A couple of weeks ago I did a small series introducing new fans to Sincil Bank. My blog yesterday about former top-flight players being managers got me thinking that many of you won’t fully understand why Chris Sutton is such a disliked character at Sincil Bank. So as an unofficial second part to the blog, and as a continuation of the series, here is why we (well, me at least) doesn’t like Chris Sutton.
Firstly, the player. Chris Sutton never played outside the top-flight in England nor Scotland. He was one of the most decorated men ever to manage City. In 1994/95 he was part of the Blackburn side that won the Premier League, with Celtic he won the SPL four times, and the Scottish Cup three times. He had a UEFA Cup runners up medal to add to his collection in 2003 too, and he turned out for England. His transfer fees totalled £21m, the biggest a £10m move from Blackburn to Chelsea, and the most significant his £5m move to Blackburn from Norwich which was, at the time, a British record. It’s fair to say he could play a bit.
The was perhaps an indication of a stubborn personality lurking underneath the goals with his brief England career. He played just eleven minutes for his country, but despite being the leading scorer in the Premier League in 1998, he did not go to the World Cup. After an eleven minute cameo in a friendly against Cameroon, he refused to play in the B team afterwards. He fell out with Glenn Hoddle, and never represented his country again. For the record Les Ferdinand did play in one of those B internationals, a 4-1 win against Russia and he went to the World Cup, as did Darren Anderton and Paul Merson who also featured. Just wanted to get that in.
In September of 2009, Peter Jackson found himself out of a job. After the success of Keith’s side in consistently making the play-off races, anything less seemed to be a step back. Jacko had represented a sound move by the club, here was a man who had been promoted with Huddersfield and who was a fairly big name in lower league management. He was given a decent budget too, but on the field success did not come. He was dismissed less than two months into the season with City in 17th, although a win on the Saturday after his dismissal left us 12th. By the time Chris Sutton took over we had plummeted to 22nd after a 3-0 defeat by Notts County. Some say it was going to happen under Jacko, others look to the disharmony caused by having an interim manager. Either way Sutton always claimed he’d taken over a team struggling at the foot of the table, where I’m sure Jacko thinks he left a side nestled neatly in mid table The margins are tight early in the season, but a 1-0 win against Aldershot in Sutton’s first game in charge lifted City back up to 18th.
Sutton hadn’t inherited a bad side, but he had picked up a side lacking one or two basic components. Jacko hadn’t been able to bring in a decent striker, Chris Fagan and Paul Connor were expected to lead the line. The midfield looked solid enough with Scott Kerr and Richard Butcher both good professionals, but both struggled to get a game at first under Sutton. Kerr eventually won his place back in the side, but despite only returning in July 2009, Butcher only started three games under Chris Sutton before being cast aside.
In came Eric Lichaj, Chris Herd, Adam Watts and Nathan Baker as Sutton used his contacts at Villa and Fulham. City were 18th when Sutton took over, and we only once climbed above that in March 2010 after a 3-2 win at Torquay. Sutton’s contacts yielded Davide Somma, and one might say it was his goals dragged us to safety. However, one good signing didn’t make up for some of the dross Sutton forced us to endure, non worse than Drewe Broughton and Khanu Smith. Between them they were awful, as were loan signings Michael Uwezu and Anthony Pulis. Sutton seemed dissatisfied with the players he had at his disposal, Sam Clucas was had been on the bench for every game under Jacko, but after Aldershot he didn’t feature again for City. I wonder what ever happened to him?
The one bright spot was a run in the FA Cup, victories over Telford (3-1) and Northwich (3-1) set up a third round clash with Bolton. City took 3107 fans up to the Reebok Stadium, only to see debuts handed to Matt Saunders, Joe Anderson and Michael Uwezu at the expense of players such as Jamie Clarke and Richard Butcher. Unsurprisingly City were thrashed 4-0 in a one-sided contest.
The season finished with City in 20th, not once did we appear in the top half of the table, not even in the top half of the bottom half. It was a season of struggle, something that we thought had been eradicated after success under Keith and at least being competitive under Jacko. Peter Jackson was a lot of things, not all of them good, but he hadn’t embroiled us in a relegation battle and despite an inauspicious start, relegation only loomed after he’d left. Moving forward Sutton hoped to improve the squad, but his programme notes from the final games against Macclesfield hinted at his pessimistic and belligerent personality. Here’s two snippets:
“It would be interesting to see if we’d still be in this division if Davide Somma hadn’t turned up and scored the goals he’s scored. If I’m honest, I don’t know whether anyone else in the current squad would have been capable of doing that. That’s not a criticism, that’s a fact”
If that wasn’t scathing enough, how about this for fans to get excited about the following season?
“Are we going to go for an automatic promotion spot next season? I don’t know. Are we going to be in a position to be fighting for the play-offs? I don’t know. But I’ll be doing my damnedest to bring players to the club who I feel are going to give us a chance, and it certainly won’t be through a lack of effort.”
So who did we have to place our hopes on when the curtain raised on the next campaign? Well the ineffective Drewe Broughton was back permanently, looking to add to his tally of no goals. That non-stop battler Albert Jarrett signed too, well-known for fighting for a cause. Ben Hutchinson…. I’m not even going to write about him. Look him up. Even talented players such as Mustapha Carayol didn’t seem to have the fight when it was needed. If Sutton had promised effort the season before, his new-look squad didn’t seem to be on course to deliver.
City were bottom after two games, and by the time Burton visited in late September we had battled to 21st. The new signings weren’t working, Josh O’Keefe, Clark Keltie and Gavin McCallum simply didn’t look suited to fighting at the bottom of the table. Scott Kerr was dropped (again) and local boy Danny Hone couldn’t get a kick, kept out of the side by Watts and Moses Swaibu. We were down on our luck, but with his contacts we expected a couple of loan players like Somma, Saunders and Chris Herd to come in and prop up the struggling side. After all, we had won games against Barnet (1-0) and Gillingham (1-0) to muster some points. At that point I believed in Sutton still. The side were trying to play decent football, but at the back we were porous and up front we were blunted. Sure, we knocked the ball around nicely, but we needed another Nathan Baker in on loan, another Davide Somma and maybe even another Eric Lichaj. I trusted Chris Sutton would tap up his contacts once more.
Off the field all was not well, unbeknown to the fans. Sutton tells in his autobiography that he was summoned to a meeting ahead of the big kick-off to be told he could not have the FA Cup money to spend. Rumours were that he’d over spent on players such as Carayol, and the club didn’t feel he was the right man to squander a budget. Relationships had broken down, and he was full of vitriol in his programme notes for the visit of Burton Albion.
“When things aren’t going to plan we need to stick together. You need players to show character and you need your fans to get behind the team – it’s not helpful to the players at all if you’re on their backs…. Things haven’t gone well since the season started but its early days. It’s not been easy in terms of recruitment because of the club we are, the wages we pay and the location we’re in but we’ve got players in.”
It wasn’t his programme notes that caused the stir that night though. Director Kevin Cooke was penning the ‘From the Boardroom’ piece, and he wrote:
“Our league position looks far too familiar to Imps fans and hopefully this is something we can address tonight by taking all three points. I didn’t attend the game against Stevenage on Saturday so I can’t comment on the result or performance but, based on the performances I have seen this season, we still seem to lack consistency. We play good football at times but there is little end product; we rarely trouble the opposition goalkeeper and we look decidedly fragile at the back.”
Chris Sutton did not like that, not one bit and nor did his assistant Ian Pearce. Still smarting from the perceived injustice of having the FA Cup money pulled from him, he quit immediately after the 0-0 draw. He wasn’t invited to go, he wasn’t forced to go, he just quit. After spending decent money in the summer on (in Kevin’s words) fragile players who failed to trouble the keeper, Chris Sutton walked out on his only managerial job. His wonderful contacts, the ones that had brought Baker, Lichaj and Herd to the club, seemed to dry up. The best we got was the lauded former £1m striker Ben Hutchinson who was crap, and Drewe Broughton, who was worse.
The flair players such as Carayol, McCallum and Jarrett didn’t seem to have the heart for a fight, and the players who did scrap for us, Scott Kerr, Richard Butcher and the ilk had gone or were benched, although ironically Sutton praised Kerr in his autobiography, despite dropping him for a second time in the run-up to leaving the club.. Peter Jackson had mishandled a half-decent squad, Chris Sutton had slit its throat and began to divvy up the carcass. We weren’t aware of it, but we had passed the point of no return.
Steve Tilson took over with the club 21st out of 24. By the time May came, he’d guided us to 23rd out of 24, which as we know was not good enough to remain in the Football League. Somewhat frustratingly he’d achieved something Chris Sutton hadn’t, for a brief moment in March we’d topped the bottom half of the table, proudly sitting in 13th position. The sad fact neither of them managed to put us in the top half of the table, the last time we’d seen that was the day after Peter Jackson was dismissed.
So why do we hate Chris Sutton? Because he accelerated the pace of the rot? Because he failed to trust good honest professionals such as Richard Butcher, and instead tormented us with Broughton and Hutchinson? Because he was belligerent, over spent and failed to create any relationships at all? Because he bottled the fight before it had started? Because he blamed the players, the board, the fans but never himself?
Not me. I hated him because he finished most of his programme notes with the words ‘C’mon on the Imps’. Seriously, C’mon the Imps? Do your research chap. Even Steve Tilson knew it was Up the Imps, even when he was nailing our coffin shut, at least he knew the right bloody words.
Chris Sutton didn’t relegate us. I believe had he stayed we could have stayed up, and he says the same thing in his book. That is what frustrates me, because had he kept his toys in the pram and done the job he was paid to do, then we might have stayed up. Furthermore on the night of the 0-0 draw with Burton I wore a T-Shirt under my shirt when I went out as Poacher. I’d written on it ‘stick with Sutton’ as a gesture to those complaining about his tenure. I backed him, I believed in him and he let me down personally, as well as the club. He had no right to come back and commentate on the Ipswich game, he has no right to pass judgement on other managers and he has no right to have his name associated with Lincoln City, because he could have saved us the ignominy of six years in the national League, but he didn’t have the balls.