Paradise And Beyond

My autobiography
by Chris Sutton with Mark Guidi
Black & White, £18.99
Reviewed by Jonathan O'Brien
From WSC 302 April 2012

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No one who remembers Chris Sutton needlessly humiliating David Tanner of Sky Sports during one of Celtic's on-pitch title celebrations in the early 2000s – "Chris, just what is it that has made Celtic champions this year?" "We got more points than anyone else" – would describe him as an easy character to like. If Sutton has never come across an amiable type, that is because he has never made the slightest attempt to present himself that way.

The flipside of Sutton's flinty personality was the square-jawed determination that helped to make him a very good, if not quite truly great, striker. "It's time to put Rangers in their place" were his first words upon coming to Scotland in July 2000. That same hardness enabled him to recover from a potentially career-scuppering 12 months at Chelsea and reinvent himself as one of the better target-men in European football.

As you might expect, then, Paradise and Beyond is a little darker than most football memoirs. Early on, he tells of having a party in his digs with some youth team colleagues and coming downstairs the next morning to find his landlady's cat basking in a pool of blood and afterbirth, having devoured her newborn kittens overnight. Most footballers would not even retain such a gory memory, let alone include it in their autobiography.

His career, though a fine and successful one, followed a perplexing trajectory. He was the hot young star of the moment for Norwich, the holder of the British transfer record aged 21, a League title at Blackburn, a £10 million car crash at Chelsea and a talisman for Martin O'Neill's rejuvenated Celtic. He went on to have two short and frustrating spells in the Midlands and then retired. It seems extraordinary that he only ever played once for England, particularly when the noticeably less effective Emile Heskey was simultaneously inching towards an eventual 62 caps.

Sutton does not spare the timber here. Dan Petrescu, Didier Deschamps, Steven Pressley and Glenn Hoddle – who effectively killed Sutton's England career when he refused to play in a B international – all feel the lash, as do Arsenal in general. Gordon Strachan, who saw him as past it when he became Celtic boss in 2005, is castigated for allegedly being evasive and weaselly.

Years after Sutton's departure from Celtic, Strachan bumped into him and his wife in a hotel corridor and was all smiles and handshakes: "I wondered if he was from another planet." Magnanimously enough, almost all his former managers are each given some space to share their thoughts on him. Hoddle declined the opportunity to comment, and there is nothing from Strachan either.

Ultimately, though, Sutton takes the responsibility for his own setbacks and failures. He admits that the England B decision was a huge mistake and that he did himself no favours at Chelsea by drinking excessively and having a bad attitude in training. For good or ill, there is no let-up in the unflinching honesty. Sutton can be described as many things, but not as a waffler or a bluffer. Recommended.

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