Former Players: David Sunley

David Sunley

Date of birth: 6.2.52

Born: Skelton, North Yorkshire

Height: 5ft 9in

Position: Striker

City appearances: League: 36(5), goals: 6, League Cup: 2(1), Total: 38(6), goals: 6

David Sunley was born in the town of Skelton to the east of Middlesbrough and attracted the attention of several Football League clubs in his days as a schoolboy footballer. After trials with Preston North End and his local club Middlesbrough he was taken on by First Division Sheffield Wednesday as an apprentice in the summer of 1968. Turning professional from January 1970 he made his first team debut the following December in a 1-0 defeat at Birmingham City with Wednesday now in the Second Division. Playing alongside later Imps player and manager Sam Ellis the 18-year-old went on to miss only four games in the remainder of the season, appearing in 17 league games and scoring two goals, the first of these coming in his sixth game – a 3-3 draw, again against Birmingham, this time at home. He also played in one FA Cup game, scoring Wednesday’s goal in a 4-1 third round defeat at Tottenham. One of his league goals came in a 3-1 victory over Portsmouth at the end of March but it was not for celebrations involving this that Sunley suffered a brush with the law due to an incident in the early hours of the following morning. This came when he and several team mates, including Ellis, were fined for ‘skylarking’ around a fountain in Sheffield Town Hall Square as they were out on a stag night celebrating the forthcoming marriage of Geoff Worth, another later Imps player and coach.


Sunley’s career then rather went on hold at the start of the following season, not appearing in the first team until the beginning of January. But then replacing the injured Mick Prendergast he missed only one game in the remainder of the season playing in a total of 18 league games, scoring two goals, plus one FA Cup game.

The 1972/73 season would prove to be the best of David Sunley’s career, as at the age of 20 he began to be seen as one of the more talented and skilful players in the Second Division. However, although playing in a total of 36 league and six cup games and finishing as Wednesday’s second highest scorer with 12 goals most of these appearances came when deputising for other players mainly, again, the injury-prone Prendergast. But he had certainly done enough to attract the attention of top flight clubs such as Liverpool and Southampton and it was said that bids of approaching six figures at a time when the British transfer record was £225,000 were all turned down by Wednesday.

The player was thought of highly enough to be included in an FA touring party managed by Sir Alf Ramsey which visited Gibraltar. England’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, playing six months after a car accident deprived him of the sight of one eye, captained an FA eleven, that also included fellow World Cup players Nobby Stiles and Terry Paine plus the likes of Frank Worthington and an 18-year-old Trevor Francis. Sunley scored two of the goals in the FA side’s 9-0 win.

Sunley started the 1973/74 season as a first choice although playing on the wing before losing his place to Scottish international Willie Henderson, then it was the usual deputising for other players. After the high of the previous season his goals rather dried up though as he managed only five in a total of 35 league and cup appearances which included playing in an 8-2 third round League Cup defeat at First Division Queens Park Rangers.

Since finishing 8th in the First Division in 1965 Sheffield Wednesday had been on a steady decline and they finished the season just one point clear of relegation to the third tier – something they would have been grateful for a year later.

In April 1974 a big money move had again escaped the now 22-year-old with a possible move to Arsenal coming to nothing. The following season was Sunley’s most disappointing so far with a mid-season run of ten games ending when he was replaced by Phil Henson, newly signed from Manchester City. It was a disastrous season for Wednesday as they finished 11 points adrift at the bottom of the division with their last 17 games seeing just two goals scored, neither of them by Sunley who played in eight of those games. His total for the season was 24 league and FA Cup games, scoring only two goals.

The 1975/76 season was something of a non-event for the player as he played just one game at the end of September before going on loan to Second Division Nottingham Forest in Brian Clough’s first season at the City Ground. However, he played only one game, a goal-less draw at Fulham in mid-October before returning to Wednesday where he appeared in another seven league games, as usual deputising for others. He also played in two FA Cup ties, scoring one of the goals as Northern Premier League side Wigan were beaten 2-0 at home in the second round and then in a 2-1 away defeat to Second Division side Charlton Athletic.

David Sunley’s Sheffield Wednesday career then came to end in January 1976 with a step back up for him with a transfer to Second Division Hull City, although the transfer fee of £7,500 was a great deal less than the kind of valuation seemingly placed on him just two or three years earlier. His last game for Wednesday, who went on to avoid relegation to the fourth tier by a single point, came in a 2-0 home defeat by Swindon Town on 24th January. His career total for the club came to 133 appearances in league games with 21 goals scored and 15 cup games with 5 goals.

The general opinion of him by Sheffield Wednesday supporters seems to be that although a skilful player capable of the occasional moment of brilliance he was a little too lightweight. Rather away from his abilities as a footballer, one of them tells the story of discovering a picture of David Sunley was missing from his football magazine. He later found it on his sister’s bedroom wall alongside her collection of pin-ups of the likes of David Essex and David Cassidy. Deciding it didn’t look out of place he allowed her to keep the photo.

Sunley made his debut for Hull on the 31st of January in a 2-2 draw at Blackpool and missed only one game in the remainder of the season playing alongside young right back Peter Daniel, as with Sam Ellis at Sheffield Wednesday, another later Imps player and manager. His first goal for the Tigers came in his fifth game as he finished the season with four goals in 15 appearances for them.

Hull finished the 1975/76 season in 14th place and did the same the following year as Sunley enjoyed what was probably the second-best season of his career, playing in a total of 39 Second Division games, although scoring only six goals, plus three cup games. However, he then started on a downward trend, losing his place to the signing in the summer of 1977 of formerly prolific striker Bruce Bannister and reverted to his Sheffield Wednesday status of a stand-in player as he started just 10 league and cup games with 9 appearances from the subs’ bench, scoring one goal

The 1977/78 season was a disastrous one for Hull as they finished bottom of the division, scoring only 34 goals of which Sunley’s replacement Bannister contributed only four. The player was then released by Hull after making a total of 77 league and cup appearances for them, scoring 11 goals.

At Lincoln City, following the departure of manager Graham Taylor to Watford at the end of the 1976/77 season his replacement George Kerr had lasted only until mid-December before being sacked with City in the relegation zone of the Third Division. Replaced by Willie Bell the former Birmingham City manager had overseen a steady improvement to finish the season in the safety of 16th place. Bell was now looking to replace some of the players from the Graham Taylor era and with Peter Graham released and with some doubts over the continued fitness of John Ward brought in the 26-year-old Sunley on a free transfer to play alongside teenage prospect Mick Harford up front.



Only two pre-season matches were played, both in the Lincolnshire Senior Cup, with Sunley appearing in both and scoring in the first one as Scunthorpe were beaten 2-1. He made his competitive debut for the Imps alongside Harford at Valley Parade in the first leg of a League Cup first round tie which saw City beaten 3-1 on aggregate by fourth tier side Bradford City. The Imps then opened the league season with a 2-1 win over Tranmere at Sincil Bank with Sunley hitting the winning goal, forcing the ball into the net from close range. The win proved to be a false dawn, however, against a side which would accompany the Imps into the Fourth Division at the end of the season.

The first away match of the season saw City well beaten at Swansea and Sunley’s reign as a first-choice player then came to an end as his place alongside Mick Harford was taken by John Ward for a defeat at Plymouth. Sunley had replaced Ward from the bench during the Plymouth game and he did so again as City went down to a second successive 2-1 defeat, this time at home to his old club Sheffield Wednesday. Sunley was then back in the side in place of the unfit Ward for a 2-0 defeat at Rotherham followed by the infamous 5-0 home defeat by Watford in which he did at least come the closest to scoring for City with a header pushed onto the post by goalkeeper Andy Rankin. The run of five defeats then came to end with a 1-1 draw at home to Carlisle.

With Mick Harford also injured Sunley now partnered Glenn Cockerill in attack and gave an extremely poor performance in another away defeat at Shrewsbury, and this was followed by a sixth away defeat in a row at Brentford. Another home draw then came with John Ward, back in the side scoring the equaliser against Walsall as Sunley drew praise from Maurice Burton in the Echo as looking sharp and skilled, and was ”a better player than has been recognised.” However, he did not look either sharp or skilled as an almost full-strength City side were deservedly beaten by Boston United in the final of the Lincolnshire Senior Cup. Another defeat then came at Blackpool when Sunley was one of the few players to come out of the match with any credit.


With Glenn Cockerill the leading scorer in the season so far with only two goals, one of which was scored from midfield, Willie Bell now acted to strengthen the attack, paying out a club record fee of £33,000 for Tommy Tynan from Sheffield Wednesday. The new man made his debut alongside Sunley but there were no goals from anybody in another home draw with Colchester. “We have got to start getting some goals soon,” said Bell, but although there were two in a 4-2 midweek defeat at Gillingham, they both came from defenders. Sunley had to miss the match through injury but he was back in the side for the visit of Swindon. However, there were no goals from the Imps in reply to three from the visitors “City were so poor in attack,” said Maurice Burton.


With the team rooted to the foot of the division with just five points from 14 games Willie Bell now left the club in order to take up a post coaching for a religious organisation in America. Player-coach Jim McCalliog took charge of the team until a new manager could be appointed. His first action was to name a strong reserve side for a midweek game with Sunley playing the first half. After scoring twice in that game John Ward was back in the starting line-up for the following Friday’s visit to Southend with Sunley left out altogether despite Tommy Tynan being unfit to play.

When Tynan returned Sunley continued in the reserves which is where he found himself when the new manager in the shape of Colin Murphy was appointed. He remained there, despite two goals for the second string in a 7-0 win over Halifax Reserves when Murphy named the team for his first game – a visit to Sunley’s old stamping ground of Hillsborough. He then remained out of the first team picture until the beginning of March although this was a period of not many games being played – only one in the month of February – due to a series of postponements. During this time the usual partnership up front was John Ward and Mick Harford as City had cut their losses on Tommy Tynan with him having departed the club for two-thirds of what they had paid for him. But a run of four away defeats in a row without scoring, finished with a 6-0 humiliation at Swindon leading to John Ward losing his place to Sunley, returning from a lengthy spell out due to an injury sustained in a reserve match as he started a game for the first time under Colin Murphy. In the game at Chester, he gave City a half time lead with an opportunistic goal and drew praise from Maurice Burton for his “ability to screen and hold the ball.” However, after the break City “disintegrated at the back” and let five goals in to leave them rooted nine points adrift at the bottom of the league table.

After a six-game run of defeats came to an end with a home draw against Southend another heavy defeat followed by 4-1 at Walsall. Colin Murphy then took drastic action with a change to a 5-3-2 formation which included John Ward in midfield along with Brendan Guest and Glenn Cockerill as Sunley partnered Mick Harford up front. It paid off with the third win of the season and it was Sunley who laid on the only goal of the match for Ward. The best run of the season then followed with Sunley giving what Maurice Burton rated as his best display for City in a goal-less draw at his old club Hull City. He followed this up with his third goal of the season as a 3-0 win against Rotherham gave hope that City could at least lift themselves off the bottom of the division if not out of the relegation zone. Unfortunately points then began to be dropped again, and following the departure to America of Phil Hubbard who had been playing as one of the three central defenders a return to more orthodox tactics (for the time) meant a return to poor results with a 4-2 home defeat by Gillingham, although Sunley did scramble his fourth goal of the season. Two further defeats came, with Sunley having to go off with a badly cut head in the second of these. This injury caused him to miss the next three games and he only made the subs’ bench in the visit to Mansfield which wound up a disastrous season.

David Sunley appeared in a total of 31 league and cup games scoring four goals in the season which could be said to have had three phases for him. Starting as a first- choice player he lost his place after the departure of manager Willie Bell as he was not favoured by caretaker Jim McCalliog and was out of the side when Colin Murphy took over. He was then side-lined by injury for a long spell until Murphy turned to him as one of the two front-runners in a defensive formation which saw the only decent run of results in the whole season.

During the close season Colin Murphy set about rebuilding the squad including the £15,000 signing of striker Tony Cunningham although this was balanced out by the departure of John Ward. But it was clear from the pre-season games that Cunningham was seen as the first choice to play alongside Mick Harford and Sunley started the new season on the subs’ bench, appearing in the second leg of the first round League Cup tie with Barnsley which saw City lose on penalties. He then tasted Fourth Division football for the first time in the 1-0 home defeat to Peterborough which opened the league season. Replacing full back Brendan Guest in the second half as City attempted to get back in the game, he drew praise from Maurice Burton for bringing “vision and footballing ability into the team in the short time he was on the field.” He continued on the bench without being called on to play for the next three games as City moved up to fourth place with three wins in a row as the Harford/Cunningham partnership continued to be an effective one. However, Colin Murphy paid tribute to Sunley saying that he had “sweated blood for me at the end of last season” and that it was good to have him as part of a strong attacking potential.



Missing for an away draw at Bradford City he was then back on the bench for a home draw with Doncaster as his game time began to come in the reserves. Replaced on the bench for an away defeat at Walsall by Phil Neale newly-returned from cricket, he was back in the squad for the visit of Tranmere getting on to the pitch for the last few minutes of the game. He then got half an hour of a visit to Newport replacing a possibly not fully fit Cunningham and producing “greater vision and mobility” which helped City to earn a 1-1 draw.

He had evidently shown enough against Newport to earn a starting place for the next game with Cunningham taking his place on the bench but it wasn’t the best of results for City with visitors Walsall earning a draw with a late goal despite having by then been reduced to nine men. Sunley played his part in a win at Port Vale and then scored his first of the season with a well-taken goal to put City on the way to a comfortable 3-0 home win against Crewe. He then made it two in two games, seizing on a rebound to put the ball in the net as City thrashed local rivals Scunthorpe 4-0 at Sincil Bank.

The Imps were now in a good position just a point off a promotion place with Sunley looking determined to hold on to his first team place ahead of the inexperienced Cunningham. But an unbeaten run of six games came to an end at Wigan with a below-par performance. Although gifted the lead with an own goal City were unable to build on it with Sunley the chief culprit as he failed to make contact with the ball in front of an empty net, then shot into the side netting when the ball came back to him. Substituted late on by Cunningham he was however back in the starting line-up for a visit to Aldershot. However, he was again guilty of a missed chance when heading a cross over “a gaping goal” as City lost 2-0. This was followed by a 1-0 home win over Stockport but it was the introduction of Tony Cunningham in place of Sunley in the 65th minute which turned the game in City’s favour. It was the big man who then kept his place in the side with Sunley banished to the reserves and not in the squad which suffered a defeat at Peterborough nor that which were held at home by Bournemouth with Cunningham earning a point with a last-minute goal.

Rumours now emerged that City were interested in signing Barnsley striker Derek Bell as Colin Murphy sought to find a much-needed scoring touch for the side. It was perhaps significant that Sunley was not in the party of 13 players that travelled to Ledbury Town for a midweek friendly match, but after a 4-0 defeat at Portsmouth he was back on the bench for a first round FA Cup exit to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. Ineligible for the cup tie was Derek Bell who had now been signed for a club record fee of £36,000 but somewhat surprisingly Sunley was then recalled in place of Cunningham to play alongside the new man and set up Gordon Hobson to score the equaliser which rescued a point in a home draw with Hartlepool. However, he was out of the squad again for a 1-0 defeat at Halifax and not involved in a friendly match with Chesterfield that had to be abandoned after torrential rain at Sincil Bank. Surprisingly, he was then back in the side playing in midfield in place of the absent Graham Watson but his being hampered by a knee injury sustained early in the match did not help as City were held to another home draw by York City. This proved to be Sunley’s last appearance in a City shirt. Clearly no longer part of Colin Murphy’s plans as he commenced a mid-season rebuilding of the side with the further arrivals following Bell of the likes of George Shipley, Trevor Thompson and Nolan Keeley. Confined to the reserves Sunley was transfer listed at the end of February along with Brendan Guest, Graham Watson and John Fleming and joined Stockport County on the morning of City’s visit to them on Saturday 8th March after scoring two goals in a midweek reserve game.

During the season David Sunley had appeared in just 12 league and one League Cup game scoring two goals. Since joining Lincoln in the summer of 1978, he had made a total of 41 league and 3 cup appearances scoring 6 goals.

Sunley made his debut the following Monday night for Stockport in a home draw with Portsmouth, playing in six further games in the remainder of the season scoring one goal as Stockport finished in 16th place.

In the 1980/81 season he missed only one league game, playing mostly as an attacking midfield player and scoring three goals as Stockport finished in 20th place, three points clear of the re-election zone. He played an important part in Stockport’s run to the third round of the League Cup appearing in all five of the games played and scoring three goals. These included an extra time winner against Chester in the first round and a goal in each leg against Sunderland in the second round which saw Stockport beat the First Division side 3-2 on aggregate. He also played in both games in the FA Cup first round, scoring in the replay as Stockport were beaten 3-2 by Third Division Sheffield United. His total appearances for the season came to 45 league and 7 cup games, scoring 7 goals.

He started the following season on the bench before holding down a fairly regular place until losing it in the last third of the season to loan player from Chester Trevor Phillips. In the 1981/82 season he made a total of 32 league and cup appearances scoring two goals.

Released by Stockport after they again finished three points clear of having to apply for re-election, although this time in 18th place, David Sunley’s Football League career came to an end at the age of 30. In the summer of 1982, he joined Hong Kong side Tsuen Wan for a brief spell before returning to England to play for Alliance Premier League side Stafford Rangers as they were relegated to the Northern Premier League. He later had a spell with Burton Albion in the Northern Premier League before, living in Dronfield just to the south of Sheffield, playing for local Northern Counties East League sides Stocksbridge Works and Sheffield FC.

His abilities could perhaps be summed up by the opinion expressed by those Sheffield Wednesday supporters who described him as ‘skilful but lightweight’ –although he could be effective enough as a target man when the ball was on the ground. What turn his career would have taken if Sheffield Wednesday had accepted any of the offers said to have been made for him from top flight clubs will never be known, but otherwise it was his lack of goals that probably held him back as he reached double figures in only one season. His time with City could be described as mediocre, although he often won praise from Maurice Burton who evidently rated him. He did a good job up front alongside Mick Harford in the 5-3-2 formation that briefly provided City’s only decent run of results in the disastrous relegation from the Third Division. In the Fourth Division it looked as if he might have come good with two goals in two games after he won his place back in the side from the still raw Tony Cunningham but he failed to keep up the scoring. In fact, it’s possible to conjecture that the chance he missed in the 2-1 defeat at Wigan which would have seen City 2-0 up at half time was the beginning of the end of his City career. Or it may have been a combination with another a miss in the very next game that decided Colin Murphy that he needed to look elsewhere for a striker and resulted in the arrival of Derek Bell.

David Sunley made a total of 327 appearances in the Football League, scoring 44 goals.