Dave Thomas: The Big Interview

Dave Thomas made just 24 league starts in three seasons for Pompey in the 1980s before departing Fratton Park in controversial circumstances from a coaching capacity
Dave Thomas made just 24 league starts in three seasons for Pompey in the 1980s before departing Fratton Park in controversial circumstances from a coaching capacity
Gareth Evans in action against Bournemouth. Picture: Shaun Boggust

Evans: Pompey deserved better against Cherries

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Life is good.

It’s the message you expect to hear from a man who has reached the very highest level in his chosen field and is deservedly enjoying retirement.

I am registered blind now

Former Pompey and England winger Dave Thomas

But former England winger and Pompey promotion-winner Dave Thomas’ outlook is especially inspiring.

He is registered blind.

The man whose vision unlocked defences up and down the country – and indeed the world over – has been denied that very sense in a cruel twist of fate.

Perspective, however, shows no sign of abandoning the 65-year-old, who is determined not to feel sorry for himself.

Thomas, who uses a white cane and is hoping to be paired with a guide dog, said: ‘My health is good but it is fair to say I have got a big problem with my sight.

‘I am registered blind now.

‘I have got glaucoma – it is hereditary, my father had it.

‘I get regular checks and I have had three operations on one eye.

‘My central vision is still pretty good but my peripheral is very bad.

‘I haven’t driven a car for more than eight years They took my license away.

‘I rely a lot on my friends to take me around.

‘My wife (Brenda) is excellent – she takes me all over.

‘But life is good.

‘It is nothing compared to what they have gone through in Paris.

‘That puts life into perspective.

‘I still keep fit and look after myself but I don’t know what my sight is going to be like from here on in – it is not going to get better.

‘I just hope and pray that I get a guide dog.

‘I am in the process of being assessed for one and I have got my fingers crossed.

‘It will give me a lot of independence if I do get one.’

While the future is uncertain for Thomas, his Pompey past is a painful reminder of a city that otherwise gave him 30 happy years of residence.

It all began so promisingly in a footballing sense when Bobby Campbell, his former coach at QPR, made Thomas his first signing for the Blues in the summer of 1982.

Campbell promised the Fratton faithful they would be celebrating the third-division title the following spring.

That bold prediction came to memorable fruition but only after Thomas, who joined alongside the likes of Neil Webb, Ernie Howe and Alan Biley, had lost his place in the side to Alan Rogers.

Such was the form of Rogers, Thomas made just nine appearances all season.

He said: ‘I wouldn’t say it was the happiest time of my life at Portsmouth.

‘I didn’t particularly play great football.

‘It sounds awful but I wouldn’t say I really enjoyed my time at the football club.

‘But I can genuinely say I had 30 happy years living down south – I only came for two!

‘I’m now living in the north east in the Durham area.

‘Getting back to the start of my time in Portsmouth, though, I wasn’t playing well – I had a few niggling injuries and Alan deserved his place.

‘I didn’t have a problem with Alan, he was a lovely lad and I got on well with him.

‘But football is like everything – if you are not playing regularly you are not really enjoying it, are you?

‘There’s no denying that the club and Bobby did what they set out to do.

‘They signed Neil Webb, myself, Ernie Howe and Alan Biley – who that season did very well.

‘It was a good side who did very, very well.

‘You have got to give credit where it is due.

‘Bobby set out to deliver promotion and did just that – you can’t argue with that.’

Argue, though, Thomas still does to this very day about his acromonious exit from the club.

In the veteran stage of his career, the former England international – who had starred for Burnley, QPR and Everton – made 12 second division starts in the 1983-84 campaign before concluding his playing days under Alan Ball with three subsequent outings in the 1984-85 season.

It was Thomas’ Fratton Park departure from a youth-team coaching role, though, which left a bitter taste in the mouth.

Following Campbell’s surprise sacking, Ball took over the reins at the Blues in 1984 with coach and friend Graham Paddon recruited to work alongside him.

With Thomas, then 34, ready to retire following a spate of niggling injuries and just 24 league starts in three seasons, chairman John Deacon offered the likeable senior professional the position of youth-team coach.

Having settled into the role, Thomas was saddened to learn financial constraints meant he would have to relinquish his position a year later.

At least that was what he was led to believe before being stunned to learn from The News’ then chief sports writer Mike Neasom that Ball’s close friend Peter Osgood inherited the post a matter of weeks later.

It is a perceived betrayal Thomas has never forgiven.

He said: ‘I was on the coaching staff with Bally who was great to me in as much as he let me get on with the job.

‘Bally didnt appoint me, though, John Deacon just said to him “I’d like Dave to be youth-team coach”.

‘That was that.

‘If Bally had had his way he would never had appointed me.

‘We got on all right, we played in the England team together but we were complete opposites in character.

‘He let me get on with things and was never nasty to me.

‘But what really hurt me was when he, Graham and the chairman said they were not going to have a youth-team coach because of financial cutbacks.

‘But then two weeks later, Mike Neasom rang me up and asked if I had heard the news?

‘He told me they had appointed Osgood as youth-team coach. It was all set up behind my back.

‘I think you would be pretty hurt, wouldn’t you?

‘If Bally had said to me “Dave, I am bringing Peter Osgood in,” I would have respected that because everyone picks their cronies in football.

‘But from that day on I have never respected him and will never forgive him.

‘I know he isn’t here to defend himself but he knew Osgood was coming.

‘They were big buddies – it was quite hurtful really.’

Despite accepting Pompey did not see the best of his unquestionable talent, Thomas bares no ill feeling towards the club itself.

Indeed, following his footballing days, which ended with a ‘brilliant’ return to playing and coaching at Bognor, he assumed a radio punditry role with Capital Gold.

His work saw him follow the Blues home and away in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

He said: ‘I worked for Capital Gold with a guy called Peter Hood.

‘I thoroughly enjoyed that and going home and away to watch Portsmouth play football.

‘The club is a big part of the community, so I am so pleased the amazing fans have got it back.

‘It was so badly run. But now they are on the way back up, let’s hope it continues!

‘Mark Trapani (Pompey director) is a good friend of mine, so it’s great to know they are in the right hands.’

Now 65, Thomas – who worked for 17 years as a PE teacher at Bishop Luffa School in Chichester until his retirement in 2008 – is hoping to be paired with a guide dog to regain his independence.

n Dave Thomas is currently fundraising for Guide Dogs – for more information or to donate online, please visit justgiving.com/DavidThomas7

DAVE THOMAS ON...

...NO SHINPADS OR BOOTS

I wouldn’t be able to play in today’s game because I didn’t like wearing shinpads – I hated them.

It meant my socks used to roll down around my ankles, which wasn’t a fashion statement!

I also always wore rubbers (moulded studs) not boots, even in thick mud.

In fact, that was the turning point when I signed for Wolves because the coach used to have a go at me all of the time for wearing rubbers.

I stood up to him and he didn’t like it so I never played.

The club paid nearly £400,000 for me and I only played 10 games because I wouldn’t change my boots.

It was absolutely outrageous – I could be awkward but can’t we all?

...PLAYING FOR ENGLAND

It is every kid’s dream to play for their country.

I was very fortunate to play for England at every level, going from schoolboys up to under-23s and full international.

You set off on your footballing journey and hope to achieve amazing things.

I am very, very proud of what I achieved.

...TURNING DOWN MANCHESTER UNITED

When I left Everton (1979), I turned Manchester United down to go to Wolves, which was the biggest mistake of my life!

My wife thought I had rocks in my head.

I still regret making that decision.

Sadly my career went downhill badly after that.