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Thomas… Latchford… Goal!

Dave Thomas in conversation with Rob Sawyer


Some of Goodison‟s stars have shone brightly but all too briefly; Lawton, Ring, Gray,
Lineker and Kanchelskis spring to mind. Up there with the best of them was majestic
winger, Dave Thomas.

Picture the scene: It‟s 26 November 1977 and in the dying minutes of the match as
the Blues lead Coventry City 5 - 0, Dave, socks rolled down in trademark fashion,
receives the ball in his own half from Dobson. 43,000 Evertonians roar as he sprints
for the by-line and delivers a deep cross for Latchford to volley, first time, into the Sky
Blues‟ net. 6 - 0, hat-trick for Latch‟, cue Goodison delirium! (Check it out on
YouTube.)

Dave provided the ammunition for Latchford‟s shooting over two seasons and on the
last day of 1977-78 he played a pivotal role as Bob reached the magic 30 goals with
a brace.

As a young Evertonian, it was the names of Thomas, Latchford and King that tripped
off my tongue; so I was thrilled when Pat Labone, at the Everton Former Players
Foundation, put me in touch with Dave who lives in County Durham with wife Brenda
and an ever increasing menagerie of animals (three cockerels arrived during the
course of writing this piece).

We spoke at length about his life and career – not a typical one by any means – and
found him warm, honest and perceptive. I hope you enjoy reading Dave‟s story as
much as I enjoyed hearing it:

Early Years

I was born in Nottinghamshire but moved to West Auckland as a baby. I had a
wonderful grandfather, David “Ticer” Thomas (I had the same nickname), who taught
me the game and was a big influence on my career. He was captain of the West
Auckland team that won the “1st World Cup” in 1909 and 1911*. I am naturally right-
footed but I remember him always stressing that he also wanted me to kick with my
left foot.

Burnley FC had a lot of scouts in the North East and I went there as a 15-year-old in
1966. Once you become an England Schoolboy, the offers come rolling in. I had the
choice of other teams like Manchester United and Leeds United but I never regretted
going to Burnley.

In 1968, with the likes of Mick Docherty and Steve Kindon in the side, we won the FA
Youth Cup. Jimmy Adamson, the 1st team coach, spent at least two afternoons per
week coaching the youth team – you‟d never get that today. My position was
midfield and sometimes on the wing; when you‟re 16 and quite naïve, you want to be
where the ball is and you get more touches in midfield.

London Calling

By 1972, I was having a personality clash with Jimmy Adamson and it felt the right
time to make a move. When QPR singed me, I was a very naive 21-year-old and it
was a massive move to London but it was probably the best 6 years of my career – I
just blossomed really. The crowd was right next to you and the European nights were
spectacular – it was not a very good pitch to play on, mind you.

The manager, Dave Sexton, was the most dedicated and unassuming football man
I‟ve ever met; he would have worked for nothing. All he lived for was football – he‟d
go out to Holland and Germany to watch football and bring ideas back to QPR such
as bringing the ball out from the back.

We didn‟t just have great players, they were great characters like Terry Venables,
Terry Mancini, Dave Webb, Stan Bowles, Don Givens, Gerry Francis and Phil Parkes
When Frank McLintock moved from Arsenal to QPR, he was the best captain I ever
worked with. It just gelled really; I was lucky to play with, and learn from, people I had
the utmost respect for.

The Goodison Years

By 1977, Dave Sexton had left and QPR were in a transition period under Frank
Sibley. I had just signed a new contract but, out of the blue, was told that the club
had accepted an offer from Everton. I felt the team was breaking up so I went to
Merseyside and loved it there; the organisation at the club was second to none. At
Goodison Park, the stands are quite high and close to the pitch so it was a special
place to go and play.

We didn‟t want to live in Southport or Formby like most players, so we moved to a
village called Dalton, near Parbold. I‟m not shy and I love conversation but I also like
my own company and space and enjoy living out in the countryside. Later, George
Wood, a nice lad, came to live in Parbold and we used to take turns driving to
training.

In the first two games of 1977-78, we got slaughtered by Forest and Arsenal – I
wondered “What have I done here?” – but then it clicked and we went on a 22-game
unbeaten run; we weren‟t a bad side…

We were a very left-sided team then: Martin Dobson was Mr Elegant, Mr Calm and a
great lad as well – we still keep in touch. He was great for me on the left wing as we
had a triangle with Mike Pejic at left back – Dobbo used to feed the ball down the line
and back me up. Rossy (Trevor Ross) used to say that he never got the ball on the
right wing so I‟d say, “Well, you never get a bloody cross in!”

Bob Latchford had a knack of shoving the ball in. He was a good header, strong as
an ox and brave. It was bizarre but we didn‟t play together for England: I was playing
some of the best football of my career at Everton then Bob got picked by Ron
Greenwood but he never picked me. I had played for England earlier under Don
Revie – he used to give us dossiers on the opposition which often ended up in the
bin!

Duncan McKenzie could talk for England; he had a lot of ability but he could drive
you mad sometimes! He was a lovely guy and when I moved to Everton he took me
all round the area to show me places to live – he was very supportive.

I liked Gordon Lee a lot whilst Steve Burtenshaw – who had been at QPR with me
briefly – was a coach with good ideas. Gordon was a „pea and pies‟ man and I recall
that we were in this posh hotel in Mallorca. At dinner he went to the physio, Jim
McGregor, and said “What‟s that you‟ve got Jim?” who replied “Welsh Rarebit” to
which Gordon exclaimed “Bloody hell, it looks like cheese on toast to me!” That was
Gordon all over.

I can‟t put my finger on why we didn‟t win the League Championship – the balance of
the squad was good but maybe the likes of Liverpool had that little bit of extra quality.
We lost a few games late on in the 1977-78 season whilst maybe the great sides
manage to scrape a win even when playing badly.

By the summer of 1979 I had had two fantastic years at Everton and felt I needed
rewarding for that; my contract was coming to an end anyway. Bill Shankly would call
in at Bellefield for the camaraderie so I said to Bill: “I hope you don‟t mind but can I
have a word with you?” and he invited me round to his house. Bill laughed when I
told him what wage I was on and told me what I should ask for, based on my success
and what the Liverpool players were on. I went and had a word with Philip Carter – I
didn‟t have an agent – but they wouldn‟t give in. We didn‟t fall out but I went on the
transfer list.

Black Country to British Columbia

I verbally agreed to join Wolves, they were going really well at the time and spending
big money: John Barnwell had just taken over and they had brought in Andy Gray.
At Villa, Andy was unplayable – he was brave and a good header of the ball – a
brilliant centre forward. He had knee surgery before he moved to Wolves and I feel
that after knee surgery you can never be the same player.

That evening, at 11pm, Jim Greenwood (Everton‟s Secretary) called me to say that
they‟d also agreed a figure of about £400,000 with Manchester United; but I am a
man of my word, so I went to Wolves. Brenda was gobsmacked that I turned Man
Utd down and it turned into the biggest disaster of my life.

I always wore rubber-soled boots, never wore shin-pads and had my socks rolled
down. I just liked those boots really and there was more grass on the wing – Jimmy
Greaves wore moulded and he did alright, didn‟t he?! Wolves coach Richie Barker
was always onto me about it in front of the other players sarcastically – at half-time
during one game he went for me, as I‟d made an error leading to a goal, and I
reacted badly. I never kicked a ball for Wolves again; they stuck me with the kids and
the reserves. It was awful, I hated it.

In 1981, Johnny Giles signed me for Vancouver Whitecaps in the NASL and it was a
great experience for me, Brenda and our two girls – I loved it there. The pitch was
awful, it was like carpet with concrete underneath, but there were 30,000 fans for
every home game – very passionate and family orientated. Giles also signed Peter
Beardsley from Carlisle, he was only young but you could tell he was going to be a
very good footballer.

The NASL rules restricted the number of non-North Americans in the line-up but
there were 6 British and Irish players in the squad, so we were just sat on our
backsides picking up incredible money but not playing! I signed for 3 years but was
only playing for 6 months which was financially crippling the club. We had to come to
some sort of settlement financially – needless to say, the league and club folded.

Falling out of Love with the Game

Back home, my career nosedived and I became a bit disillusioned in the game. After
finishing playing at Portsmouth in 1985, I coached the youngsters but Alan Ball (the
manager) told me that they were not going to have a youth team coach any longer.
The chairman told me my contract would not be renewed but a week later the sports
editor of the local paper told me that Peter Osgood had been appointed as youth
team coach!

That hurt me big-time… so, when I was offered a role at Middlesbrough by Bruce
Rioch, I never went – I thought that, if that was football, I wanted nothing to do with it.
I just got out of the game and I set up my own business doing people‟s gardens for
two years. Then I got a job as a PE teacher at a school in Chichester. I taught some
good kids but the most fantastic thing was the staff: the PE department people were
“real people”. It was a dream job for 20 years and I loved it.

Retirement

We returned to the North East about three years ago after I retired from teaching. We
love our gardening, fishing, horses, golf and walking – and I now love my football.

I could watch Messi and Barcelona seven days a week – the way they play the game
is unique. I‟m not a great Rooney fan – when he first came on the scene, he was
unbelievable… but, for a top player, he gives the ball away too much.

I can‟t think of anyone currently playing who has the ability to cross equally well with
both his right and left feet – looking back, there was Ginola at Newcastle. Being
about to use both feet keeps defenders guessing which way you are going to go.
Crossing at pace is a gift and there is an art to it – one of the best crossers in recent
times was Alan Shearer. Theo Walcott has been given £100k a week but he either
hits the first defender or over-hits it – he doesn‟t caress the ball. Having said that, the
modern footballs do “balloon” and move around a bit so, if I was playing today, I‟d
have to adjust.

I don‟t get to Everton very often as I‟ve got glaucoma which affects my vision and
prevents me from driving. The Everton Former Players Foundation has been very
supportive; what they do for the ex-players is amazing. It‟s not a bottomless pit but, if
I rang tomorrow and needed a new knee, they‟d sort it for me. Barcelona has started
its own foundation based on Everton‟s – every player and coach pays 0.5% of his
salary into their foundation.

Jim Pearson lives in Newcastle and is a good friend whilst I speak to Mike Pejic
sometimes. The club do their best to get the lads together and I saw Bob Latchford at
the “30 Goals” reunion dinner at Goodison Park. I last got to Goodison for the
Liverpool game in October – they rang up and offered me tickets – Mirallas played
well in that game.

David Moyes is a shrewd individual and a very good man manager. His name will
come forward when Sir Alex Ferguson retires but, for me, only one man that can take
that on: Mourinho. The Blues aren‟t a flair side but they gel as a team and are very
hard to beat. Fellaini is a real handful whilst Baines is one of the best left backs I
have seen in a long time. Pienaar is different to how I was – he‟s not the sort of
player that crosses from the by-line but he comes inside and twists and turns a lot – a
very good player. I fancy Everton for the cup this year.




*The amazing story of West Auckland‟s consecutive victories in the 1909 and 1911
Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, a precursor to the 1st World Cup, has been dramatized
on stage and TV (Google “The World Cup – A Captain's Tail” for more information).