One of 3 footballing brothers, Dunfermline born full back Sam Tonner started his football career with junior club Inverkeithing United in 1913 before joining Dunfermline Athletic in 1914. He then moved to Second Division Clapton Orient in 1919 with his brothers, making his Football League debut at Huddersfield Town that August. In December 1919 all three brothers first took the field against Nottingham Forest, a feat that equalled the Steel brothers of Tottenham.
A reliable full back, he played 6 seasons for Clapton Orient scoring 13 times in 194 appearances before joining Bristol City in the close season of 1925. However he scored once in only 6 appearances for The Robins and returned to London with Crystal Palace in 1926, however he made only 3 appearances for Palace before returning to Scotland to join Armadale in 1927.
He was the oldest brother of Jimmy and Jack Tonner, both of whom played for Dunfermline Athletic and Clapton Orient among others.