After joining the Arsenal ground staff as a young left-winger, Sammy Nelson signed professional forms at the age of seventeen in April 1966 and went on to enjoy a long and highly successful career at Highbury.
The former Northern Ireland schoolboy international was soon converted into a left-back and went on to make 255 First Division appearances for the north London club. In 1966 he gained an F.A. Youth Cup winner’s medal, and made his first-team debut in 1969-70. but he had to wait until 1975 and the departure of Bob McNab to Wolves before making the no.3 shirt his own.
In both 1978 and 1980, Sammy appeared on the losing side in the F.A. Cup final, but gained a coveted winner’s medal in between when the ‘Gunners’ defeated Manchester United 3-2 in the 1979 final. He also appeared in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup final of 1980, when Arsenal lost to Valencia in a penalty shoot-out in Brussels. Kenny Sansom’s arrival signalled the end of Sammy’s days as a first-team force and he came to Hove in September 1981 when Mike Bailey paid a fee of around £30,000.
Taking over the no.3 shirt from Gary Williams, the experienced 32-year-old retained his place for the remainder of the 1981-82 campaign and spent the summer with the Northern Ireland World Cup team in Spain where he played in two games. After playing thirteen League matches at the outset of 1982-83, the tough-tackling full-back lost his place to Graham Pearce and took to coaching the reserves.
Sammy won a total of 51 caps for Northern Ireland, the last four of which came while he was on Albion’s books.