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Born: 25 April 1967
Came from: Hartlepool Went to: Huddersfield
First game: 10 October 1992 Last game: 06 May 1995
Appearances: 116 (111/5) Goals: 32
If Argyle players were cars, the majority of offerings on show at Home Park over the years could be compared to humble runarounds with backfiring exhausts and crumbling paint-jobs. But in Paul Dalton, Pilgrims fans were treated to the sight of an Aston Martin cruising up and down their left flank for three years.
For such a classy performer, it is perhaps a surprise that Dalton left school in 1980s Middlesbrough without being spotted by a professional club, and he was destined for a life outside the game until a friend suggested he try out for local non-league side Brandon United. He was inevitably head and shoulders above most of his team-mates, and his form and obvious potential led to Manchester United, no less, taking him to Old Trafford in 1988 for £5,000, a set of strips and the promise of a friendly (even though Dalton was on non-contract forms at Brandon and United were not actually obliged to pay anything). Sadly for Dalton, homesickness curtailed his United career and he was granted a move to Hartlepool after just one season under Alex Ferguson's tutelage. Dalton thrived back in his native North-east, and became one of the lower league's star performers – scoring 37 goals in 151 appearances as Pool flitted between the bottom two divisions. The then 25-year-old was content at the Victoria Ground, and when Argyle boss Peter Shilton made an approach to take him down to Plymouth in the summer of 1992, he was reluctant to consider the prospect. But the Hartlepool chairman – perhaps aware of his most saleable asset's market value – persuaded Dalton to accompany him to a meeting at a motorway service station with Shilton and Argyle chairman Dan McCauley. Duly wowed by the England legend and the comparatively generous terms on offer, Dalton abandoned his earlier hesitant stance and signed there and then to make him Argyle's record signing at £275,000 (Argyle defender Ryan Cross was included as a makeweight in the deal).
But the new signing would have to wait to start repaying the fee, after sustaining a broken leg in a pre-season training session when he was trying too hard to impress his new manager and team-mates. Three months of recuperation later, Dalton finally made his Pilgrims debut as a substitute at home to Chester City in October 1992. It inevitably took the flying winger several weeks to hit his stride, but by season's end he had racked up 13 league and cup goals in a season of transition for Argyle.
He carried that form over into the playoff season of 1993-94 – undoubtedly his finest in a green shirt. That he scored 15 goals from the wing was impressive enough, but it was the quality of some of those efforts that seared him into the footballing brains of the Argyle fans lucky enough to see them. Describing each is needless, as a Dalton goal invariably involved him slaloming around opposition defenders en mass before a clinical finish past a cross-eyed keeper. His finest, however, arguably came at Wrexham in late April of 1994. Collecting the ball near the corner flag, Dalton declined to cross where most players would have, and instead swayed and swerved past three home defenders before firing the ball into the far corner of the net; two of the players he beat were still on their backsides when Dalton raced back past them in celebration.
Sadly, that season would turn out to be the finest hour for Dalton and many of his Argyle contemporaries. The truly awful relegation season that followed saw Dalton struggle with a back injury, and just 23 sporadic league appearances was a miserable curtain call for such a fine player. With Shilton gone, Dalton was allowed to join Huddersfield Town by Neil Warnock in the summer of 1995. He stayed in Yorkshire for five years before seeing out his career back in the North-east with Gateshead FC.
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APPEARANCE DETAILS [reselect competitions]
The details below reflect appearances in all first-team competitions.
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