John Sutton had a great career in football, making himself a notable face in the Scottish game, but now he wants to make strides in the personal training world.
The now former striker has retired from football aged 36. He had hung up the boots in 2018 to focus on his coaching role at Morton, but Ton boss David Hopkin convinced the former Hearts, Motherwell and St Mirren man to come out of retirement last season.
He’s done for good now though as he focuses on starting his own personal training business. Sutton is seeing more people he knows in football opting for the part-time route instead of full-time playing, particularly those dropping into the Lowland League.
There have been plenty of well-known faces moving into the fifth-tier of Scottish football ahead of the forthcoming campaign, Chris Erskine, Paul Paton, Darren Smith, Kyle Hutton and Kallum Higginbotham just some of the names signed up.
It’s not exactly hard to see why for Sutton as he reckons some of the systems in place at clubs like East Kilbride and Kelty Hearts more than match their SPFL counterparts.
“I think Scotland has so many professional teams which is great,” Sutton told NTOF. “But once you start dropping down the leagues, I’m not so sure there’s much difference between the part-time teams in League One and Two.
“I think this is even proven in the cup runs of Lowland League BSC Glasgow and Auchinleck Talbot in the juniors. It’s always puzzled me with the Scottish game. It’s great having all these teams but at times you’ve got to question what teams like Stranraer, for example, have to do with Stranraer.
“They take a team bus from Glasgow as far as I’m aware. Most of the Peterhead players come from Glasgow. I can’t think of many with great structures in place. I might be wrong. For League One or Two teams, is it a case of picking up players who are dropping down the leagues without ever really producing a young player who’s good for Scotland, one that’s sellable?
“I completely understand what players like Chris Erskine have done, East Kilbride have a great setup. They have an artificial pitch which is a really good thing because it allows you to train at a decent standard and he gets his business career started. I’m sure a lot of players will be thinking the same thing.”
Taking lessons from Iceland
A passionate endorser of youth football, Sutton’s personal training sessions include those with aspiring footballers. He was U20s boss at Morton for a while and has witnessed first-hand how youth football in Scotland works.
Sutton had his eyes opened to how Iceland work their youth football system during a Europa League trip with Motherwell in 2010. It frustrates him than in a football-daft nation, he feels something isn’t quite right with how players are brought through.
“Years and years ago I went out with Motherwell to play an Icelandic team in the Europa League, Breidablik,” said Sutton. “I remember going over there and seeing all the pitches.
“The kids would ride their bikes there after school, it wasn’t like they had to book it or pay for it from what we could make out. It was jumpers for goalposts stuff and we played Breidablik who were a great team. It sticks with you when you see Iceland beating England in the Euros.
“But they have a structure where children can go and play football with their friends. There’s a pathway to play first-team football and then a lot of them move out of Iceland. I can’t make out that in a country that is absolutely football-crazy, we haven’t been able to do something similar over here.
“The interest in football here is phenomenal. But do we have a structure like Iceland, or Germany where they have the youth teams playing (in senior leagues)? You look at New Zealand rugby, where they play that for the social side of things. We seem to be a million miles away from that at the moment.
“We’ve got huge enthusiasm. You see people with brilliant talent but they play 13s, 14s, 15s, 16s and then what? Then they need to graduate to full-time football when they leave school. You need to go from being at school to training with full-time players.
“If you miss that step, there’s no point doing the 12s, 13s, 14s etc. You can’t leave school having done double math, science, which is great and should be done, to then being ready to play full-time sport. There needs to be that bridge.”
Eager for normality
Like everyone else, Sutton is desperate for a return to normality. He’s had to stage his steps into personal training due to government guidelines in place after sport in Scotland was put into cold storage for months.
Slowly but surely it is coming back and Sutton wants to see more done. The 36-year-old reckons there will be detrimental impacts for some people going large spells without physical exercise.
“It’s horrible what’s happened. I think there has to be an emphasis on a return to normality,” he said. “I used to watch my local team Norwich on a Saturday with my dad and it was great. But the biggest thing was playing in the playground with my friends and then my local team, you kept fit.
“The social and emotional side of being part of a team, a lot of the kids are missing out on that. At some stage there has to be an emphasis on allowing kids to do what kids 10 years ago had the opportunity to do.
“If not, you are depriving them of a chance to improve their lives and being part of a society of more opportunity generally. I think there’s a lot of things that could get changed. It’s easy to say ‘do this and do that’ but I really think a lot of things could and should get changed.
“It’s not a case of just ball sports, you could still do your swimming with kids or do gymnastics. It’s pretty much all been taken away and the sooner we get back to that the better.
“Everyone says we have trouble with obesity in Scotland. But what’s happened is people aren’t allowed to play five-a-side football with their pals anymore. You would like to think at some stage that people will get their lives back and freedom back. People like playing five-a-side football to keep fit? Let them do it. It’s good for everyone.”
A new career
With restrictions on gyms easing, Sutton can now fully kickstart his new career in personal training. With a wealth of experience at the top level of football both north and south of the border, he feels he has a lot to give.
It’s something he’s really enjoying as he teaches those from all walks of life: “I’ve started my own personal training business. I’ve got a small gym next to Kelvingrove Park. I’ve had a variety of people which has been great, a few aspiring footballers, people who want to get fit and people who are right into the gym.
“Hopefully I can help people out in some aspect of their lives. I’m doing one-to-one coaching, group coaching and I’ve also been asked to take teams for a couple of sessions, which is again really good. I love my football and fitness.
“I want people to get in touch, I’m on Twitter, although I’m a bit new to it! I don’t tweet every 30 minutes and I talk a lot more sense than some family members! I’m taking all sorts on at the moment and it’s great to see people develop.”
Sutton can be found on Twitter, where you can find out how to train with the former Premiership striker.