‘He’s a shell, he can’t get up’ - Chris Sutton emotionally speaks about his dad’s dementia battle
- Credit: Archant Library
Former Norwich City striker Chris Sutton has spoken powerfully about his dad’s battle with dementia as he spearheads a campaign to force football bosses to take the disease more seriously.
Mike Sutton made 53 appearances for Norwich City between 1963 and 1966 and also played for Chester and Carlisle and a spell at Great Yarmouth Town before becoming a PE teacher at Hellesdon High School and coaching youngsters at Carrow Road.
He is one of 500 former professionals known to be dying from the disease, campaigners at the Jeff Astle Foundation claim.
In 2010, a year after his retirement, behavioural change began to occur.
Chris, who played more than 100 games for the Canaries in the 1990s and still lives in Norfolk, has opened up about his father’s battle as he criticises a “lack of support” from footballing chiefs.
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Speaking to a national newspaper, he said: “Journalists write about it, but nobody inside the game responds. I can’t understand why. There are a lot of high-profile people in football who have opinions on all sorts of subjects: American politics, British politics, on Brexit, but dementia? Nothing. And I don’t get that.
“I don’t understand why there’s no urgency because simply, in 20 years, a lot of these people will have it. And their families will be suffering, as we are.”
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Chris went on to reveal that Covid-19 has exacerbated the loneliness of his dad’s descent. Mike’s family are no longer allowed to visit him, only to say a last goodbye - a day Mike’s wife, Josephine, thinks is not long coming.
The couple met in 1964 and have lived in the family home since 1974, where they brought up their children.
She described her husband, now aged 76, as “a proud man with so much dignity”.
She said: “If he had any realisation of what dementia has reduced him to now, I know he would feel humiliated.
“He became delusional and paranoid, thinking there were other people in our home. Mike was not able to find the toilet, so during the night I’d set an alarm for 1.30am, 4am and 6am to take him.
“I had to become a kind of mother figure to Mike as he didn’t know how to wash or dress himself.
“I feared for my own sanity and had suicidal thoughts at times so we could finish our lives together.
“He used to love writing in his diary. Then one day, he found he didn’t know how to use a pen and never wrote another word.”
Chris added: “He’s always been super fit. He’s got a strong heart. He’s a shell, he can’t get up, he’s lying there in a nappy, but he’s tough too, he’s done years of training.
“If I hadn’t had a dad like him I wouldn’t have been a footballer, I know that. My career took off because of him. I was good on a local level, but nothing special, I wasn’t gifted.
“I got released by Norwich when I was 12, but the years after he would drag me out of bed — literally — to go and do circuits in the gym. He’d make us do cross-country. We’d go to Lowestoft to see my grandparents and he’d even work us there [too].”
The family have joined forces to back the Enough is Enough campaign to tackle dementia.
• If you are worried about a loved one or need more information about dementia you can contact the Alzheimer’s Society’s Norfolk Dementia Helpline on 01603 763 556 or find more information on the Norfolk County Council website