History: Arsenal’s legendary 1979 FA Cup hero Alan Sunderland

Arsenals 1979 FA Cup saviour Alan Sunderland

In 1953 the attacker who would later send Arsenal to FA Cup glory in 1979 over Manchester United was born, that legendary Gunner is Alan Sunderland.

Sunderland started off his career at Wolverhampton originally signing as an apprentice where he appeared as a midfielder. With Wolves he lifted the 1974 League Cup in a 2-1 victory over Manchester City in the final at no other ground but Wembley. Sunderland would achieve even more silverware at the club clinching the 1977 Second Division Championship with Wolves. In total Sunderland featured for Wolves just shy of 200 games grabbing 30 goals.

In late 1977 Sunderland travelled down to North London to play for Arsenal in a deal worth £220,000. At Highbury he transitioned from the position of midfielder to centre forward broadening his horizons already. Within a matter of games Sunderland cemented his place in the first team in 1978 before The Gunners lost that seasons FA Cup Final to Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town.

Sunderland’s greatest moment in his career occurred in the 1979 FA Cup Final. During the match Arsenal had breezed past Manchester United flying into a 2-0 lead with goals from Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton with victory deemed certain. This would not be the case within a mere three minutes till the final whistle The Red Devils scored two goals to take the match to extra-time. With The Gunners desperate for ultimate victory in the final minute of the game they mounted a surging counter-attack. Liam Brady passed to Graham Rix on the left flank where his cross at the near post to Sunderland was slotted into the back of the net with speed and power, Arsenal had done it they’d won the Cup 3-2  all thanks to one man.

Sunderland remained at Highbury for the next five years, constructing a mighty attacking force with Frank Stapleton for two campaigns. He was Arsenals top goalscorer throughout the 1979/80 and 1981/82 seasons appearing in The Gunners side which were defeated in the 1980 FA Cup Final by West Ham and that year Cup Winners Cup to Valencia.

After picking up many injuries alongside Tony Woodcock and Charlie Nicholson being signed as attackers Sunderland was dropped from the first team. Sunderland finished his career at Arsenal scoring 92 times in 281 matches.

Ipswich Town would then sign Sunderland in 1984 on loan where he helped The Tractor Boys avoid the drop from the First Division. He then signed a permanent contract with the club which he remained at till 1986 before going onto play for Irish outfit Derry City before completely retiring.

Sunderland was only called up once for England against Australia in 1980 which The Three Lions won 2-1. Previously he’d featured in England u-21, u-23 and B team.

After finishing his career as a footballer he started up a pub in Ipswich before immigrating to Malta where he coached Birkirkara FC.

Sunderland is currently age 70 where to this day he is remembered for his 1979 FA Cup heroics against Manchester United at Wembley in the dying seconds of the game.

Liam Harding

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