|Full name||Sam Daniel Saunders|
|Date of birth||29 August 1983|
|Place of birth||Erith, England|
|Height||5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)|
|Playing position||Midfielder / Winger|
|2005–2009||Dagenham & Redbridge||126||(19)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 19.45, 3 November 2013 (UTC).
† Appearances (Goals).
Sam Daniel Saunders (born 29 August 1983) is an English professional football midfielder, currently playing for Brentford. He began his career in non-League football and in 2007 was part of the Dagenham & Redbridge side which was promoted to the Football League for the first time in the club's history. He is a regular set piece taker for Brentford.
Early years and non-league
Saunders began his career at Charlton Athletic, spending five years in the club's youth setup at age 15. He spent a year in the academy at Fulham, but was unable to win a contract and dropped into non-League football when he signed for Southern League Premier Division side Welling United's youth team in the summer of 2000. While with Welling, Saunders returned to Fulham briefly to appear in a youth tournament in Marseilles, but was unable to win a scholarship deal. Saunders played sparingly for Welling before moving to Southern League Division One East side Ashford Town on 7 March 2002. Saunders moved up to the Conference South to join Carshalton Athletic in the summer of 2004, and the club narrowly avoided relegation during his single season on the books.
Dagenham & Redbridge
Saunders joined Conference Premier side Dagenham & Redbridge in the summer of 2005 after being spotted by Dagenham scouts while playing for Carshalton Athletic during the 2004/05 season. Injuries disrupted the start of Saunders' first season at Dagenham, but following a starting appearance in a 2–1 league win over Tamworth on 21 January 2006, he became a regular in the first team until the end of the season. Saunders scored his first goal for the club with a Dagenham's second in a 2–2 draw with Stevenage Borough on 18 February 2006. He scored his second goal for the club in a 3–0 victory over Kidderminster Harriers on 22 April 2006. Saunders made 22 appearances during the 2005/06 season, scoring two goals as Dagenham finished in mid-table. Saunders was a virtual ever-present during the 2006/07 season, making 42 appearances and scoring three goals as Dagenham raced to the Conference title and secured promotion to the Football League for the first time in the club's history.
Into the Football League
Saunders started each of Dagenham's first ten games in League Two and played in the club's first ever League Cup tie on 14 August 2007, which ended in a 2–1 defeat to Luton Town. Saunders scored his first goal of the season in a 2–2 Football League Trophy shootout defeat to Southend United on 4 September. A medial ligament problem in October saw Saunders miss over two months of the season. He returned to the team for a 1–1 league draw with Notts County on 22 December 2007. Saunders endured another injury-hit spell between late January and early April 2008. Saunders made 25 appearances during the 2007/08 season and scored one goal. Saunders began the 2008/09 season in excellent form, hitting his first brace in a 6–0 opening day win over Chester City and following up with three goals in three games from late August to mid September, to take his tally to five goals in seven games. Saunders received the first red card of his career in a 3–2 victory over Rochdale on 24 January 2009. Beginning with an injury time equaliser in a 1–1 draw with Chesterfield on 14 March, Saunders finished the season with a run of six goals in eight games, as Dagenham narrowly missed out on the League Two playoffs. His form won him the League Two Player of the Month award for April 2009. It turned out to be Saunders' final season for the Daggers, in which he made 45 appearances and scored a career-best 14 goals. During his four seasons at Dagenham, Saunders made 135 appearances and scored 20 goals.
In June 2009, Saunders (along with Dagenham & Redbridge teammates Danny Foster and Ben Strevens) signed for League One side Brentford on free transfers, with Saunders agreeing a three-year deal. Handed the number 7 shirt and used as a wide midfield player by Andy Scott, Saunders began the 2009/10 season as a starter, before falling out of favour in October and being used as an impact substitute. Saunders had to wait for his final appearance of the season to score his first Brentford goal, which came via a free kick late in the second half in a 1–1 league draw with Yeovil Town on 24 April 2010. After a disappointing first season, teammate Charlie MacDonald commented that Saunders "is a very good player. We see that day in, day out in training. He just needs to transfer that on to the pitch and I'm sure he'll have a future at the club". Despite being featuring mainly from the bench, Saunders made 30 appearances during the 2008/09 season. Saunders found himself behind Nicky Adams, Robbie Simpson, Sam Wood and Lewis Grabban in the wide-midfield pecking order at the start of the 2010/11 season and he didn't make an appearance 18 September. Saunders requested a loan move, which was rejected by Andy Scott. Saunders appeared as a 68th minute substitute in Brentford's famous League Cup third round shootout win over Premier League side Everton on 21 September. Saunders had to wait until 9 November to make his first start of the season, in a Football League Trophy quarter-final shootout win over Swindon Town.
Saunders admitted that the first few months of the 2010/11 season were the most difficult of his career. After Andy Scott was sacked in February 2011, teammate Nicky Forster was given the manager's job until the end of the season and immediately reinstated Saunders to the starting line-up. Saunders scored Brentford's first goal in their 2–1 Football League Trophy semi-final second leg win over Exeter City on 7 February, which sent the Bees to the final at Wembley Stadium. He scored again in a 3–1 league victory at Sheffield Wednesday on 29 March. Saunders started in the 2013 Football League Trophy Final, but came away empty-handed as Brentford lost 1–0 to Carlisle United. Saunders made 27 appearances during the 2010/11 season, scoring three goals. Under new manager Uwe Rösler, Saunders made regular appearances at the start of the 2011/12 season and scored a brace in a 5–0 drubbing of Leyton Orient on 20 August 2011. Saunders went on a goalscoring run in September and October, scoring four goals in six games, helping Brentford to a winning position in each game. He began another goalscoring run in January 2012, scoring three goals in five games. Saunders signed a new contract in February 2012, keeping him at Griffin Park until June 2013, with a clause to extend to June 2014 if he made a certain number of appearances. He celebrated signing a new contract by scoring the opening goal in the 2–1 loss to Yeovil Town on 3 March 2012. Saunders finished the 2011/12 season having made 43 appearances and a seasonal-best 12 goals. He was also credited with seven assists.
Saunders began the 2012/13 season as a first-choice at the top of a midfield diamond formation, but was dropped to the bench in mid-September following the return of the injured Harry Forrester. He scored his first goal of the season in a 1–0 Football League Trophy second round win over Crawley Town on 9 October. Highlights of his season were appearing in two FA Cup third round games versus Premier League side Chelsea. Still featuring mainly from the bench, Saunders had to wait till 26 February 2013 for his second goal of the season, which came again against Crawley Town in a 2–1 league win. He scored the only goal on 16 March versus Preston North End, to take his tally to two goals in three games. Saunders appeared in each of Brentford's three end-of-season playoff games as a substitute, but he was unable to help the Bees to victory in the 2013 League One Playoff Final. Saunders was rewarded in June 2013 with a new two-year contract.
Saunders began the 2013/14 season with starting roles in cup games and substitute cameos in the league. He had to wait until 22 October 2013 for his first goal of the season, which came in a 2–1 away victory over Bristol City. An illness suffered by George Saville brought Saunders into the game as a first half substitute against Preston North End on 21 December and late in the second half he capped a fine Brentford performance by scoring the third goal in a 3–0 victory. In the absence of Saville and after injury to Kadeem Harris, Saunders started the following game against Swindon Town and scored Brentford's first goal with a free kick. Saunders made it three goals in three games with the third in a 3–1 victory over Milton Keynes Dons on 29 December, a win which sent Brentford to the top of League One. After the game, manager Mark Warburton said he had "had a chat with Sam and was very blunt with him. I asked him 'can you do it over 90 minutes?'. He's come on in games, had an impact and gained a super-sub tag, but that's very dangerous. However, he was outstanding for us against Swindon and again today". Four days later, Saunders scored his fourth goal in as many games in a 3–1 away victory over Peterborough United. Saunders' form garnered him a League One Player of the Month nomination for December 2013 and he was announced as the winner of the award on 10 January 2014. Saunders was sidelined with a knee problem in mid-January, which required surgery in February and halted his return to training until mid-April. Saunders was called into the first team squad for the return match against Preston North End on 18 April (in which victory could confirm automatic promotion to the Championship), but he was forced to withdraw before kickoff. The Bees went on to win the game and secure a place in the Championship for the 2014/15 season. Saunders failed to return to fitness before the end of the season and ended the campaign having made 22 appearances and scored five goals.
Saunders travelled with the Brentford squad to the IMG Academy in Florida in the summer of 2014 for a pre-season training camp, revealing on 6 July that his injured knee was "fine". The knee subsequently became inflamed and he missed all of the Bees' 2014/15 pre-season friendlies, with manager Mark Warburton revealing on 18 August that the injury is "not career threatening; something is causing it, we need to find out what it is. It has swelled up on certain aspects of training". It was reported on 10 September that Saunders was back in light training and he returned to full training on 14 October.
As a player
As an individual
- Football League One Player of the Month Award (1): December 2013
- Football League Two Player of the Month Award (1): April 2009
Before becoming a professional footballer, Saunders worked as an electrician for the London Underground. Looking back in 2011, he remarked ""It was a horrible job but it was money and gave me the opportunity to go out and play. I used to start work at half 10 at night and get in at five or six in the morning. I would go training in the evening then go straight into work again. When John Still came calling I couldn't say no, even though I had to take a pay cut to get back into football. My parents told me they would have my back which was great, but luckily the gamble paid off. I enjoy every second of it and don't want it to stop. I appreciate the position I'm in being able to earn a living from doing something I love". Saunders was invited by the Hounslow Chronicle to write a column during Brentford's 2013/14 season, which ran from August 2013 until June 2014. Saunders has undertaken occasional television work, appearing as on BBC Late Kick Off in April 2014 and as a pundit for Sky Sports' Football League coverage.
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