LIKE father, like son.
Right-minded, principled and not interested in self-gain, the values of Lloyd Thomas ring true with his lad, ex-Burnley, QPR, Everton, Middlesbrough and England winger Dave Thomas.
Thomas junior, the first former professional footballer to be registered blind and awarded a guide dog, decided to tell his endearing and thought-provoking story purely for altruistic reasons – with every penny raised going to the Guide Dogs for the Blind – and not for self-betterment.
His autobiography, entitled Guiding Me Home And Away, is a heart-warming tale of hope, quite fitting as the festive season approaches.
It tells the story of how Thomas achieved fame and fortune with club and country, but also about how he feels truly blessed in the autumn of his life for the bond he has forged with his guide dog Hannah, which has helped to give him his independence back.
Thomas’s life changed back in 2008 when he received a letter from the DVLA informing him he was no longer eligible to drive at the age of 58 when he was registered as blind due to a progressive loss of sight due to glaucoma.
“I had worked out that back in 1965, my mum and dad’s house was probably worth about five-hundred quid, so the contents of that case would have probably bought three or four houses in our terraced street. But my dad was not budging and said: ‘I’m a man of my word and David has to go to Burnley.’Former Everton and England winger Dave Thomas
It was a hereditary condition with his father also suffering from the debilitating eye disease.
Understandably, the news was a shattering blow for Thomas, who retains some central vision but can see nothing on the margins. He learned to walk with a cane, but it was the arrival of Hannah that has transformed his daily existence.
Much earlier in the mid-Sixties, a lucrative offer from Leeds United, rapidly becoming one of the biggest clubs in the land under the command of Don Revie, also had the potential to change his life.
Revie, in the passenger seat of a car driven by Leeds’s chief scout, wound the window down close to Thomas’s home one day and spoke to the winger, then a teenager on a shopping errant to buy a loaf of bread in his home village of West Auckland.
The Leeds manager was duly given permission to speak to Thomas’s mother and father, but not before the youngster first got the loaf to ‘avoid a telling off.’
Revie subsequently declared his wish to sign the talented starlet, who had played in a Durham county match that very day, only to be told by Thomas’s father that he had already signed schoolboy forms with Burnley.
Leeds came back a few days later. But Thomas Sr was a man of his word.
His son was destined for Lancashire and not Yorkshire.
Thomas recalled: “I don’t remember saying too much, but in any case, dad was adamant that I was promised to Burnley. But Revie was not giving up.
“When he got up to leave, he said: ‘If you don’t mind, I’ll come back up to West Auckland in 48 hours and bring my chairman (Harry Reynolds) with me.’
“I don’t think mum, dad, my brother or I expected Revie to come back, but we were wrong.
“Two days later, I was sorting through the post and I saw through the front window that there was a Rolls-Royce pulling up outside our house.
“The neighbours came out to have a look and Mr Revie and his chairman Mr Reynolds came through the front door. I was absolutely bricking it, wondering what was going on.
“Again, they said they wanted to sign me and my dad’s response was the same.”
Thomas’s wages at Burnley were £4 basic with his accommodation paid, amounting to about £8 in total per week.
Leeds blew it out of the water with an offer of £30 basic and ‘digs’, with an added sweetener coming when Mr Reynolds opened a briefcase containing £2,000.
But Thomas’s father was not for turning and that was that.
Now 69, Thomas continued: “I had worked out that back in 1965, my mum and dad’s house was probably worth about five-hundred quid, so the contents of that case would have probably bought three or four houses in our terraced street.
“But my dad was not budging and said: ‘I’m a man of my word and David has to go to Burnley.’
“Mr Reynolds knew that was it. But I will never forget that he reached into his case and pulled off a fiver from the pile of banknotes and handed it to my brother.
“Then he turned to dad and said: ‘I really admire your honesty, Mr Thomas.’ I wish David well in his career.’”
Thomas’s path was destined for Turf Moor, where he was part of a fine crop of young players nurtured by Harry Potts and then Jimmy Adamson.
The north-easterner would then move to QPR, who came close to title glory in 1975-76, only to be pipped by Liverpool.
It was arguably London’s stand-out team of the Seventies containing stellar talents such as Stan Bowles and Gerry Francis.
Revie clearly did not forget Thomas, handing him his England debut at Wembley in October 1974, with Leeds linked him before he moved to Loftus Road in 1972.
Thomas’s eight senior international appearances all came under Revie, meaning he was ultimately grateful for the input of ‘The Don.’
After a short, but rewarding spell at Goodison Park, Thomas made what he admits was a catastrophic move to Wolves, rejecting interest from Manchester United, no less.
It was a mistake, as the winger was the first to acknowledge, but it was a playing career largely devoid of recriminations.
A brief stay back in his native north-east at Boro, the club where he watched the likes of Brian Clough in the late Fifties and early Sixties, was to follow in the early Eighties; a time he enjoyed, although growing financial uncertainty ensured his time at Ayresome Park was brief.
After winding down his career at Portsmouth, Thomas became youth-team boss at Fratton Park, where cash problems were cited as the reason for him being axed in the mid-Eighties – only for former England international Peter Osgood to soon be propelled into the position.
Thomas would go onto work for 17 years as a PE teacher in Chichester before returning to his roots in the north-east in 2010 – which sadly coincided with his deteriorating vision.
Stoic about his condition, Thomas still manages to tend to his beloved garden -– horticulture is his second love with his hero being Yorkshireman and ex-Gardeners World presenter Geoffrey Smith.
But it is Hannah who has helped provide him with a new lease of life.
Thomas, who has raised over £70,000 for Guide Dogs for the Blind and continues to fund-raise for the charity, said: “With Hannah, I have a level of independence. I can achieve quite a lot and feel safe.
“Nothing fazes me. Hannah’s given me massive confidence. She has been a lifeline.”