My fears were totally unfounded. O’Neill proved himself to be a great Celtic manager and Sutton became a huge favourite with the Celtic fans, none more so than myself. For five years Chris Sutton not only led the Celtic forward line but he was the leader on the park. He may not have been captain but the other players looked up to him and his influence was enormous. He gave Celtic an edge up front, a physical presence that we hadn’t had for years and haven’t had since. And he was a great footballer too.
Naturally everyone will have their favourite memories. I recall feeling devastated after the 5-1 reverse at Ibrox in November 2000. In the post match interviews Lorenzo Amoruso waxed lyrical about Rangers’ win. Sutton was interviewed seconds later and when asked what his response was he said, ‘Tell him I’ll see him in February’, a reference to the next Glasgow derby. In February Celtic won and Sutton battered Amoruso all over the park.
In October 2003 Celtic were faced with a defensive injury crisis before playing Rangers at Ibrox. O’Neill played Sutton at centre half and Celtic won 1-0. Such was his influence in defence that the stats showed that despite their best efforts Rangers attack did not get a shot on target all afternoon. Sutton had drilled the Celtic defence magnificently.
Then there were his goals. The chip against Rangers for a last minute winner after leaving Frank De Boer on his rear end; the flying header against Anderlecht; the thundering header against Ajax; the thrashing volley against Juventus; the sliding finish against Barcelona….and many, many more. Chris Sutton loved the big occasion and could be relied upon on the big stage particularly on European nights.
Chris has released his autobiography and it is interesting to the read the early excerpts from it. One of my big regrets is that great Celtic servants such as Chris, Alan Thompson and Didier Agathe did not get the opportunity to say a well earned final farewell to the supporters. Gordon Strachan was perfectly entitled to manage as he saw fit whilst at Parkhead but it was no secret that he was keen to move some players on with undue haste and Chris was one. The irony is that Celtic’s best form under Strachan had occurred in October/November 2005 at a time when Chris had returned to the first team and was playing well. But ‘downsizing’ was now the buzz word at Celtic Park and Chris was obliged to move on. No one since has came even close to replacing him.
Reading the tale of how his baby boy almost died (when Celtic were in Valencia) was a most humbling experience. We can only thank the Lord that wee James pulled through and survived. Sounds as though he’s made of the same strong stuff as his Dad.
Chris Sutton is appearing at various book stores this week to sign copies of his book. He’ll be down my way in Waterstones at Braehead on Thursday at 6pm.
See you then big man…and thanks for the memories.