Alan Sunderland made a name for himself when he broke into the Wolves first team at the age of 17. He scored 30 goals in his six years at Molineux before securing a move to Arsenal, and it was there where he wrote himself into FA Cup folklore.
In the 1979 ‘Five minute’ FA Cup Final, Sunderland converted a last minute Graham Rix cross to clinch a dramatic 3-2 win over Manchester United. Arsenal had been 2-0 up with five minutes to play when United pulled back two goals in as many minutes to seemingly steer the tie towards extra-time, but Sunderland, equipped with moustache and curly perm, stretched out his leg to net a last-gasp winner. But what happened to the Arsenal number eight after his Cup Final heroics?
Sunderland remained with the Gunners for a further five years and was their top scorer in the 1979/80 and 1981/82 seasons. He was a member of the Arsenal side that lost two cup finals in four days in 1980, the FA Cup Final to West Ham followed by Cup Winners Cup Final to Valencia on penalties. He also won his only England cap in 1980, playing 85 minutes in a 1-2 win over Australia in Sydney.
Alan joined Ipswich on loan in February 1984 after a run of unfortunate injuries and the arrival of Charlie Nicholas at Highbury. During his loan spell at Portman Road, Sunderland scored three goals in 15 games and helped Ipswich avoid relegation. He joined the Tractor Boys permanently in the summer of ‘84 and remained there for two years. Ipswich though were a team in decline and after league positions of 12th in 1984 and 17th in 1985, they were finally relegated from the top division in 1986. During these two years Sunderland scored eight goals in 43 appearances. After Ipswich, Sunderland had a very brief stint at Derry City before finally retiring from football in 1986.
After retiring, Alan became a publican in Ipswich. After four years behind the bar Sunderland decided that he needed a change, in 2005 he said: “I was drinking myself to death, I needed to get away.” And get away he did.
Sunderland, now 57, moved to Malta in 1995 to, in his own words: “enjoy the climate and the fact there are no traffic jams”. He continues to stay active by playing tennis and golf and has spent some time coaching local football team Burkirkara FC. He has “plenty of contact” with ‘Malta Wolves’, the Molineux side’s Malta fanclub, and attends functions held by the group.
Speaking three years ago, he said of his famous FA Cup goal: “The day seems to belong in a different lifetime when I watch the highlights now, either that or it’s someone else scoring!”
To refresh your memory of the goal, here’s a video of his special moment: