Physical centre forward John Sutton was scouted and signed by Spurs as a 14 year old, and the Norwich born player would go onto become a consistent goal scorer and performer at youth level during his time in north London. John who is the younger brother of former Celtic and Chelsea player Chris, was prolific at under 17 level for Spurs scoring a highly impressive 25 goals in 26 games for them during one season. A talented cricketer during his youth, Sutton continued his fine form into the under 19 side before later playing for the reserves. After a loan move to Carlisle United John Sutton agreed to be released by Spurs to join Swindon Town on a one month contract in 2002. The rest of his successful career saw him predominantly play in Scotland apart from playing for Millwall, Wycombe Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners, he had two successful spells with Motherwell, as well as playing for the likes of Hearts and St Johnstone. The striker most recently played for Scottish Championship side Greenock Morton however, he now works as a personal trainer. I recently had the great pleasure of talking to John about his time at Spurs.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
John: That would be playing in the back garden with my brothers and my dad, and then pretty much going to school at about five years old. And pretty much since then I was always playing in the playground with my class mates right up until about high school and this just escalated from there really.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
John: So I was playing in a county game for Norfolk when I was 14 and John Moncur was there so I think he might have been chief scout or organising the youth department at Spurs. Anyway he said he was quite impressed and I’d managed to score a goal in the game, and so he said to come and play for the under 14’s at Tottenham at Spurs Lodge. So I went down and we played Leyton Orient and I scored a hat-trick if I remember correctly, and things sort of went from there. I had been at Norwich but I left at the same time as my brother did, and so I had been playing local football but then to get that and go to Tottenham was really really good.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
John: It was really really good although it was tough in some ways because I lived a fair bit away as I come from Norwich, so I went from being at school every day to being in a completely new environment. However, I probably didn’t appreciate how much I learned from the football side of things until I left but it was great, and I received some really great coaching down at Tottenham. I think I suffered in the same way that a lot of other people do because before my time you could argue that it was slightly easier to get through however, it was just so incredibly hard with the amount of players in the first team squad and reserves. The competition was incredibly tough and it was so tough to get in the team, the strikers you had there were Teddy Sheringham and Rebrov and Ferdinand and people of that calibre. So it was incredibly hard to make the breakthrough but certainly it stood me in pretty good stead for my future career elsewhere.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
John: Obviously I’m a bit biased but growing up my brother was obviously one, he’s a fair bit older than me (ten years) but I used to follow him round the country watching him play. So generally I tended to support whatever team he was playing for and obviously be rooting for them, so he would probably be the big one. Growing up slightly earlier and obviously coming from Norwich there were players like Robert Fleck, and also Tottenham had quite a big link with Norwich in terms of the first team. They had a lot of ex Tottenham players playing such as Ian Crook, Ian Culverhouse and Mark Bowen who had all been in the reserves at Tottenham before coming to Norwich. So I remember watching them quite a lot and I think that Ian Crook was one of my favourite players as well and he scored some very good free kicks, so he was someone who I liked watching.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
John: I was a centre forward so I tended to score quite a few goals and although I couldn’t tell you exactly of the top of my head however, I certainly scored a fair few goals. We had a really good team and we got to the semi-finals of the youth cup, and it was actually a real disappointment to go out because I think that we’d beaten Leeds away and Bolton. We also beat Walsall but I mean with respect to Walsall you’d expect to beat them, the other two were good victories and then we played Blackburn at home who were a really really good team and we knocked them out. We then played a two legged tie against Everton, one at Goodison Park and I was really pleased with the goal that I scored there, and then we played them at home and I’m not sure if we were losing 2-1 but I can’t remember. However, we lost and I remember Wayne Rooney scoring a really good goal in that game, but it was really really disappointing because we had a really good set of players and I don’t think that anyone from our team has obviously gone onto the heights of some of the recent youth teams at Tottenham. Obviously you’re looking at boys who have been regulars in the first team but certainly I felt that we were really strong with the likes of Dean Marney and Stephen Kelly who had good careers. I played up front with Lee Barnard and we had a really strong team, and it was just a shame that we couldn’t sort of make a name for ourselves and get to the final and go on and win it.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
John: Obviously your coaches such as Jimmy Neighbour and Pat Holland, I think that Peter Suddabby was head of youth. So they were the main people that I was involved with and I have to say that although I wasn’t involved with him Chris Hughton he was such a nice person, he was really really helpful and he went out the way to say hello and be very friendly. Glenn Hoddle was there as my manager and he was ok with us, but from a playing point of view like I say the biggest disappointment at my time there was that a lot of the youth teams were very strong. We never really got the chance to go through with the first team that much but when we did and especially when I was there with the reserve squad certainly Teddy Sheringham made a big impression on us. He made an impression on us in terms of his technique and he would always help out with the younger players, but I would have to say that all of the first team squad were really really good with us. See if you were walking back from Spurs Lodge I remember Sol Campbell would give us a lift and then chat away, Tim Sherwood was the same and he would take time to talk to you and see how you are and encourage you along with Jamie Redknapp. So they were a great bunch of people and looking back you certainly appreciate that they didn’t have to do that, but they were just good guys, and I think that that means a lot to every young player when people are like that with them.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
John: Yeah Teddy Sheringham was one but It was always a disappoint because it’s every young kids dream to play at White Hart Lane with the first team, but it would have been great to train more with him. Obviously it was always a separate entity sort of thing with the academy from the first team group however, just watching him train and watching him play you learn so much. We never really got the chance to do that until I was 18/19 as oppose to when you’re first and second year there, but just watching the guys technique and his attitude towards training and doing things well and properly was huge. Tim Sherwood as well when he played for the reserves with us was absolutely brilliant, and just watching the confidence of the guy and the way he went about things and the way he was talking on the pitch was great. Jamie Redknapp was another one and like I say he was really really good with us, but they are the ones that stand out because they are the ones that sort of played a couple of reserve games with me where they were coming back from injury or something like that. However, when you’re about people like that you learn so much.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
John: So to be honest when I was at Tottenham I had always scored a lot of goals, and when I had my third year at the club I started the season with the reserves and I got a couple of goals for the reserves. Then I got asked if I would like to go on loan to Carlisle, and to be honest at that stage I was just itching to get out as I just wanted to play first team football. So I went to Carlisle and done ok although I didn’t score as many as I would have liked but it wasn’t easy as we were bottom of the league at the time. And then I came back and played a couple of games and scored a couple of goals, and then David Pleat sort of took me in the office in the Christmas time and said do you think it’s better if the club let me look for another club and try and get more game time. I think that looking back I don’t know if I should have been a bit more get my head down and really graft away with the training, but the sort of personality that I had was really impatient as I wanted to do well with my career. So I sort of took that up and and I trained at Leicester for a little while but didn’t get a contract, I went up to Raith in Scotland and scored a lot of goals, then Millwall paid a fee for me and I came and played for them for a little while. We got to the FA Cup final although I never made the squad on the day, I also played for Dundee but the main clubs have always been in Scotland. I also played for Motherwell and scored quite a few goals for them in two spells and I think that we managed to play five years of European football albeit the early rounds, so that was great. I also played for Hearts for a couple of years which was a great experience as well, and I had quite a bit of success at two spells at St Mirren. So I’ve been really lucky with my career and I’ve enjoyed playing up here, and to be fair to my time at Tottenham it certainly helped me out in terms of the technique and learning about my game.
I was actually at Greenock Morton as a reserve team coach and I coached for a year and then it was never really my intention to play but the manager was very keen for me to help out when I could. So I played a bit last year but unfortunately with COVID and whatever that’s no more so I won’t be doing that either unfortunately.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
John: It’s a tricky one because we were very successful at Motherwell, I mean we managed to finish second in the league on the last day of the season which was great but it’s not winning anything. We played in a couple of cup finals and were runners up but I’ve been very very lucky to have won the league twice with St Mirren to go up into the Premier League in Scotland. Once when I was very young and once when I was a bit older so all of those experiences were good but I regret that I never won one of the big cups up here. You know I got to the Scottish Cup final and the Scottish League Cup final, and with Millwall I was in the squad or I was hoping to play in the final of the FA Cup against Man United. So that’s been a bit disappointing but I can’t really moan about anything as I’ve managed to play lots of European football and I even played against Tottenham funnily enough, with Hearts in the Europa League. I also played at Anfield in the Europa League, and with Motherwell we went on a couple of really good runs in the Europa League so it’s all been good. However, I couldn’t really point to one specific thing and say that was the outstanding bit.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
John: I keep saying it but Teddy Sheringham at Tottenham was certainly one, I also played Liverpool in the first leg of the Europa League and we done ok and we lost 1-0, although we were a little bit unlucky I think to lose 1-0. And I think that they must have been reasonably worried because in the second leg they put Gerrard and Suarez back in the team. Just sort of being about Gerrard and how quick and good he was and the same for Suarez, so that would be two. However, probably my brother would be upset if I don’t mention him as well but they were the two standouts. Although in fairness I’ll take that back a little bit even though I’ll still put those two as the best, but we played Tottenham at Tynecastle for Hearts and we lost 5-0 and Gareth Bale was obviously playing and van der Vaart. So all not bad players anyway.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the various Tottenham youth teams and reserves?
John: I used to go down every Sunday which was great but youth team games were good and I used to love playing against Arsenal but they were always at training grounds. However, the ones that sort of stood out were when we played in the youth cup because you got to play at White Hart Lane, or you got to play at Elland Road or at the Bolton stadium. So they were probably the stand out times but like I say scoring at Goodison Park was great because it was a really good goal as well as I took it off my chest and volleyed it in from outside the box. However, it was just a disappointment that we couldn’t put the cherry on top and get to the final and win it. However, the youth cup one would have probably been the highlight of my time there.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
John: I get asked this one a lot but when I first came up to Scotland Martin O’Neil’s Celtic team were really really good, I mean they obviously got to the UEFA Cup final so they were a very very good team to play against. However, a bit later on I had to play against big Virgil Van Dijk at the back for Celtic and it’s no surprise that everyone rates him as a pretty decent player now. So there’s that one and then I remember playing against Tottenham in the Europa League and I played big Michael Dawson at the back and he was obviously a very good player although I couldn’t really say off the top of my head who the other one was. However, big Van Dijk would have been the toughest one.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
John: There was four of us in a house but there was pretty good team spirit, so you had Robert Burch who was the goalie and he had a good career. Also you had Johnny Black who was from Northern Ireland and then we had big Jamie but I can’t remember his surname who was the goalie, and he was a bit older than us. We also had Mark Hughes who was a really nice guy as well however, they were all great people and it was great, but as I say it wasn’t easy moving away from home and I think that a lot of people find that tricky. However, I had a really good time.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
John: You’ve just got to practice hard, I mean it’s not easy but one thing I would say over the last few years is that Tottenham has had a really good track record of getting boys in the team. And I’m certainly not saying that I would have got in the first team but I think that a lot of the time you’ve got to be patient and not be too eager or disappointed if you don’t get into play. I think that that might have helped me a little bit but that’s the person that I was, but it’s great to see so many young boys coming through for Tottenham, it’s absolutely brilliant. Even if you don’t make it at Tottenham you can use what you learned and do really well there.
After all these years how do you look back on your time at the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who you still hold close to your heart?
John: Well first of all and I don’t push my kids in any direction but I’ve got four kids and they are all Tottenham fans. I don’t quite know how that’s happened and it’s more likely that I’d nudge them towards Norwich but they are absolutely adamant Spurs fans and they’d love one day to come and watch a couple of games down at the new stadium. They are always looking out for the score so I’m sort of still a Spurs fan in my own way as I’m always sort of looking out for the score and cheering them on. However, I look back on it and think that I learned an awful lot when I was at Spurs and I never appreciated it at the time but the things that I learned I used over a long career, and I use it with my coaching now. So I’m very grateful for that, but it wasn’t easy to move out from home at such a young age but I sort of grew up a lot in that time, and it was a really good youth learning experience. As I said we went on a really good youth cup run and it’s just a shame that we didn’t finish it off with a bit more style. However, it was great.