but the people who know me know I’m happily miserable,” he jokes.
Indeed, the Premier League title-winner is in a positively good mood when he sits down to answer your questions – though rest assured, he’s still got some opinions to get off his chest…
Your father Mike played for Norwich. Was it your dream to play for them?
Kevin Mann, Cromer
My dad was the biggest influence on my career. He’d played for Norwich, Carlisle and Chester, but packed it in pretty early at 28, went to Loughborough University, got a degree and then went to teach at a school in Norwich. We moved back and he played for Great Yarmouth Town. I’d go and watch him playing for them, and even at such a young age I could see he was a really good player. I actually got rejected by Norwich when I was 12, but I had another opportunity there at 16.
Chris, what do you think about the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre, because I’m dead against it...
Gregg Patterson, Middlesbrough
I love Norwich, and I love the pedestrianisation of the city centre, too. Norwich is never going to be able to get away from Alan Partridge, though that’s what I like about it. I like Alan Partridge.
You played as both a centre-forward and centre-half in your career. How’d that happen and which did you prefer?
Tom Rosenhammer, Richmond, US
I sometimes played midfield as well – it probably came about as the managers thought I wasn’t quite good enough in one position so they’d try me in another! I was always a centre-forward, but there was once an injury at centre-half in the Norwich youth team and they told me: ‘You’re quite tall, get back in there’. I could read the game pretty well. When I broke into the Norwich first team I was playing in both positions. I came on as a substitute as a striker to start off with but played most of my early matches in the First Division at centre-half instead.
You attempted to kiss a pig in a field during your Norwich days – er, why?
Stephen Cross, Hunstanton
I’d knock around with Ruel Fox and Lee Power, who’s now the Swindon chairman. We all liked to play this game with coins, and if you lost you had to do a forfeit. The pig was one of the forfeits. There were some other forfeits that were a lot worse than that, but I’m not going to tell you what they were! It was good that there were no camera phones back in those days, as I was running around a pig pen in the middle of Norfolk, diving around trying to catch this pig. With my lack of pace, you know what happened!
Norwich were eight points clear at the top of the Premier League just before Christmas of the 1992/93 season, but finished 12 points behind Manchester United. Should you have won the title?
Graham Notman, Derby
Should have, could have... but you know what? We never really believed that we could win it because we were Norwich: a club who had historically gone to and fro between the top two divisions. We had a decent team, but we were happy to be there. Although we were aware of the position we were in, I don’t think at any point did I sense we really felt like we were going to win the league. I think we were just hoping that we would do it.
United won the title that year and we had to play them over Easter at Carrow Road. I was at centre-half and we were 3-0 down after the opening 30 minutes. We finished that season with a negative goal difference and that was probably down to me having to play centre-half so often! We had some decent players at the club and on our day we were good enough to beat anybody. We just didn’t quite have that reliability defensively.
Alan McInally claimed Bayern Munich would beat Norwich by about 10 goals in the 1993/94 UEFA Cup. How much did his comments motivate the team?
Eddie Brown, Wymondham
We probably thought the same thing to be honest with you. But beating Bayern [2-1 in Germany and 3-2 on aggregate] summed us up – under Mike Walker we had a way of playing, and at Bayern we actually played with three centre-backs and a sweeper too! We had some issues defensively but had decent pace on the break and trust in each other. Although the result was a huge surprise to many because it was Bayern Munich, it wasn’t a great surprise to us that, in a game of football over 90 minutes, we beat them.
Jeremy Goss scored early and although Bryan Gunn had to make a terrific save, we deserved it. Afterwards, you realised the enormity of it all. It was an amazing result – I don’t think many British teams have gone away to Bayern Munich and won on their turf, and that’s the match people still talk about today. What was probably more impressive was the fact we also held them off in the second leg back at Carrow Road [1-1]. How did they react to being knocked out? They were ungracious, as you might expect. Lothar Matthaus had the right hump – he was particularly aggravated, which was nice.
What did you make of Robert Chase – the chairman at Norwich until 1996?
Ian Stuart Michael, Norwich
He split opinion at the club but I think he did a good job there. He was a wily old chairman and very slippery. In 1993/94 I had a good season and some big clubs came in for me. Manchester United and Liverpool were interested, Blackburn and Arsenal both agreed a fee, and I decided to sign for Blackburn. But the chairman told me not to say anything about it, as not long before he’d said if he sold me before the start of the new season, he’d leave the club. He must have been thinking: ‘How do I get out of this one?’
- 1991-94 Norwich
- 1994-99 Blackburn
- 1999-2000 Chelsea
- 2000-06 Celtic
- 2006 Birmingham
- 2006-07 Aston Villa
So he held a press conference, we sat there and he said that if Chris Sutton is sold for a British record fee, which was £5 million at the time, he’d have to let me go. And I’m just sitting there, sworn to secrecy. I’m looking at the press and thinking: ‘But what if someone asks me?’ I would have lied – it was an incredible situation. There’s a picture of me sat in the room where I’m thinking: ‘What are you on about? You’re talking bollocks!’
Is it true that you ended up in jail the night before you signed for Blackburn?
Tony Barnes, Accrington
Yes, my playing career was littered with mistakes and that was one of them. I’d gone out for a drink with Bryan Gunn and a few of the other lads, and ended up diving into this convertible car. I bent the indicator of it a bit and got arrested – banged up. I was worrying about the move collapsing, about Kenny Dalglish pulling the plug on the deal. Worse than that, though, I was thinking: ‘My dad is going to go mad…’ And he did!
There were suggestions that you and Alan Shearer didn’t see eye to eye at Blackburn – was that really true?
Ian Lainton, Bolton