Tom Conlon on family pride and his Port Vale history


It’s rarely a good sign when a player brings up his match ratings, so alarm bells ring when Tom Conlon mentions his family are regular readers of The Sentinel and tell him about his marks every week.

However, the Vale midfielder makes clear he’s absolutely fine with whatever he gets, high or low. Just for the record though, he was outstanding in last Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Cheltenham, getting our star man rating of 8.

Besides, Tom’s nan, Pat, had family history rather than match ratings in mind when she contacted us about her grandson.

She revealed – and thanks very much for this Mrs Conlon – that Tom is actually the third player in the family to have turned out for the Vale. Her dad, Tom’s great-grandfather, was goalkeeper George Heppell who kept goal for the club, playing 213 games between 1937-1952.

What’s more, his father-in-law, so Tom’s great-great grandfather, was Albert Pearson, the midfielder and forward who played 114 games for Vale either side of the First World War and also played for Liverpool.

In short, the Vale is in Tom’s blood, even though the former Wolstanton High School pupil reveals he grew up supporting Stoke. In mitigation, he did spend eight years in City’s academy.

On his footballing lineage, Tom says: “My dad always used to drill it into me, even when I was a young kid. He would say ‘this is in the family!’ I didn’t really think much of it, but my nan reminds me every time I go round and see her about the link with Vale.”

The 24 year old is certainly doing the Vale proud.  Manager John Askey has more competition in central midfield than any other area, but Tom is deservedly keeping his place while Jake Taylor, Manny Oyeleke and Will Atkinson have to bide their time on the bench.

On good days, he’s ‘the Porthill Pirlo’ on social media for his ability to get on the ball and send long-range passes with laser-guided precision. But he is immune to such hyperbole, whether good or bad.

That’s all very well, but footballers have families too and so are conscious about how criticism might affect them.

Tom Conlon celebrates scoring Port Vale’s first goal in the 3-0 win at home to Colchester

He said: “It’s tough at times because obviously it’s not always positive and they still pick up on it. But it is totally fine with me. I’ve had that all my career. You know you are going to get stick every now and again when you deserve it.

“I have been in professional football since I was 17 so I have always had stick. You have people digging you out and it really doesn’t affect me.”

That’s perhaps because Conlon has got to this level through hard work and the ability to overcome setbacks, such as being released by Stoke at 16 or suffering a knee injury which put him back a year when he was at Stevenage.

He says his family helped him through. He explained: “It was lovely when we were at Stoke, I was there for about eight years. But then I was released when I was 16 and it was my mum and dad juggling between themselves to get me to places like Derby, Tranmere, Macclesfield, Leicester and Burton.  They were little trials here and there, all over the country.

George was born in Wingate, County Durham, on 2nd September 1916. He began his career as a goalkeeper with Wolves but never made a senior appearance for them. He joined the Vale in May 1937 and made his first team bow in the Northern Section Cup v Tranmere in October 1937 at the Old Recreation Ground in Hanley.

He was left out early in the 1938/39 season of favour of future test cricket umpire Arthur Jepson but then as the war curtailed league football George volunteered to join the army in February 1940.

He returned in February 1946 and was ever present on the 1946/47 campaign as league football resumed. He hardly missed a game over the next three seasons but he became number two following the arrival of Ray King in 1949. He was restored in goal for the first half of the 1951/52 season under Ivor Powell but King came back in when Freddie Steele became manager.

He was released on a free transfer in May 1952 and later linked up with Witton Albion. He died aged 76 on July 20, 1993 in Hartshill.

He played 213 times for the Vale altogether including 10 in the war leagues.

*With thanks to Phil Sherwin. A record of Vale’s former players is available in Jeff Kent’s ‘Port Vale Personalities’, by Witan Books

“They were taking me there and coming back and, at 16, it is never nice when you are getting ‘no’s’ from every club you are going to. At the time you think it’s the end of the world, but my dad and mum were telling me to keep plugging away, that something good will come of it.

“Then I signed for Newcastle Town and, within a few months, Peterborough picked me up. They came to every single game when I was in the youth team, whether it was home or away, so that again started the travelling.

“It didn’t get any better then, because I went to Stevenage! They were coming down to those games when I played.

“I signed and then played a few games when I was really young. I kind of broke through, had a good season and racked up about 30 appearances. Then it was like, THE big season and I was all ready for it. I started the first four, then went over on my knee and was out for the season. It was horrible, that injury went on for ever.

Sky Bet EFL League Two: Port Vale v Walsall – Tom Conlon

“My family were really good, making sure I was all right and always ringing me. It was tough because I couldn’t go home very often. With being injured, I was in on days off. So I was struggling to see them quite a bit.

“But now I am here and it is lovely, only five minutes down the road.”

He’s out of contract in the summer but is certainly going the right way about getting a new deal.  John Askey highlighted his performance at Cheltenham, saying he also thought the midfielder was excellent, and equally impressive in the 3-0 win at home to Colchester on February 15 when he scored the first goal.

Albert was born in Tynemouth on 2 nd September 1892. He began his career as a striker with Hebburn Colliery in 1910 and then Hebburn Argyle. In 1912 he joined Sheffield United, then in Division One and made 6 apps for them in two years. In 1914 he joined the Vale, who in those days played in the Central League, and he made his debut in a 7-0 victory over Stockport Reserves.

He became a regular in the side, scoring 20 goals, but football was suspended at the end of that season due to the First World War.

He returned in 1917 and in January 1919 he was sold to Liverpool, who were in the First Division.

Being as he was returning to the Football League, Sheffield United were paid part of the fee as they claimed they still held his league registration! He scored on his debut at Anfield, scoring 4 goals in 52 games for Liverpool before coming back to the Vale in May 1921. He scored on his second Vale debut at Leeds but was in and out of the side and was released at the end of the 1921/22 season.

Altogether he scored 29 goals in 114 games in various competitions.

After leaving the Vale he had a year with Llanelli, then three years at Rochdale and four at Stockport County. In 1929 he joined Ashton National Gas, who were actually a team in the Cheshire League.

He died aged 82 in Newcastle-under-Lyme on 24 th January 1975.

*With thanks to Phil Sherwin. A record of Vale’s former players is available in Jeff Kent’s ‘Port Vale Personalities’, by Witan Books

He’s playing an important role in Vale’s midfield three, as he and Scott Burgess are given licence to get forward, protected by holding midfielder Luke Joyce.  Team-mate Tom Pope mentioned that Conlon is so comfortable on the ball that, in the past, he occasionally went looking for it and dropped too deep so he was alongside Joyce rather than getting up in support of the striker.

Pope felt Conlon had adjusted and improved, something the midfielder acknowledges: “Over the last couple of weeks I have found myself higher up the pitch a lot, getting on the ball and turning and bring in good positions to set things up or even – I’ve only got one! – but score a goal.

“Maybe earlier in the season I was coming too deep and looking for the ball. With being that sort of player, that is kind of  what I have done all my career. But now I think I have finally got my head around what sort or role I need to do in where I have been playing, to stay higher up the pitch and make things happen.”

Tom Conlon celebrates opening the scoring for Port Vale in the 3-0 win at home to Colchester

He’s certainly capable of scoring. His long-range, left foot volley at home to Yeovil last season was voted the club’s goal of the year. 

Such is the competition that no one can afford an off game if they are to keep their place, but Conlon says that is motivating players rather than creating divisions.

He explained: “We are al fighting for the same thing which can be tough, but we all get on really well. When I finished the game on Saturday, Manny came up to me straight away and said ‘brilliant mate, well done, you are doing really well.’

“It is little things like that. We all a team, we get on really well and we push each other. He will be working just as hard as I will and I think that is how we get the best out of each other.

“I have been in environments where it’s not like that. But not this season. We have such a good group this year. I know a lot of players always say that about the group but we really have, everyone wants the same thing and is working really hard behind the scenes.”   

Conlon wants to do well for himself and the club, but also for his family. For driving him all over the country for trials, for an encouraging word while he’s been coming back from injury, or for just showing their pride in him with a regular reminder of his Vale heritage and that week’s match ratings.

He said: “That is one of the main things for me. If we win and I play well, I’ll get back to my phone and have a nice text from my mum and dad saying well done.

“It is little things like this that mean a hell of a lot. Just to send them away with a nice feeling of. ‘he’s done well and they have won’,  is the best thing really.”

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