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.
- LONG READ The Premier League's first ever season: dodgy blazers, Sky and... shower scenes? (opens in new tab)
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?’
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, BoltonThere have been suggestions over the years – I got on fine with Alan. Football dressing rooms are funny places. Alan was best mates with Mike Newell, and essentially I had gone to take his place up front. So that was slightly uncomfortable to start with. I never had any issues, though. It’s not that we were big drinking buddies off the pitch, but we always got on and the chance to play with Alan was a big reason why I decided to go to Blackburn.
Who was the better SAS: you and Alan Shearer, or Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge?
Sarah Preston, Bristol
Well, Suarez and Sturridge never won the Premier League, so there’s the answer… Myself and Alan would get most of the headlines at Blackburn but people forget we were a really good team. We had very good wingers, Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox, putting balls into the box for us and we had a way of playing that was effective. We certainly weren’t the prettiest team ever to win the Premier League title but we were an extremely well-organised side with Kenny Dalglish in charge – we played to our strengths.
Describe what it felt like to lift the Premier League trophy on the final day of the season away at Anfield?
Susan Doyle, Blackburn
The best thing about it was that we won the title. The worst thing about it was that we were nine points clear with only six games to go and we almost blew it. It would have been unthinkable to not win that title, and that’s all I thought about immediately after. I shouldn’t have been thinking that, because we’d just won it. Everyone thought Liverpool were going to chuck it against us because of their rivalry with Man United. But they beat us and, whatever anybody says, in the end United had it in their own hands against West Ham and they blew it – although we nearly blew it as well. It must have been great to watch, but it wasn’t that great to play in…
Blackburn were a relatively small club compared to other contenders at the time – do you think Rovers’ triumph was as good as Leicester winning the title two seasons ago?
Sean Stevens, via Facebook
If I’m being totally honest, Blackburn were among the favourites in that season after Man United. So I don’t think it was such a great shock that we won the title, albeit it had been 81 years since the last time they had done it. But with Leicester nobody saw it coming, so I’d say Leicester’s achievement was better than Blackburn’s. Some thought that Rovers bought the title, which was deeply unfair. A lot of money has been spent in the Premier League in the last 20 years or so, and success hasn’t been bought. Jack Walker was a hometown man and what he did was he backed his football club. In that respect, Blackburn’s success was an incredible achievement.
Why did you lock yourself in a toilet after a match at Highbury in 1997?
Greg Taylor, Barnet
Well that was Martin Keown… Blackburn were struggling in the league that season and were losing 1-0 going into the 90th minute. Back in those days, if an opponent kicked the ball out for an injury, you would give it them back. But Patrick Vieira was just sitting down on the pitch and when they kicked the ball out, we thought: ‘They’re time-wasting here’. I don’t know if I’m trying to make a case for myself?
When we gave them the ball back we said: ‘Send it over Nigel Winterburn’s head and then we’ll chase it’, which wasn’t quite the done thing. I closed Nigel down, he put it out for a corner and then it all kicked off. In came the corner, Garry Flitcroft scored a cracking goal and all hell broke loose.
All sorts of threats were being made so I played the last minute-and-a-half out on the left wing near the tunnel! When the final whistle went, I pegged it down the tunnel and they’re all coming after me, so I went back in the dressing room, thought: ‘Sod this’ and got in the toilet. That was the safest place for me! I got the blame for Arsenal not qualifying for the Champions League that season, but they still had another three games after us and dropped points against Coventry and Newcastle too. Maybe they should all have taken a little bit more personal responsibility – or defended the corner better – rather than just blaming me...
The controversy at 2:11...
You were sent off in October 1998 for a two-footed tackle on Patrick Vieira at Ewood Park. What was that about?
Alan Grennan, Finsbury Park
He was a great player but he’d elbowed me at a corner and broke my nose. I was left on all fours, my eyes were watering. I looked up at him and he was grinning back at me. I thought: ‘I’m going to do you’. When I tried to tackle him around his knees five minutes later I missed him but was shown a straight red before I’d even got back on my feet. Then, as I was getting up, Emmanuel Petit pushed me over and I landed face first on the pitch.
Do you regret withdrawing from the England B game against Chile ahead of the 1998 World Cup? Paul Merson played in that match and ended up forcing his way into the final squad.
Stuart Steelyard, Doncaster
Yes, it is a big regret. I was really angry about how that all came about, because I thought I deserved a place in the main squad. But I didn’t have any right to do what I did by phoning up Glenn Hoddle, and he was quite right to put me away in the way he did and not pick me ever again. I could be impulsive sometimes. I didn’t do the right thing and it proved to be a big mistake, though if I’m being totally honest, would I have got many more England caps? I don’t really know.
[FFT: Are you on good terms with Hoddle – you both work for BT Sport?] Yeah, I get on well with him nowadays. When you finish playing, you have to move on, you can’t bear grudges. A player doesn’t have the right to do what I did and Glenn was 100 per cent spot on. I was wrong again. Can we do some questions where I was proven right now?
England are not blessed with as many top-class strikers these days. You only picked up one cap – how many do you think you would have if you were a player now?
James Pickup, Harrogate
Good question. Of course it’s all speculative, but in that era I think you’d get pretty close to double figures of top-quality strikers, like Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Andy Cole, Michael Owen, Stan Collymore and Dion Dublin. I’ve probably missed someone out. There was a lot of competition up front. I think the reality is, in this day and age I’d have won a lot more caps, which is a sad indication of where we’re at these days in terms of the quality of English strikers.
Why do you think your £10m switch to Chelsea in 1999 didn’t work out as everyone had hoped?
Roman Taylor, via Facebook
I blame myself. I don’t blame anyone else for what happened at Chelsea. I think I lost a bit of confidence, if I’m being honest. I went there for big money and this isn’t an excuse, but I had been suffering from injuries for probably about six months at Blackburn and hadn’t played regularly. But going into that new environment at Chelsea with the team-mates that I was playing with, I should have done much, much better. I didn’t start very well, lost a bit of confidence and hesitated – you can’t hesitate at that level, especially if you’re a striker. I had a tough time, but I don’t blame anybody else or the style of play there. It was purely down to me.
Is it true that Leeds tried to sign you only a month after you’d joined the Blues, and were you tempted to go?
Steve Wallingham, Leeds
Yes, they did, and in hindsight perhaps I should have gone to Leeds! But no, I’d committed to Chelsea and nothing was about to derail me from that. I was really looking forward to a long and illustrious career at Stamford Bridge, but it didn’t last very long in the end, unfortunately.
Who was your better strike partner: Alan Shearer or Henrik Larsson?
Richard Caldwell, Cumbernauld
Henrik Larsson. He was the best player I ever played with, full stop. Shearer was a brilliant player, a ruthless No.9 and the greatest Premier League striker in terms of goals – absolutely phenomenal. But Henrik could do it all. Henrik could play as the No.9, he could play from wide, he could play in a No.10 role, he could see a pass and he could slide a through-ball, like he did in the 2006 Champions League Final. They were both phenomenal footballers but Henrik had more strings to his bow.
How do you reflect on the 2003 UEFA Cup Final defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Porto? Do you think you were beaten by a better side in Seville or was it an avoidable loss after levelling twice?
David Aneurin Shearan, Hebburn
Now I don’t want to sound too sour, but were we beaten by a better side? Porto were a very good side, but I wouldn’t say they were better than us. They were on the day, but that was because of other circumstances – lots of their play-acting was unsavoury, to say the least. It was an incredible occasion – 60-70,000 Celtic fans on the streets of Seville and a sea of green and white shirts heading to the stadium ahead of the game – so it was extremely sad to not win for all of them.
You played in 20 Old Firm derbies –which was your favourite moment?
Craig Storer, Glasgow
The most memorable game of my entire career was my first ever Old Firm derby, just in terms of where Celtic and Rangers were at. Rangers had won the league by 21 points the season before, but Martin O’Neill had become Celtic manager, and before that Old Firm game we’d won all our games and they’d won all of theirs. We didn’t know what to expect from the game but I scored inside a minute and we won 6-2. That game was the turning point for Celtic and a period where the club dominated a really strong Rangers.
My most memorable Old Firm goal was in 2003/04 – when we beat Rangers in every game. We were drawing 0-0 in the 92nd minute, I held off Frank de Boer and chipped Stefan Klos from about 25 yards. That was a lovely goal, because I meant it! It was one of the only good goals I scored during my whole career. Google it if you want!
Oh, alright then...
Why didn’t things work out for you at Celtic when Gordon Strachan arrived?
Stuart Macrie, Dumfries
Er, this one might take about an hour… He was the type of manager to come in and change things around, and that’s absolutely fine. Let’s just say we had a disagreement about my contract situation, which had been agreed under the previous manager, and I ended up leaving Celtic. I didn’t want to leave the club. In fact, I was really sad to go after five-and-a-half seasons. But to be fair to him, Gordon did a good job with Celtic.
What reception did you get from the Aston Villa fans when you arrived in 2006 from Birmingham, after netting for the Blues in a Second City Derby?
Junior Leoes, via Facebook
You probably shouldn’t make that move, Birmingham to Aston Villa, should you? But I don’t think anybody really noticed...
How frightening was it to lose some of your eyesight while at Aston Villa?
Shaun Marston, Birmingham
Some people might suggest that I lost my eyesight long before that! I finished playing because I had damaged my eye. I damaged it playing for Celtic initially, in Gordon Strachan’s first game in charge. Neil Lennon put a knee through my face against Artmedia [where Celtic lost 5-0 in the Champions League]. I fractured my cheek in four places and when they operated on me they went in through the side of the head. I had impaired vision after that. That righted itself, but my last match was against Manchester United. Nemanja Vidic elbowed me – not deliberately, it’s part and parcel of the game – and after that I soon realised I had to call it a day.
You had one crack at being a manager but didn’t bother again. What was it that put you off forever after Lincoln?
Joseph Bruton, Peterborough
How do you know I’m put off managing forever? You’re assuming! To be honest, I won’t rule anything out. I had a year at Lincoln and enjoyed coaching the players. I moved on, but would I go back? I enjoy what I’m doing now, but you never know further down the line.
Do you think the current Celtic team could still beat Rangers blindfolded?
Alan Fyvie, Glasgow
When I made that remark I was talking about a cup semi-final a couple of years ago, so you need to put that into context.
I think Celtic beat Rangers 2-0 on a cow field that day and I was absolutely spot on. Would they beat them blindfolded now? I believe Celtic at the moment can play any system and still beat Rangers. In a one-off game, you never know. But Celtic are by far the strongest team. The big thing now is will Celtic go for the 10 league titles in a row? What I would say is that Rangers have a far better chance now they have got rid of Pedro Caixinha, as his entire reign was a joke. I made an early call on him, as most of what came out of his mouth was nonsense. I’m not sure how he got the job in the first place.
Has a Rangers fan ever confronted you about some of the things you’ve said?
Brian Whittaker, Falkirk
Yes, I had someone try to run me over, but these things happen… it was good and light-hearted! What I like about Glasgow is that people will tell you what they think. It’s not always what you want to hear but they’re forthright and up front. I get a bit of stick from Rangers fans, but most of them end up agreeing with me – like over Mark Warburton and Pedro, although they’ll never admit it…
You’ve become a bit of a pantomime villain as a pundit. What do you think of the image you portray on TV now?
Kristian Bruce, Chertsey
I just say what I see. I’ve got no agenda. I respect what other people say, but you have to form your own opinion and then back them up. My opinions aren’t always the right ones, although they are most of the time… But I’m a bit of a hypocrite, though, because I once told Neil Lennon and John Hartson that if they ever saw me write a column or appear on the TV, they could hit me around the head with a shovel. More faces than Big Ben, me!
You can see BT Sport Score on BT Sport 1, BT Sport Showcase and live on Twitter, every Saturday from 2.30pm. For more information, head to www.bt.com/sport (opens in new tab)
This feature originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe! (opens in new tab)
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Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.