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.
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:
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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!
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.
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).
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713 Posted 19/02/2013 at 06:59:58
715 Posted 19/02/2013 at 07:20:41
As Dave says that team that he played in should have had a trophy to show for their footballing ability and his own unique style, watching him cross the ball at speed was indeed a sight to behold. A much maligned era in Everton's history, but in hindsight not as bad a period as some would have it.
It is also interesting to hear about his conversation with Bill Shankly and the 'higher' money the other lot were on, some things never change.
It's such a shame that football as an industry doesn't use people with David's talent to coach the youngsters, they would certainly learn a thing or two from someone like David Thomas.
Good luck DT and thanks for the memories.
718 Posted 01/10/2011 at 01:09:40
It is genuinely not an exaggeration to say he is the best crosser of a football I have ever seen (can't even think of a close second).
He may not have made the money from the game they do now, but it is great to read of the fulfillment he got from teaching.
For those whippersnappers who didn't see him, you are talking a £20m player in today's market - EASY!
Plus, astounded to find out his granddad captained THAT West Auckland side.
I remember first hearing about them when they made a film (or TV fim) a good few years back.
As I remember it, the Lipton's people thought 'WA' stood for (top pro side) Woolwich Arsenal, only to find they were dealing with an amateur side from the north east, who turned up and won the first 'world' cup.
721 Posted 19/02/2013 at 08:27:12
722 Posted 19/02/2013 at 08:16:54
Is Philip Carter the biggest disaster to hit this club ever?
Eugene think you need to double that figure mate.
723 Posted 19/02/2013 at 08:16:38
728 Posted 19/02/2013 at 08:42:37
729 Posted 19/02/2013 at 09:17:25
I agree with Eugene about Dave's crossing ability, he would push the ball past the defender and get his cross in quickly, bang on the spot, so Bob could time his run to meet it.
My favourite memory is of the QPR away game in 1977, I went on my own, had problems with the van, it turned into a marathon day but who cares when you win 5-1?
730 Posted 19/02/2013 at 09:25:58
731 Posted 19/02/2013 at 09:15:35
732 Posted 19/02/2013 at 09:40:53
The ‘70’s were my formative years. I entered it as an 11 year old with my team as League Champions and destined to rule English football for years to come. I left it as a 21 year old with a twice replayed League Cup defeat to show for it along with three FA Cup semi-final defeats. With our neighbours winning everything in sight the decade was certainly character building.
That said I absolutely loved following Everton in the ‘70’s and the Billy Bingham/Gordon Lee years were a lot better than history has portrayed them.
I didn’t miss a game in Big Bob’s 30 goal season, the air-wear, parallels and crombie got some outings that year. I also had a “West Ham” zip-up but never tempted fate and wore it to the match. I thought I was the height of sartorial elegance c1977 vintage. Anyone else remember the “West Ham” jumper?
Anyhow, we were in the old Park End for the Cov game and went mental when Bobby Latchford got his hat-trick. He truly did walk on water with a little help from Davey Thomas on the wing.
I loved those days, we might not have won anything but Everton were magic.
Thanks Rob for rekindling some great memories.
738 Posted 19/02/2013 at 09:54:06
Peter (729) I was also at the QPR away when Latch got four. Seem to remember a few of us (17 year olds) jumping over the fence a couple of times but not actually having the nerve to 'do an invasion' so just jumping straight back (although..erm..that could have been Liecester, the memory plays tricks these days).
Dave (732) Talking of the memory playing tricks - "air-wear, parallels and crombie got some outings that year" - in 1978!? Where are you from St Helens? Crombies hadn't seen action in Liverpool since 72/73 (VERY latest 74). Also parallels had been replaced by high-waist birmos by 76 and the only other trouser choice in 77/78 was the punk/new wave (very) straight leg. Also DMs were actually making a comeback. Get those old albums out Dave, you'll see.
739 Posted 19/02/2013 at 10:39:35
743 Posted 19/02/2013 at 10:50:52
745 Posted 19/02/2013 at 11:09:15
I was gutted when we let him go... and, let's not forget, in that era, when we were really close to wining the league a couple of times, we played some magnificent stuff and put some teams to the sword. All-in-all, great memories. When men were men and full backs were scared.
746 Posted 19/02/2013 at 11:17:48
- although I sported it in around 74/75 with la feather cut and flares. As the text says, it was associated with Glam Rock. 'Saturday Night's Alright For Watching The Generation Game' - get a little action in!
Great read, by the way, Rob.
747 Posted 19/02/2013 at 11:31:55
I did have a female relative who would have been about 16 at the time try and tell me it was copying the Bay City Rollers.
769 Posted 19/02/2013 at 12:37:08
Much as I'd like to think I did, I never walked down Lime Street swinging my chain.
By 1977, I'd moved on to Harold Ian and Leonard Silver attire and had just seen Springsteen for the first time at the Hammersmith Apollo (I think it was the Apollo, I'm beginning to doubt my memory!).
Bobby Latchford, Bruce Springsteen, winter of discontent, could life get any better.........?
775 Posted 19/02/2013 at 12:56:20
Thank you for a very enjoyable article.
776 Posted 19/02/2013 at 12:48:49
As Peter says #721, Dave, never forgotton. By the way, if you sign up to any of the EFC forums, be prepared. They will suck you right back in.
780 Posted 19/02/2013 at 13:42:25
781 Posted 19/02/2013 at 13:17:45
Dave Thomas was undoubtedly the best winger I've ever seen. One of my best recollections was him coming on as sub for England at Wembley &, unless my memory deceives, with his first touch he just ran onto the ball, first time cross from the right in this case & provided Malcolm MacDonald with yet another England goal - was it that match when 'SuperMac' scored 5 against Cyprus or somesuch? Did I just make it up from an amalgam of distant memories?
782 Posted 19/02/2013 at 13:55:25
783 Posted 19/02/2013 at 13:50:43
A good read about Dave Thomas, thanks for putting it on.
786 Posted 19/02/2013 at 13:23:38
That Coventry game was amazing. I remember we were second and they third at the time. I think we were 2 up after about 10 minutes then they battered us for half an hour and could have scored three or four themselves.
My best memory of the sixth goal was watching the highlights on Granada the next day with the wonderful Gerald Sinstadt effusing: "What a glorious goal! That's the goal of champions!" Alas, it wasn't to be, but I wouldn't swap this magical club for the world.
795 Posted 19/02/2013 at 14:35:55
796 Posted 19/02/2013 at 14:38:37
Dave seems back in love with footy and it only seems last week that he was ensuring big Bob walked on water. All the best Dave and Great piece Rob.
821 Posted 19/02/2013 at 17:08:21
If you are talking about THE Bruce Springsteen gig which my Dad has on DVD and insists upon watching almost as regulalry as the 3-1 Bayern Munich game then I am eternally jealous. My old man can be a right dick sometimes but I'll always be thankful for the Everton and Springsteen influence he has passed down.
Don't know what would've been better, seeing Bruce belt out Born to Run in 77, or watching from the Gwladys as Latchford scored a diving header. It sounds like you're one of them lucky bastards like my Dad that saw both!
829 Posted 19/02/2013 at 13:27:14
I loved him, and even for a long time wore my socks down round my ankles. An inspiration. I tried picking an all-my-time Everton team, and was bloody stuck between Sheedy and Dave Thomas. slightly different types. Pienaar might get it, but only if used tactically because of his Baines link up.
Went to very few games, as was depenent on med dad at the time, and we lived 20 miles away.
837 Posted 19/02/2013 at 17:53:34
One at home to Manchester City was classic. A cross which seemed to defy physics to dip into the six yard box where Latch, predictably, chose to dive-head it rather than shoot, into the roof of the net. Think the game finished 1-1.
PS. Andrew and Kev, You're right about scarves on wrist era. Definitely 76 through to about 78. My first shirt was the Umbro diamonds down the sleeves, V-neck job and I used to wear a silk scarf on each wrist and a woolen one tucked inside the V-neck of the shirt. Also a wrangler jacket with Winston Churchill-style UP THE BLUES sew-on badge. Thought I looked cool but sadly now know differently....
And while we're on the nostalgia trip. Anyone who hasn't seen the Granada documentary about the 1984 Milk Cup final PLEASE Google "Home and Away Milk Cup 1984" on YouTube. Be prepared to lose an hour of your life though. Actually make that enrich your life by an hour.
Classic stuff with fans in London and at Wembley, players in the dressing room and on the team bus and really moving social commentary too. Classic stuff.
838 Posted 19/02/2013 at 08:25:54
841 Posted 19/02/2013 at 18:22:22
Every town in Britain with more or less the same sales but a massive drop when it came to Liverpool.
Always imagine some London rep in a call-box in Walton phoning back to head office.
"Yes sir...Flemings...FLEMINGS.....F-L-E-.....that's right sir...erm..Supatuf...no sir it's not really a boutique..."
One for the teenagers -
843 Posted 19/02/2013 at 18:31:31
To those that did not see Dave play it is hard to compare him to present day players - perhaps an Ashley Young with a better left foot and improved end product or a Matt Jarvis with more pace, more skill and better crosses! The other player that Dave felt was similar in his era was John Robertson at Forest - another naturally right footed winger who was also devastating on his left peg. I still can't understand how Everton let him go in 1979.
845 Posted 19/02/2013 at 18:41:05
846 Posted 19/02/2013 at 18:29:48
And I was at that Leicester mauling, Eugene, went in a mini van, crappy ground, standing in the right-hand side of that stand down the side, a mauling, quite a bit of fisticuffs after the match, I remember.
Loved Davie Thomas, he was a bit of a cool guy too. Those were the days when you could drive back from Burnley or Newcastle or Notts Forest (remember that 0 - 0 game in November was it the year after they had won the league and we were on a great run and they had not lost at home for ages?) and go to Erics once back in God's city. 77-78, Everton and punk, ah what heady days!!!! And not long after I was a tidy little blue in pod and lascoste.
848 Posted 19/02/2013 at 18:42:51
As I said earlier, a fantastic piece about an immense player.
860 Posted 19/02/2013 at 20:25:37
866 Posted 19/02/2013 at 21:12:38
Unique is a word that is bandied around too much...we will NEVER see the likes of this genius again.
Still my favourite ever Everton player.
872 Posted 19/02/2013 at 21:15:36
I loved the Harold Ian shop but Temple Jensen was a bit more my budget. Jeans were always a problem due to my rather thickset thighs, so Flemings were a Godsend.
887 Posted 19/02/2013 at 22:20:22
892 Posted 19/02/2013 at 22:54:26
I was there, on Gwladys St, when Latch scored his 30th goal. Happy days.
905 Posted 19/02/2013 at 23:44:23
928 Posted 20/02/2013 at 09:02:30
948 Posted 20/02/2013 at 10:49:05
140 Posted 21/02/2013 at 04:49:32
Next thing you know, we have 5-6 player in contract disputes. Bob Latchford wanted away and couldn't be arsed, Dave Thomas wanted more money, the team was doing well so why shouldn't we put our hands up for more cash. The players blew it or they turned around and made it clear that without the extra dosh they would not be bringing a league title to Everton.
As much as Dave Thomas was a great player he was also a mercenary and, as with modern day footballers, nothing has much changed in the last 35 years.
156 Posted 21/02/2013 at 09:52:29
237 Posted 21/02/2013 at 17:12:39
Dave highllights the triangle he formed on the left hand side with Martin Dobson and Mike Pejic. The team of the late 70s was as lobsided as the present one! Dobson and Pejic are both underrated in my opinion. Dobson was so cool and calm and could chip in with 8 or 9 goals a season while Pejic was a tough tackler with a sweet left foot. The team went rapidly downhill when he got injured in December 78.
I didn't know about Shankly's influence in him asking for a pay rise. The club, though, would have none of it and Gordon Lee consigned both Thomas and Latchford to the reserves for the start of the 79/80 season despite a crop of injuries. Dave eventually left, of course, while Latchford eventually settled his differences and returned to the then struggling team in October. Despite that unrest I don't think it had anything to do with the team's decline - the run of poor results coincided with a run of games on icy pitches, injuries to key players, and a lack of strength in the 1st team squad..... sounds familiar again!
Dave also mentions the fine work done by the Former Players' Foundation in providing help for players of his generation, and those of the 50s, 60s and 80s. Every Evertonian should feel proud of this and the fact that several clubs, including the likes of Barcelona, have seen fit to emulate them. All donations to them are put to good use, or you can buy the e-book to read on a kindle, computer or tablet, 'Everton in the 1970s' which contains match reports on every competitive game played by the Blues during that decade with all proceeds going to the Foundation. You'll find a link to it on their website http://www.evertonfpf.org
242 Posted 21/02/2013 at 18:01:04
Dave Thomas was one of my first hero's growing up - cracking player. Thanks for the insight into why he left. Philip Carter - lifelong President - Jesus Wept.
276 Posted 21/02/2013 at 19:52:22
343 Posted 22/02/2013 at 05:21:36
355 Posted 22/02/2013 at 09:29:44
For those guys who worked at Vauxhall Motors in the seventies (76-79) we used to be treated to an hour of insight from prominent people in the game.
Gordon Lee was once asked his opinion on continental players coming to Everton. He dismissed the thought as fanciful saying the language barriers presented too much of a hurdle. Ardiles anyone? Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison was a rip-roaring treat to the senses.
382 Posted 22/02/2013 at 12:45:22
506 Posted 22/02/2013 at 19:54:10
642 Posted 23/02/2013 at 11:21:37
You can catch some of those games on The Big Match revisited on the ITV Player, I watched the Blues v Bristol City the other day, 1979, 4-1, Andy King hat-trick and a stunner from Billy Wright. I know it's a tired old cliche but they used to play on allotments in those days, the pitch was so hard some of the players were wearing trainers. Just one sub, who sat on the bench in a sleeping bag. Marvelous.
I better stop before I say "jumpers for goalposts".
826 Posted 23/02/2013 at 19:26:53
828 Posted 23/02/2013 at 19:27:41
Keith (343), Dave seemed to recall that Wolves were also after Latchford in 1979 but was not 100% about it.
Sorry about my blank message at 826 - tablet troubles!
978 Posted 23/02/2013 at 23:49:05
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