Sturridge was born in Birmingham. He joined home-town club Birmingham City as a trainee in 1985 and turned professional in 1988. He played 186 games in all competitions for the club and scored the first goal of the 1991 Leyland DAF Cup final in which Birmingham beat Tranmere Rovers 3–2. He spent six years with Stoke where he made nearly 100 appearances and scored 15 goals. His most successful period at Stoke came as part of the prolific "S.A.S." partnership with fellow striker Mike Sheron where Sturridge was mainly the provider for Sheron. He then had brief spells with Blackpool (on loan), Northampton Town and Shrewsbury Town (also on loan).