Born on this day in 1968, former Sunderland defender Ian Sampson has enjoyed a lengthy and wide ranging career in the game that saw him start in non-league before enjoying an intriguing spell playing European football with one of the biggest clubs in England.
Coming from Yorkshire, Sampson started playing at his local side Driffield Town before going to Bridlington Town and then Goole Town. It was there that he worked under ex-Sunderland man Terry Curran and started gaining interest from league clubs including Gillingham, but after being invited by chief scout Peter Winham to take part in a youth team friendly he did enough to be offered a move to Wearside and joined Sunderland towards the end of 1990.
A few weeks after that he was named on the bench for a game against Norwich City in the first division, but it wasn’t until the following season that Sampson became a regular member of the first team squad. Only ever a semi-professional ahead of his arrival at Roker Park, he had been on a woodwork and joinery YTS placement for a period before working at factories making baby products and so for the first few months since going full time manager Denis Smith wanted his new recruit to get used to the rigours of the senior game.
Adjusting to full time training and appearing in the Pontins Central League, the central defender soon got up to speed but often found his path blocked by more established names such as Gary Bennett, Kevin Ball and then Terry Butcher. Thrown in at the deep end when he was given his league debut as a substitute at Millwall, he always gave a good account of himself though when involved.
That first game came near the start of 1991-92, with Sampson having impressed in pre-season outings against Bolton Wanderers, Shelbourne, Stoke City and Limerick. This was to be the campaign in which he was involved the most, although it was the next one in which he scored his only goal for the Lads – netting the winner in a 1-0 victory away at Southend United. His last appearance, and his only first team outing under Mick Buxton, then came in 1994 when as a late substitute he helped see out the final few minutes of a goalless draw back in the capital at Charlton Athletic.
That summer he moved to Northampton Town and it was at the soon to be opened Sixfields that he really made his mark. Still the Cobblers’ second highest appearance maker after a decade on the playing staff, he won promotion from the fourth tier with them at Wembley in 1997 and has since worked for the club in a variety of coaching rolls. It was a peculiar stint in the colours Tottenham Hotspur however that sticks out for most neutrals, when in 1995 he took part in a much maligned new UEFA tournament.
The Intertoto Cup had been introduced to little fanfare in England, with few teams interested seemingly in taking part. Reluctantly stepping up after claiming they’d come under pressure to do so from the authorities, Spurs joined Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday as the Premiership’s first representatives but first they had two hurdles to overcome – White Hart Lane was still out of action having recently been used for American Football, whilst the majority of their squad were not due back until well after the June start date for the opening group stage.
This was where Sampson came in, who having returned from his own holiday to an answer machine message from Northampton asking him to get in touch regarding the Lilywhites, had initially assumed it was to do with rumours that they were looking to stage some games in the town. Once he realised though that he was going to be asked to play in the competition he met manager Gerry Francis, before he too jetted off for a summer break and left things in the hands of assistant boss Roger Cross.
Under Cross, Spurs entered a makeshift team made up of a peculiar list of random loan signings plus some of the club’s fringe and youth players. Eventually settling on Brighton & Hove Albion’s Goldstone Ground as their temporary base, which coincidentally was where Wimbledon also elected to play their ‘home’ ties, Sampson debuted against a strong FC Lucerne outfit in a 2-0 loss.
Out of four fixtures Spurs only won once, against Slovenian side NK Rudar Velenji, with their Northampton ringer scoring the equaliser in a 2-1 victory. They failed to progress and whilst the Owls did at least appear to be interested and finished as runners up in their group the other two English sides were banned from Europe for a season for fielding understrength teams. This was despite Spurs claiming they had been given allowances to pick a scratch line up, and in the end the decision was overturned – not that Tottenham would have qualified for any UEFA competitions the following year anyway.
It was a bizarre affair but by that point Sampson had gone back to more familiar surroundings in Northampton. He then made a return to Sunderland in 2021 as part of the Cobblers’ backroom staff for a League One match, but because the game was behind closed doors he was unable to reconnected with any of the supporters that had seen him play nearly 30 years before. Happy birthday Ian, we hope you can be surrounded by more people on this occasion!
Born: Wakefield, 14 November 1968
Sunderland 1 (Came on in the 46th minute)
Football League Division Two, The Den 24 August 1991
Final SAFC appearance:
Charlton Athletic 0
Football League Division One, The Valley 22 February 1994
Total appearances/goals for SAFC: