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On This Day (4 Sept 1933): Len Duns begins a Sunderland career that makes him a club legend

This is the story of a Sunderland great, who 88 years ago today swapped Tyneside for Wearside when he left amateur club Newcastle West End to join Sunderland aged just 16 years old. Leonard Duns’ 17th birthday came three weeks later, and in the following month he signed his first professional deal at Roker Park. 

Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

After joining the club and spending two years with Sunderland’s reserve side, Len Duns made his first-team debut in 1935; within another two years, he was a Football League and FA Cup winner.

Deputising for Bert Davis on the wing, that opening bow was in a 2-2 draw away at Portsmouth in which the imperial Raich Carter scored twice. Duns and Carter would go on to help form a superb forward line, and just seven days later the pair were both amongst the scorers as Duns marked his first senior appearance at Roker Park with a brace.

That was in a 4-2 win against Preston North End in which the pair were joined on the scoresheet by another club icon and member of that famed attack in Bobby Gurney.

Sunderland were on a good run of form, and victory put the Lads back on top of Division One – a place they cemented when Dun’s fine introduction continued with another goal the following week during an impressive 5-1 win over a very handy Brentford side.

Duns, as seen in the book ‘All the Lads’ by Dykes & Lamming

Further strikes against Everton and in the return against Brentford meant that Duns scored five times during his breakout season, but it was as much his strength and fine crossing for others that eventually made him a first team regular.

He played the three games that followed Davis’ dismissal in a fiery encounter with Middlesbrough and whilst Duns sat out the 7-2 thrashing of Birmingham, who did not take on the ‘City’ part of their moniker until the following decade, that secured the 1935-36 Football League title it quickly became clear who would be first choice going forward.

Davis started the opening four games of Sunderland’s title defence, but they were to be his last appearances for the club.

Duns featured in all but two of the remaining games and by December 1936 his rival for that spot on the right hand side had moved to Leicester City.

Although Davis was a smaller, trickier style of player to Duns the pair did share a similarity off the pitch - for a period Davis ran a sports outfitters near Roker Park whilst Duns later owned a fruit and veg shop in Blandford Street.

Duns’ greengrocers on Blandford Street

Now an established member of the side, Duns finished 1936-37 as Sunderland’s third-highest scorer with 16 league goals.

The side fell short in their attempt to regain the title but more than made up for it by finally succeeding in their efforts to win the FA Cup for the first time instead.

Duns was instrumental in this, scoring five times during the run and appearing in every game including the 3-1 win over Preston in the final during Sunderland’s first ever Wembley appearance.

He had also played in the Charity Shield win against Arsenal earlier in the campaign for good measure.

The following two seasons brought about the end of an era at Sunderland in which many of the greats that had led them to success moved on.

Still a relative youngster, however, Duns remained and became a club stalwart, who despite only being able to make intermittent appearances during World War II became a figurehead for the team in the seasons afterward.

Duns missed only four games of the 1947-48 campaign despite now being in his 30s, but the following year saw him make way for Tommy Wright, a £9,000 purchase from Patrick Thistle.

After that, Duns would prove to be a reliable stand-in and even made occasional appearances on the left, from where he scored his final foal for the side in a 3-3 draw against Aston Villa in 1950. In 1952, he played his final game for Sunderland, appropriately enough against Preston in a goalless draw.

That final outing was over 18 years after Len Duns had moved to Roker Park.

He did guest elsewhere during the war but in traditional terms, Sunderland were his only professional club, and it was one at which he excelled.

Named as one of its greatest 100 players in the club’s 2005 version of The Complete Record, Duns’ FA Cup final shirt and medal are both proudly displayed at the Stadium of Light – hopefully assuring a deserved place in our history forevermore.

The Roker Review marks Duns’ death in 1989

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