Football on TV: Chris Sutton

Matt Stead

John Nicholson puts on his radio and listens to Chris Sutton getting rather annoyed.


Fashion police
Looks like a man for whom Top Shop is the furthest incursion into the land of fashion that he could stomach. Makes a virtue out of the concept of plain. Hard to see him entering anything called a ‘Brotique’ and for that, we should shake him firmly by the hand.


Lingo bingo
Despite being born in Nottingham, he has a distinctive Norfolk burr from his years spent in and around Norwich. A Norfolk accent is a wondrous thing, capable of making even the most simple, plain words sound exotic. Essentially, their aim is to never say the letter ‘u’ and to replace all other vowels with an ‘a’ if at all possible. This leads to some strange linguistic ticks. This is a county which pronounces Happisburgh as ‘Haazbrr’ and excludes all vowels when pronouncing Wymondham, turning it into Wndm. It is speculated that the rising inflective so common these days, via Australia and California’s San Fernando Valley, has its roots in the Norfolk habit of raising the voice at the end of sentences. All of this linguistic heritage gives Chris’s voice a bit of a distinctive edge and as a result, he doesn’t sound like anyone else on the radio or TV.

It also infests his work with what can only be called a degree of grumpy arsiness. It often feels like he’s a got a proper nark on, and that pushing people backwards whilst shouting at them is not an unfamiliar experience. There’s a hit of shortness, aggression and indignation about him. Feels like the sort of schoolboy who would keep flicking your tie just to annoy you, then, when you try to lamp him one, effortlessly kick seven shades out of you. This is, of course what makes his work always worth listening to.


Hits and misses
Won the league with Blackburn in tandem with Alan Shearer and is a minor legend in Scotland having had six years at Celtic. Was rubbish at Chelsea. Writes a decent, very opinionated newspaper column, in which he gives a good impression of a man who doesn’t give a flying feck, which is very refreshing, especially in Scotland where insiders tell me it’s usual to have to be nice to all things Rangers in order to get on. But even so, he wasn’t afraid give the current Celtic team a proper kicking after their European exit. Works on BT Sport, especially on Scottish games where he sometimes shows an amusing degree of disdain for his fellow panelists.

Has started to make regular Monday Night Club appearances on 5live where his vitriol and generally slightly aggressive default is a welcome new flavour of acid. Seems better in an environment where he can vent strongly held opinion, rather than one where he has to comment on action. Seems unable to not call a spade a spade and if you don’t like it, hit you with said spade and then dig you a grave with it. All of which can be classified as a big hit because the last thing we need is more milky opinion and what we all enjoy is pundits kicking off and getting into fights with each other.


Big club bias
Any man that won the league with Blackburn Rovers and has turned out for the august institution of Wroxham FC can have no BCB in his soul. Got relegated with Blackburn and any prolonged session in Scotland will knock the BCB nonsense out of you and, if you don’t have it before you go there, will quickly grow you a massive chip on your shoulder and a sense that you’re being ignored, marginalised, disrespected and misunderstood by the rest of the country. Which you are.


Loved or loathed
The partnership with Shearer was one of the 90s stellar couplings and often fondly remembered in northern Lancashire. Having played for Celtic usually guarantees that half of the west of Scotland will hate your guts, and this is certainly true of the ex Celtic man, who once slagged off Dunfermline for ‘lying down’ and losing 6-1 to Rangers, thus handing them the title on goals scored, at Celtic’s expense. For this, amongst many things, he’s still a bit of a Parkhead legend and still attracts the ire of others.

His co-comms work has been largely disparaged as monotone and boring, which would, no doubt, infuriate the big man too.


Proper Football Man
If Chris had to go to a PFM membership application board meeting, held in the back room of a pub run by an ex-Leeds United defender, he’d quickly get fed up with being asked questions, would start arguing, jabbing a finger right in the Chairman’s face and, flicking the V’s, would tip over the table and refuse to co-operate. This would, of course, gain him fast track access to hallowed halls of self-regarding bitterness and barely suppressed fury that is the PFMs home turf.

Passes the not-anything-like-Olivier-Giroud-test with flying colours. Will never use unisex Calvin Klein scent.

There’s also an expensive divorce, gambling debts, bankruptcy, as well as an arrest and conviction for common assault after spitting in someone’s face outside a restaurant. Mmm, wonderful. He probably deserved it, Keysy, you know what the public are like, spitting in their face is too good for most of them. And there was no need to get the police involved, we’re all men of the world, here.

Even though there appears to be no drink-driving conviction on his CV, this is still all platinum PFM behaviour and gets Sutton a lot of those passive aggressive slaps on the back that are just slightly too firmly delivered to be considered affectionate, but which all PFMs use as a form of communication amongst their own kind, along with all that leg squeezing and shaking.

Better still, he fell out with Glenn Hoddle and refused to play in the England B team. The PFMs respect any man who does that because they know Glenn is a weirdo who went foreign. Also fell out with Gordon Strachan, who the PFMs think is a funny little fella but too clever by half, but ideal for using in a ‘throw the smallest man the furthest’ competition on a school playing field at 2am.

Couple these facts with a title win at an unfashionable northern club and those six years in Chilly Jocko Land, playing up front and at the back and getting in everyone’s face and you’ve got a classic PFM.

Had a brief go at managing Lincoln City. His win ratio of 28% was just low enough to be a good PFM, as it allows you to blame the chairman, foreign players and the booing fans for your failure and eventual resignation. Laying off the blame, being a quintessential character trait of every PFM.

At six foot three, and having lived in Scotland, which has been scientifically been proven to increase your capacity to drink by 768%, he should have a robust enough constitution to deal with a night out with the boys drinking Reidy’s iron-rich Bloody Mary made from actual blood from someone called Mary. No we haven’t actually murdered someone, officer, we just found bags of it outside that hospital, so naturally I added some diesel and Marmite. Who wouldn’t? Here have a couple of season tickets and we’ll say no more.

A Christmas party would include festive shots of ethanol and electricity infused copper sulphate shandies (Reidy in charge of crocodile clips and batteries) being furiously necked. After which he’d likely be papped coming out of the Good Finger night club in Cromer at 3.21am, after a fight with a bouncer who was “looking at me funny” and possibly whilst enjoying the rural attentions of Miss High Volume Bovine Milking Unit 1985. Then it’d be on to drunken hi-jinks in a retail park involving shopping trolleys, a temporary bus stop and a child’s bike, followed by someone taking it too far, needing a slap and sleeping it off in one of Reidy’s abandoned farm vehicles.

A welcome addition to the world of both the PFM and Scotland’s equivalent, the Real Football Man, seems set to have a fine future expressing dissatisfaction with the modern player and manager, in return for money. And he’ll nut you if you disagree.


Beyond the lighted stage
No evidence of him doing anything else. Doesn’t even seem to be doing his fair share of Gala Dinners and golf. Surely he can’t be doing something creative and interesting when not at the football?


John Nicholson