Sunderland killer's dream Hartlepool United debut helped clinch Premier League move home

Killer Paul Conlon enjoyed the type of footballing debut that most professional players can only dream about.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 3:07 pm

Conlon, who is beginning a jail sentence of 11 years and 10 months after admitting the Christmas manslaughter of his father, Harry, scored after just 93 seconds of his first competitive start for Hartlepool United in their 4-1 Division Three victory over Leyton Orient just over a quarter of a century ago.

Fresh from excelling at youth level, the second-year trainee looked “far from overawed” as he quickly used both feet to jink past four opponents on a muddy Victoria Park surface in February 1996.

Then, as the Hartlepool Mail’s match report noted, “Conlon unleashed a tricky low 20-year shot which was placed just out of the reach of keeper Ron Fearon”.

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The goal inspired both Pools and 18-year-old Conlon as “the teenager seized every opportunity to run at defenders”.

Voted man of the match by the paper after his “dream start”, he was praised by manager Keith Houchen for giving the team “something different” following a five-match winless run.

He also kept his starting place for an away derby clash at Darlington just three days later.

Substituted during a 1-0 defeat, he had still impressed enough to become a regular first-team starter in the remaining three months of another dismal Pools season.

Killer Paul Conlon, left, appearing for Sunderland's youth team after earlier playing for Hartlepool United's first team.

Scouts from higher up football’s food chain, however, inevitably began to monitor his progress.

Ending the campaign with four league goals from 11 starts, Conlon secured a move to home city club Sunderland – newly-promoted for the first time to the Premier League – in disputed circumstances after the Black Cats were accused of exploiting a contractual loophole to sign him for free.

A top-flight career and its associated financial rewards beckoned.

A year later, however, he was released without making a single first team appearance and briefly joined Doncaster Rovers before descending into non-league football.

Paul Conlon pictured in action for Sunderland's youth team after moving from Hartlepool United in 1996.

By 2004, when his professional footballing career could potentially have been at its peak, he was banned for life by Durham Football Association for striking a referee during a local league match.

A 2013 domestic violence conviction would follow before the tragic events of Christmas Eve last year in his parents’ Sunderland home ultimately resulted in the death of his father and this week’s inevitable jail term.

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Paul Conlon on his debut for Hartlepool United in 1996.