Starling began his career as an apprentice with Luton Town, turning professional in April 1969 and making his league debut the following season. He joined Torquay United on loan in February 1971, playing just once, in a 4-0 defeat at home to Reading in place of regular keeper Andy Donnelly, before returning to Luton.
He moved to Northampton Town in June 1971 and went on to make over 200 appearances for the Cobblers. In April 1976 he scored a penalty in the penultimate game of the season, against Hartlepool United, ensuring that every regular player for Northampton that season has scored at least once. He also holds the record of the most minutes without conceding a goal for Northampton Town when he went 595 minutes unbeaten between the 25 October and the 29 November 1975. In March 1977 he joined Huddersfield Town.