452: Cornelius Henry ‘Con’ Sullivan 1954-59
Born on 22 August 1928 in Bristol, Con was a Gloucestershire youth football player, who turned out for the Horfield Old Boys of the Bristol Downs League.
Spotted by Bristol City he signed for them professionally in May 1949 after a successful trial period in the reserves. Initially a colt player he made his debut for the first team in December 1950 and by the 1951-52 season was an ever present for the division three south outfit, for whom he eventually made a total of 80 appearances.
He caught the eye of Arsenal’s scouts as early as August 1952, no doubt tipped off by the City manager who was ex-Arsenal player Pat Beasley. It was noted that he possessed good anticipation, at 6′ 1″ was excellent at crosses, and had a reliable pair of hands. However, it was not until Arsenal had parted with George Swindin, their veteran goalkeeper, that Tom Whittaker decided to move for the West Country keeper. Con was purchased as a deputy for Wales international keeper Jack Kelsey, on 3 February 1954 from Bristol City, as Whittaker exclaimed: “We have been following the progress of this boy for some time”.
His competitive debut came on 17 April 1954 at Newcastle where he let in five in a 2-5 hammering at the hands of the Magpies. However, Con had appeared a few times for the first team in friendlies previously, one on 30 March at Ashton Gate had been arranged as part of his transfer fee. Almost 29,000 turned up on a Tuesday evening to witness Bristol City beat the reigning league champions 3-1.
Sullivan settled into a life in the reserves, being called into first team action when Kelsey was injured or playing for Wales. His most famous outing came just before Christmas 1955 as Arsenal hosted top-of-the-table Blackpool, a team containing Stanley Matthews. Dennis Evans’ own goal at the end of the match was the talking point, as hearing a loud whistle he assumed the game was over and slammed the ball into his own net past a disconsolate Sullivan. Unfortunately, the whistle was blown from the crowd. The referee allowed the goal, and with it the Gunners lost the clean sheet in what was a 4-1 win.
Clean sheets were a relative rarity in this era at Highbury with such a leaky defence, so Con was absolutely livid. It was even more galling as this would have been his third clean sheet that season and his annoyance was quoted in the national press thus: “I’d like a couple of minutes alone with that clown who blew the whistle…”
His final appearance came on 19 October 1957 at Highbury versus Birmingham, and he signed off having made 48 appearances first team appearances. Additionally he played in 121 reserve games, winning a London FA Challenge Cup winners medal in 1954-55.
In the summer of 1958 Swindin arrived back at the club as the new Arsenal manager with a remit to rebuild the ailing side. Con was one of a number of players deemed surplus and was duly placed on the transfer list for £3,000 in October 1958, ironically by the same man who Sullivan earlier in the decade had replaced as a keeper at the club. However, a training injury when practising diving in the sand pit effectively ended his professional playing career a few weeks after being placed on the transfer list. His back damage meant he spent almost the whole season in the medical room before leaving Arsenal in the summer of 1959, and retiring from the professional game.
He moved back to Knowle West in Bristol, appearing for Robertson Athletic 1960 as a permit player, and spending some time working as a fork lift truck driver.
Con Sullivan died on 14 April 2022, aged 93.
Daily Herald 4 Feb 1954
Daily Mirror 19 December 1955