CHRIS SUTTON: I'm heartbroken but Dad would want me to work for change

CHRIS SUTTON: My father Mike, a former footballer, passed away on Boxing Day after suffering with dementia for a decade. I’m heartbroken but Dad would want me to keep fighting for change

  • Chris Sutton’s father passed away on Boxing Day after battling with dementia
  • Mike was a professional footballer before taking a teaching degree at 28 
  • He was able to get pupils to love sport and had a big impact of their lives 
  • Chris now aims to force football to make crucial changes around dementia 

It wasn’t fair for my dad’s life to end in this way. Alone in a room in a world of his own, without any member of his family by his side.

Over the last decade my proud dad has been stripped, slowly and piece by piece, of his dignity by dementia. I only hope and pray that somehow, when he was taking his final breaths, he knew how much people respected and thought of him, and how much his family and close friends loved him.

He was a great sportsman but more importantly a brilliant teacher, dad and grandad. He gave maximum effort and attention to everything he was involved in and that’s what he expected of others.

Chris Sutton’s father, Mike, passed away on Boxing Day after a long battle with dementia 

He felt he could inspire change in a positive way through sheer commitment — something I’m taking on board now, as I will explain at the end of this tribute.

He was driven enough to become a professional footballer for his hometown club Norwich City, as well as Chester and Carlisle United. When a knee injury ended his playing career at 28, he went to Loughborough University and took a teaching degree.

He was so competitive that my mum told me when he got a double first with joint-top marks, he felt aggrieved that the other chap’s name was placed above his on the honours list because it came first alphabetically.

He moved back to Norfolk and became a PE teacher at Hellesdon High School and, looking through the tributes sent since his passing, it makes me proud to know he made such a difference to his pupils’ lives.

Mike was a teacher after having been a professional player for Norwich, Chester and Carlisle

This was his greatest achievement in my eyes. He was strict but fair — not always to me, but I will come on to that!

Mike became a professional footballer for his hometown club Norwich City, as well as Chester and Carlisle United before a knee injury ended his playing career at 28

His goal was to educate his pupils on the importance of participating in sport — any sport — and the benefits it would have on your physical and mental health. He tamed the school rogues and got them to love sport. He knew how to get the best out of them.

When I attended the school, he didn’t want the pupils thinking I was getting preferential treatment on the sporting field because he was my dad. He didn’t disappoint! I remember being dropped from the table tennis team at the national finals!

When we played football and he was referee, he wouldn’t stop the game if I went down injured, but rather run by me and out of the corner of his mouth quip, ‘Get up Chris!’ Everything for a reason. 

It served me well later in life. He took me to my first football game — somehow getting us tickets to the 1980 FA Cup final between West Ham and Arsenal at the old Wembley Stadium.

Sutton’s father was a teacher who was able to get his pupils engaged in sport at school 

He told me not to hire Eric Hall as my agent because being represented by a chap from the players’ union would be better for me. Had I not followed my dad’s advice on that, I might never have had the career I loved.

He was a devoted husband of 56 years to Josephine and they first met in a Claremont Pier cafe in Lowestoft, where my mum was working as a waitress and my dad taking a break from running on the slopes and sand dunes. He was fitness daft!

A loving dad to Ian, Rachel, Lucy, myself and John, he and my mum brought us up in a village outside Norwich which was a bit like The Good Life. Goats, sheep, chicken, geese, fresh fruit and vegetables… my parents grew food because they wanted the best for us. They wanted us to have the right diet and live the outdoor life.

Outside of teaching, he loved local sport, playing football for Great Yarmouth Town and cricket for Drayton.

Mike (right, pictured with wife Josephine on graduation day) went to Loughborough University and took a teaching degree – graduating with a double first with joint-top marks

One of his ex-Drayton team-mates and a former pupil, Tim Woods, is an undertaker. As you can imagine, dad and the team used to joke with Tim over his profession. It’s funny the way life works, because my dad is now being looked after by Tim.

There are so many stories I could tell. In these last few years I have been campaigning with many other families whose loved ones have suffered and died in the same way as my dad Mike. We want a change which is needed and long overdue.

I used to think about my dad when I was training and occasionally thought about giving up or taking it easy. He wouldn’t have it. What would my dad say if I stopped and gave up now? I want to make him proud.

I didn’t get the opportunity to say goodbye, hold his hand, look in his eyes and tell him I love him. For this I’m heartbroken. 

I can’t change this now. But my dad would want me to push for change for the better where dementia in football is concerned. I know for sure that he would have done. 

Chris Sutton now wants to continue fighting for football to change its attitude to dementia 

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