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Chris Sutton

Chris Sutton
Norwich Career: 1991-1995 (127 appearances, 43 goals)
Current Club: Cromer (Anglian Combination)
Date of Birth: 10/03/1973
Nationality: English


Chris Sutton gained a place in British football's history books as the subject of the first £5million transfer between two British clubs. This occurred in July 1994 when he joined Kenny Dalglish's big spending Blackburn Rovers. Blackburn were not the only side willing to pay this sum of money for Sutton's striking talents in 1994. Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, Liverpool, Rangers and Inter Milan were all linked to him via the back pages of the tabloids. The News of the World reported on October 26th 2003 that Man United manager Alex Ferguson even deployed a team of SAS trained detectives to watch Sutton to see if there were any unsavoury elements in his home life that would jeopardise his playing career. United's former head of security, Michael "Ned" Kelly spent 11 years in the elite Who Dares Wins regiment before moving to Old Trafford. He is set to release details of every operation he carried out in Manchester United: The Untold Story — a book the club tried to ban. Kelly, 55, claimed in his book that Sutton, one of the heroes of Norwich City's UEFA cup side which beat Bayern Munich in Germany 10 years ago, was followed by spies while playing for the Canaries. He claimed that at the time, Manchester United were considering trying to sign Sutton.

Mr Kelly said: "He'd never have been aware that, for two weeks of his life, he was watched 24 hours a day. The then-head scout at United, Les Kershaw, wanted a report. Chris played for Norwich at the time and the surveillance team went over there, 'picked him up' after a City home game, then followed and photographed his every move and checked out his associates."

Mr Kelly said that four people, including one woman, followed Sutton wherever he went. He said: "The team was led by two SAS guys who'd previously been with the Army's 14th Intelligence Company in Northern Ireland — an elite unit that specialised in undercover surveillance". Although Sutton was given the all clear by the spies who tracked his every move, Mr Ferguson decided not to sign Sutton, who left Norwich for Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 1994 for a then British transfer record of £5 million

Why then was Sutton such hot property ?

The answer must be the 43 goals that he scored for Norwich in 127 games. This figure is all the more impressive when you consider that 14 of these appearances were as substitute and that Chris had often been deployed as a central defender. His tally of 28 goals in the 1993/94 season was the highest ever achieved by a Norwich player in the top flight. Sutton enjoyed a meteoric success rate, making his first team debut against Queen's Park Rangers in May 1991 at the age of 18. This was just two years after his Norwich youth debut against Millwall in April 1989. In an interview with the Pink Un in September 2019 Chris reported that "I wasn't the best player in the area, far from it, but I was invited to a Norwich City trial at the age of 12. It was the Centre of Excellence back then, it was run by a guy called John Waters and I used to go down on a Monday night. I used to cycle to my grandmother's house at Hellesdon and she used to walk me round to a guy's house called Neil Carey and his father used to drive us to Trowse. I had a trial period for six to 10 weeks and at the end of that trial period Norwich City said they didn't want to keep me on. So essentially I was rejected. "I can remember at the time feeling quite hurt and dejected and thought it was the end of the world, naturally as I would, and that was my chance gone. So I wouldn't say I was a bit anti-football at the time but that's when I started to probably concentrate more on my cricket than my football. So throughout my teenage years, 13, 14, 15, I would say I was more into my cricket than my football."

However, his second chance with the Canaries arrived after being spotted in county cup action for Hellesdon High School, scoring a hat-trick at the Hewett School in the semi-final and again in the final at Great Yarmouth High. "It was the end of the season at Norwich City so I had about a two or three-week window of opportunity and played a couple of games. think we played against Northampton, and then we played this touring team at Trowse who were utterly useless and I scored about 10 goals in this game and that was probably the break which I needed. Norwich City then gave me a two-year YTS contract."

He gained England Under 21 and England B caps whilst with the Canaries but his international career has faltered whilst at Blackburn. In addition to Sutton's obvious ability, he was seen as wise and level headed player following in his father's footsteps. Mike Sutton played 54 games for Norwich between 1963 and 1966. Chris' level-headiness was not always in control and the night before he signed his contract with Blackburn, was spent in police cells following a fracas in Norwich city centre. All in all, £5 million for Sutton was an excellent fee for a player who had only just topped 100 first team appearances. The shame is that chairman Robert Chase did not invest this sum into the side. The loss of Mike Walker, Ruel Fox and Sutton saw Norwich relegated from the Premiership the following season. The question is where did the money go ?

In his first season with Rovers, he formed a formidable partnership with Alan Shearer and this SAS partnership led to the Premiership championship. His second season at Ewood park was marred by injury whilst his third was spent without Shearer who had joined Newcastle United for £15 million in the summer of 1996. He began the 1997/98 season in blistering form scoring a hat-trick in a 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa at Villa Park. This was followed by a brace in the 7-2 thrashing of Sheffield Wednesday. Tabloid newspapers linked him with a move to Arsenal to replace the aging Ian Wright. Sutton's performances won him selection into the England squad for the friendly international against Cameroon on 15th November 1997 and he made his international debut coming on as a substitute for Paul Scholes in the last ten minutes of the 2-0 victory.

An international career and a place in Glenn Hoddle's England squad for the 1998 World Cup in France looked assured for the versatile Sutton who can play as centre-half as well as up front. However when the squads were announced for the February friendly with Chile, Sutton found himself dropped to the England B team having been replaced in the full team by Liverpool's Michael Owen and Coventry's Dion Dublin. Chris angrily stated that he was offended by this considering his current form and that if Hoddle didn't want him for the full team then Chris would not play for the B side either. This much-publicised dispute resulted in Chris being effectively ruled out of any future England squads whilst Hoddle was the National team's manager.

Sutton's absence from the England squad has not diminished the level of interest from other clubs in the early part of the 1998/99 season. Tottenham were linked in early September for a double bid for Sutton and his Blackburn teammate Tim Sherwood. Spurs' interest in Sherwood was maintained with bids rejected by Blackburn manager Roy Hodgson. On 7th October 1998, the national press reported that Aston Villa manager John Gregory was willing to splash out on Sutton from the money received from Manchester United for Dwight Yorke. Gregory's bid varied from paper to paper with The Independent stating a total of £11million whilst The Mirror suggested £10million and The Telegraph opting for £8million. However Blackburn issued a curt statement that Sutton was not for sale and that he was under contract until June 2003. Blackburn also revealed that there had been no formal contact rather that John Gregory had made a private phone call to Roy Hodgson.

Blackburn's hope of letting such transfer speculation die did not materialise as George Graham, newly appointed as manager of Tottenham Hotspur, bid £10milllion for Sutton's services. A £15million joint bid for Sutton and Sherwood was suggested in the 18th November 1998 issue of the Daily Mirror. Villa manager John Gregory was said to be willing to equal this offer although his signing of Dion Dublin may reduce his interest. The News of the World speculated on 28th February 1999 that Chris was the primary target of Chelsea who were willing to spend £10million on Sutton. However he publicly denied that there is any truth in the rumours linking him with Stamford Bridge.

Blackburn's relegation from the Premiership in 1999 led to more speculation concerning Chris' future with Aston Villa supposedly preparing a 10million bid whilst Chelsea were also interested. The Evening Standard claimed on May 19th that Chris was the prime target this summer for Tottenham manger George Graham who wished to link Chris with former Norwich and Blackburn teammate Tim Sherwood. A 10million bid was supposedly being prepared. Football news service Team Talk claimed that Leeds and Middlesboro were keen on securing Chris' signature although the Daily Mirror reported that Boro Assistant Manager Viv Anderson thought the 12million price quoted for Sutton was too high. According to Sport First on 6th June 1999, both Manchester United and Leeds are said to be interested in signing Sutton. Whatever the outcome, Norwich City can look forward to a third of the transfer fee. It appeared unlikely that Chris would join Tottenham as they see Leicester's Emile Heskey as better vale. Heskey would cost 7million compared to a minimum of 10m for Sutton. This leaves Chelsea as front runners to sign Sutton.

Chelsea eventually got their man in July 1999 signing Sutton for 10million with approximately 500,000 going to the Canaries as part of the sell-on clause. Chris made his Chelsea debut in a pre-season friendly at Birmingham City on 17th July 1999 but did not look like he had built up a good understanding with his colleagues. The News of the World suggested the following day that Chris might be a 10m supersub at the beginning of the season.
There is little doubt considering the return of goals in his first 6 months with Chelsea, that Chris' spell in West London has not been productive. The arrival of former African Player of the Year George Weah, on loan from AC Milan until the end of the season, on January 11th sealed the end of Sutton's spell at Stamford Bridge. Weah became an instant hero, coming off the bench to score the winner on his debut against Spurs on 12th January 2000. In terms of those ex-Canaries who have worn Chelsea blue, he was less like Andy Townsend and more of a Stamford Bridge flop like Robert Fleck. Sutton, who ironically joined the game at the same time as Weah, was linked with Leeds where Chairman Peter Risdale and manager David O'Leary are said to be interested and considering a 5million bid. On February 13th 2000, the Sunday People claimed that Celtic were interested in signing Chris prior to the sacking of John Barnes but that a bid might still happen.

On 15th March 2000, Teamtalk suggested that Martin O'Neill would be spending some of the 11million received from the sale of Emile Heskey to Liverpool, on a new striker and that Chris was in the frame for a move to Filbert Street where he would team up once again with Darren Eadie. Reports in the Evening Standard around transfer deadline day suggested that George Graham was keen on bringing Chris to Spurs and that a bid may be made this summer. This story resurfaced on 26th March 2000 with the Sunday Mirror claiming that Spurs were preparing a 16m bid for Sutton and Man Utd's Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.
Chris was frozen out of Chelsea' victorious FA Cup final squad on a day that the Blues were linked with a 17m move for Chilean striker Marcelo Salas as a direct replacement for Sutton. Another destination for Chris was suggested by Teamtalk on 6th June 2000 when it was suggested that he might return to the North West and join Joe Royle's Manchester City who have made enquiries about a 5million transfer. On 14th June 2000, two more names were added to the equation by Teamtalk. Everton were reported to have had a 5million bid rejected whilst Aston Villa and Chelsea were said to be considering a straight swap between Sutton and Villa's England international defender Gareth Southgate. By the weekend of 17/18th June, Chelsea had agreed a 6million transfer with Middlesbrough for Sutton's services but Celtic's new manager Martin O'Neill also submitted a bid of the same value for a player he has long admired. Chelsea have accepted both offers and it was down to Sutton to decide his destination.

Chris finally signed for Celtic on 10th July 2000 for 6million, a Scottish record and a sum that Martin O'Neill described as a snip considering his belief in Sutton's abilities. Chris certainly made his mark with a goal on his league debut and a sending-off the following week. A double in the 6-2 victory over Rangers in the Old Firm derby on 27th August 2000 will ensure Chris' place in Celtic folklore. Sutton's early form led to suggestions that he might be called up into the injury hit England squad for the 2nd September 2000 friendly with France. Sutton's goals and partnership with Henrik Larsson played a major role in Celtic's 2000/01 Scottish Championship and League Cup victory. His form at the beginning of the 2001/02 season suggested a return to the England squad.

In April 2003, it was suggested by a number of sources that Sutton might return to the Premiership with Tottenham Hotspur the likely destination. It was also suggested that Celtic would sign Ole Gunnar Solksjaer as his replacement. The following month saw the Sunday People claim on May 4th 2003 that Everton were preparing a £3million swoop for Sutton to accompany Wayne Rooney up front.

Celtic's failure to win any trophies in 2002/03 rankled with Sutton especially as they lost out on goal difference to arch-rivals Rangers on the final day of the Scottish Premiership. Sutton suggested that Rangers' opponents Dunfermline "laid down" in their 6-1 defeat in their final game of the season. Despite a public apology, Sutton looks likely to face disciplinary action and the panel will not look favourably upon his double sending-off in Celtic's final game of the season against Kilmarnock.

In the first week of 2004, Chris was linked with two return trips to England. First of all, Sven Goran Eriksson's assistant Tord Grip said he was impressed with Sutton's performances for Celtic and would suggest a return to the England squad, possibly in a central, holding midfield role. Secondly Blackburn manager Graeme Souness revealled that if he had £1.5million, he would love to bring Sutton back to Ewood Park. Chris was then linked with a switch to Fulham who were looking for a new striker to replace Louis Saha who had joined Manchester United for £12million. Staying at Parkhead, Celtic won the Scottish Premiership for a third time under O'Neill on April 18th 2004. A week later, Chris was named Scottish Player of the Year.

Chris was linked with a return to Norwich in November 2004 but this was dismissed by his agent. Internet chat rooms have been buzzing with rumours that the Canaries are planning to boost their Premiership survival bid during the January transfer window by making an audacious bid for the Celtic star. But John Viola said the gossip-mongers were well wide of the mark and insisted his client, who is contracted to the Bhoys until June 2006, was perfectly happy to continue his career north of the border. "Chris is happy at Celtic and isn't interested in moving," he said. "I would think Norwich would be wasting their time if they tried to go for him. Chris is settled in Glasgow and that's one of the main reasons why he agreed to sign a new contract."

In December 2005 with Sutton only having six months remaining on his contract, the media began to speculate that a number of English clubs would be seeking to bring him south of the border. This led to rumours before Christmas that Norwich and Blackburn were keen to bring him back, and at the end of the month that Everton manager David Moyes had been in contact with Celtic about Sutton's availability. In the end, Chris signed for Birmingham City on 5th January 2006 on a free transfer until the end of the 2005/6 season. "It's obviously a huge disappointment to lose a player of Chris' quality," said Celtic boss Gordon Strachan. "The club has granted Chris his wish to move on and I would like to wish him all the best for the future."

Sutton was released by Birmingham on 9th May 2006 following their relegation to the Championship. However reports on 28th and 30th July in a variety of papers suggest that Birmingham are about to offer Sutton a new contract. It was then reported that other clubs were interested in signing Sutton. Norwich fans were horrified that Nigel Worthington kept dismissing links with Sutton but new Ipswich manager Jim Magilton positively expressed his desire to sign Sutton in early August 2006, on a pay-per-play deal. On 3rd October 2006, Chris teamed up again with Martin O'Neill once again when he signed a contract with Aston Villa. Chris later reported " I had the opportunity to come back to Norwich later in my career, I actually offered myself up to Nigel Worthington, who didn't want to take me. "I think Norwich were in the Championship at the time, which I thought was pretty remarkable, to not even speak to me, and that would have been something that I really would have liked very much and I ended up signing for Aston Villa in the Premier League. So talking about regrets, that would be one that rankles, but I gave them the opportunity. It certainly wasn't about money in any shape or form, it was about wanting to come back to my hometown club."

An eye injury sustained during a 23rd December 2006 clash with Manchester United, led Sutton to announce his retirement in early July 2007. Sutton's agent Tony McGill said "If Chris had declared his eye was OK, he would probably have got another year at Villa. But he decided that he could not do himself justice with the eye injury and - more importantly - he has taken into account the effects it might have on his future life.”

Chris's former manager Dave Stringer said that Sutton was up there with the best: “He was a big, quick, strong centre-forward and similar in some ways to Ron Davies. It's not an easy thing to score as many goals as he did. To get 25 in one Premiership season proved how good he was and the fact that he was wanted by so many clubs is a good barometer. He's had an excellent career, he's won things in England and Scotland and there is no one more pleased than me to see how well he's done"

In September 2007, Dereham Town manager Robert Taylor enquired as to whether Sutton would come out of retirement to play in the Ridgeons League. Taylor said “I haven't had the chance to speak to Chris at the moment. I just wanted to know what the situation was, and whether he will be able to play at any level. I just want to have a chat to see what he's up to and whether he's going to play anywhere. It would be very nice for us, certainly.”

Chris was surprisingly appointed as Lincoln City's manager on 28th September 2009, with his former Blackburn teammate Ian Pearce as his assistant. The 36-year-old, who was capped once by England, succeeds Peter Jackson who was dismissed by the Imps at the beginning of September. A club statement read: "We received over 70 applications for the vacant manager`s post and although this double appointment could be seen as a calculated gamble, the board have every confidence in Chris and Ian and are looking forward to working with them. Both Chris and Ian impressed every member of the board with their enthusiasm, ambition and preparation and the decision to appoint them was a unanimous one."

Sutton and Pearce resigned from the Lincoln City job on the first anniversary of his appointment, and after 51 games in charge, citing personal reasons. Lincoln were 20th in the table at the time of their departure.

In February 2011, he was linked with the managerial vacancy at Ross County but lost out to Jimmy Calderwood

In October 2011, he released his autobiography "Paradise and Beyond" which revealed the truth behind his sale to Blackburn.

In June 2012, Chris was named as a participant/director in the K2 tax evasion scheme that comedian Jimmy Carr was revealed to be part of.

On 6th October 2012, Sutton made his debut for Ryman Leaguers Wroxham against Tilbury. Sutton, 39, started on the bench alongside his son, youth team goalkeeper Oliver. The former City, Blackburn, Chelsea and Celtic frontman came on after an hour, with Wroxham trailing to a first half goal from Aaron Waters. By then, Sutton jnr had also entered the fray, following an injury to Wroxham keeper Michael Hilton early in the second half – an incident which led to a skirmish on the pitch involving nearly all 22 players

In November 2013, Sutton was linked with the managerial vacancy at Scottish Premier League side Inverness Caledonian Thistle, created when Terry Butcher left to join Hibs.

In the autumn of 2013, Sutton turned out for Anglian Combination side Cromer Town.

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