What has the Northern League ever done for us?

#6 Plymouth Argyle

Not many Plymouth Argyle fans would know how to answer the question ‘What has the Northern League ever done for the Pilgrims?’ However, if you ask ‘What did Paul Dalton do for Plymouth?’ you will be told stories of one of the most talented players ever to grace Home Park. This is a name that will bring back good and bad memories for the Plymouth faithful as one of ‘Peter Shilton’s nearly men.’

Hailing from the North East, Dalton began his football career with Brandon United in the Northern League. After a successful two year spell there, his career sky rocketed when he signed for Manchester United in 1986. Unfortunately, just as he made it in to the first team squad for a match against Middlesbrough, he asked Sir Alex Ferguson if he could cancel his contract at Old Trafford. Longing for a return to the North East, Dalton left without making an appearance for the Red Devils.

Hartlepool United were next to come calling and Dalton thrived in the comfort of home, scoring 37 goals in 151 games from the wing. It was a fruitful three years of service at Victoria Park and his form was turning the heads of bigger clubs.

It would be Peter Shilton’s Plymouth Argyle that took the plunge to sign the flamboyant left winger, and Paul Dalton put his struggles with home sickness behind him to sign a £250,000 deal at Home Park. The man from Middlesbrough promised to be a key ingredient in a team looking to bounce back after just being relegated.

Unfortunately, the start of Argyle’s record signing’s season was marred by an injury suffered before it had begun. It was not just Dalton who was having a disappointing year. The Pilgrims, who were expected to be challenging for promotion, finished 14th. A far cry from the potential this team had.

Despite injury, Argyle’s new star winger managed 9 goals in 32 games. This would just be a sign of things to come and the following season turned out to be a highly successful one for Dalton, as well as an infamous campaign in the Pilgrims’ history.

The 1993-94 season saw Dalton tally up 12 goals in 40 league games and supply goals for Steven Castle, Kevin Nugent and Dwight Marshall. It was this attacking force that springboarded Argyle to a third place finish in the league and a spot in the Division 2 play-offs. Argyle fans grew accustomed to the fine sight of Dalton flying down the wing and finishing with a deadly cross. Or, in some cases, such as a F.A. Cup fourth round tie against Barnsley, he finished off a superb solo run with a striker’s finish.

It was a great shame when the chance for Dalton, and Plymouth Argyle, to perform at a higher level did not finally come. It was Burnley that ended Argyle’s promotion dreams in the play-off semi-final by beating the Pilgrims 3-1 at Home Park. So near but yet so far for Shilton’s men, and sadly the chance would not come around again soon.

The next season was meant to be another chance for promotion. The same talented squad remained, but Dalton fell to a serious injury once again which kept him out of action for half the season. The proof of how integral Dalton was to the Plymouth Argyle team was there for everyone to see.

His balance, skill, the ability to use both feet and the superb deliveries which made so many of Argyle’s goals the previous season, could not be replaced. The Pilgrims suffered so much that they found themselves in the relegation zone and were unable to escape. By the time Dalton returned from injury Shilton had been sacked and Plymouth’s fate was already sealed.

It was at the end of this season, 94-95, when Dalton left Home Park for Huddersfield Town. However, with a record of 29 goals in 111 games and the joy it was to watch this exciting and natural talent from the North, Paul Dalton became a fans favourite with the Green Army and remains so. A Home Park great to this day along with other wingers who have graced the ground over the years, such as Nicky Jennings, Hugh McAuley, Brain Johnson, Andy and Alan Rogers and, of course, more recently Craig Noone.

So thank you, Brandon United for seeing his talent and signing him, a special thanks to the Northern League and, of course, thank you so much Paul Dalton.

Many thanks to Chris Heathman, journalism student, radio personality and Argyle fan. To read more from Chris, check out All Sport Now or follow him on twitter here. For more information on how you can help to keep Plymouth Argyle alive, see the Argyle Trust.

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