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Sutton recalls day when Keown chased him into the Highbury toilets

por Ramon Hellyer (2020-04-22)


First Patrick Vieira made a beeline for Chris Sutton, barging into him at full speed. Then Lee Dixon told him in no uncertain terms that he was off his Christmas card list.

Then finally, our columnist found himself hiding in the dressing room toilets at Highbury, inside a cubicle and with full kit on. Among those trying to get at the then-Blackburn Rovers striker was his now-Sportsmail colleague Martin Keown.

It was April 1997, and a 1-1 draw had just been played out — a result which arguably cost Arsenal their Champions League place for the following season. 






Chris Sutton antagonised Martin Keown when Blackburn took on Arsenal in April 1997


Here, Sutton recounts to Sportsmail's KIERAN GILL the day he became public enemy No 1 in north London, while Keown explains how it inadvertently helped Arsenal clinch the Double the following season. 






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It's the 89th minute. Arsenal are leading 1-0 and Stephen Hughes goes down under a challenge by Rovers skipper Tim Sherwood. Referee Mike Riley waves play on, but Vieira kicks the ball into touch so his team-mate can be treated. 

Hughes is substituted for Ray Parlour and the clock is ticking. The game finally gets going again when Blackburn give the ball back to Arsenal.



 



CHRIS SUTTON: I remember looking at Hughes and he wasn't rolling round in agony. It looked like he was just sitting down. We thought: "They're time-wasting here." 

So when the ball was thrown to Nigel Winterburn, I chased after him and put him under so much pressure that he conceded a corner. Arsenal fans were booing, calling me all sorts. 

Even today, I get the blame in all of this but it wasn't me alone who made this decision. Most of my team-mates were in on it. Anyway, Winterburn faffed around, we won the corner, then I sprinted into the six-yard box to get ready for the cross.






Sutton was angry at Arsenal for wasting time and forced Nigel Winterburn to concede a corner




 



Footage of the incident is on YouTube and the commentator says: "You might question the level of sportsmanship that Blackburn have shown here." Then Vieira comes charging in...



 



CS: He ran into me, ?????????? so I shoved him in the chest. Dixon said something, so did David Seaman. Arsenal's players lost their heads. Amid all the pushing and shoving and threats, they switched off. Kevin Gallacher took the corner, and Garry Flitcroft scored.

You couldn't hear our fans celebrating for the Arsenal supporters' groans.

'Cheat, cheat, cheat,' rang around. I could tell all hell was about to break loose at full-time. Keown and the others were saying they were going to rip my head off! I spent the final few minutes on the left wing, near the tunnel.



 



MARTIN KEOWN: What made us even more mad was the fact that Hughes, who had to be substituted, would have been covering the area Blackburn equalised from. 

That was his zone for the set-piece. But the ball came in and they scored. It effectively ended our chance of winning the title. Let's say we weren't too happy.



 



CS: As soon as the final whistle went, I was straight up the tunnel. I wasn't the quickest, but I was rapid that day. 

I pegged it into our dressing room and could hear the Arsenal players going berserk outside. They wanted to get to me. They would have had a job because I'd locked myself in the toilet. I figured that was the safest place.






Keown says a lack of Champions League football helped Arsenal win the double in 1997-98




 



Tony Parkes, then Blackburn's caretaker boss, managed to both defend and attack Sutton afterwards. "It wasn't in the spirit of the game," he began. |But he's a silly lad sometimes and maybe he just forgot about the injury."



 



CS: Would I do it again? Looking back now, no, I wouldn't. I wouldn't risk the wrath of you, Martin! I got threats in Arsenal games after this. "We're gonna do this and that to you…"

But in that moment, I was a professional footballer thinking only about my team. Our precarious position in the table was at the very front of my mind. 

Should I have done what I did? Absolutely not. I can admit now that I was wrong. It wasn't in the 'spirit of the game' as my manager said. But I wanted to help Blackburn.



 











After Sutton's mischief, Arsenal missed out on the Champions League on goal difference and had to settle for the UEFA Cup instead in the 1997-98 season. 

They were beaten by Greek club PAOK in the first round and Arsene Wenger explained: 'To be honest, the only European competition that really interests me is the Champions League.'



 



MK: In hindsight, having no Champions League football helped us in 1997-98. 

Without Europe's elite competition to compete in, we went on to clinch the league and cup Double.

Manchester United, who did play in the Champions League, finished second to us and won nothing that year. But we learned from that Blackburn match. We came back and made history.



 



CS: I have to say, I don't feel I can take all the credit. Arsenal blamed me for not getting into Europe that season but look at their results after this game — a draw with Coventry, a loss to Newcastle then a win over Derby on the final day. Arsenal only had themselves to blame for missing out. They're the ones who bottled it!



 



It is fair to say Sutton and Vieira never saw eye to eye after this episode in 1997. A year later, our man was sent off for a robust challenge on the Frenchman.






A year later, Sutton was sent off for a robust challenge on Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira




 



CS: He'd elbowed me at a corner and broke my nose. I was left on all fours and my eyes were pouring with water. But as I looked up, I could see he was smiling. It was off the ball and he did it on purpose.

So I thought I'd get him back. I tried to do him a few minutes later — a proper two-footer — but I was all over the place. I wound up missing him!

But as I got up, the referee was waving a red card in my face. Then Emmanuel Petit pushed me over and I landed face first in the turf, right on my nose.






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Should Harry Kane stay or go in his pursuit to win trophies?... 'It was a foolish moment but he was only 18 at the time!':... From Pizza-gate to Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane clashing in... 'I would do it every single year': Former Arsenal defender...




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