Ex-Norwich City star Chris Sutton: 'Heading a football killed my dad'
- Credit: Archant Library
Former Norwich City striker Chris Sutton said he believes heading a football is what ultimately killed his father.
Mike Sutton died on December 26 last year aged 76 after battling dementia.
He started his career with Norwich City in 1962 before going on to play for Chester City and Carlisle United before he was forced to retire in 1972 due to injury.
The former City midfielder's death was announced on Sunday (December 27) by his son Chris, who played for the Canaries between 1991 and 1994.
Chris, who went onto play for Blackburn, Chelsea, Celtic, Birmingham and Aston Villa, has spoken out about the life and death of his father, who went onto be a PE teacher at Hellesdon High school, in an interview with BBC Breakfast on Tuesday (April 6).
In an emotional interview, Chris said: "I believe heading a football killed my dad.
“I believe it’s killed hundreds of other players across the professional game.
“The biggest thing is we haven’t even touched on the amateur game and I do think that’s a huge, huge thing.
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“There are families who need help and they need support, I think the last TV deal for the premier league was something like £4.4bn why can’t the Premier League, the Football Association and the Professional Footballer's Association get together and have a small percentage of that in a pot to help these families who can’t afford care costs?
“The way the FA and PFA have acted over the past 20 years they’ve done nowhere near enough.
“We’re at the stage now where it looks like there’s going to be a reduction in heading in training from next season, I would say why can’t we bring that in today?"
During the interview Chris, who described his father as his "hero" and as someone who had a "huge influence" on his own career, talked about the early signs of there being a problem with his father's health.
He said: "The first sign was when he was in his mid 60s sort forgetting people’s names at first, misplacing his car keys, losing his wallet.
“Dad was brought up in Norwich and knew all the roads like the back of his hand.
“He was driving back from Wroxham to where he lived and he got lost and that’s where I started to think 'blimey.'"
A visibly upset Chris added: “One thing which really got me, he used to write a diary and then one day he picked the pen up and he didn’t know how to use it...and things just got worse.
“Things got worse and he had to go in a care home for his own good.
“My mum had suicidal thoughts because of the impact it was having on her. It was 24 hours a day care.
“It all became too much."
Chris, who has recently told a parliamentary hearing he is fed up with the lack of action being taken to prevent head injuries and dementia in football, said he was aware of plans for a reduction in heading in training from next season, but urged the professional game to act quicker.
He said: "The most important thing we can put in place right now is to limit heading in training.
"Let’s just get on with it, it’s not a difficult thing to do, let’s just do if - it will save lives.”
Chris recalls having done "lots of heading practice" when he was younger but insisted: "If I had the knowledge of what I know now there's no way I would be heading 50, 80, 100 balls throughout the afternoon."
He also described how he felt guilty at having given his children heading practice when they were younger, stating: "What on earth was I thinking, what on earth was I doing?"
Chris, who now works as a football pundit, also spoke about the effect his father's death has had on his family.
He said: "I think my daughter worries about me.
"My second oldest son doesn’t want to play football anymore because of what he’s seen and what’s happened to his grandad."
Chris said there was no point in worrying whether he would get dementia when he got older.
He said: "What’s important now is we get on and try and find a solution."
In terms of his father's career, Chris said that although he did not actually see him play before he retired, described him as a "smart player who read the game brilliantly"
He said he thought his father was "extremely proud" of the career he had enjoyed, adding: "without my dad through those years there’s no way I would’ve been a footballer".