Dave Thomas used to fly down the wing for both Wolves and Everton, and also, to huge success at the start of his career, with Burnley and QPR.  In more recent years, the eight-capped England international has faced and adapted to a challenge far bigger than any he ever faced in his playing days.  He spoke to Paul Berry.


The challenges that Dave Thomas has encountered in his later life – being registered blind and left with only minimal central vision – have certainly left him with an evener keen sense of perspective about what’s important.

And the fundraising he has led as a response has been nothing short of inspirational.

But even safe in the knowledge that his football career was not the be all and end all – as impressive as it was – he still pulls no punches about what happened when he decided to move to Molineux back in 1979.

“Coming to Wolves was the worst decision I ever made,” reveals the now 73-year-old.

“It was an absolute disaster and the turning point on my career.

“Everything nose-dived from there onwards.”

No sitting on the fence there and, for reasons that will become clear, much of Thomas’s dismay from a move which promised so much but delivered so little stemmed from one of those footballing fallouts that can so often shape a player’s fortunes.

After all, he had arrived at Wolves in October 1979 as an experienced England international with so much to offer.

A career initially forged with Burnley and QPR, and then also Saturday’s opponents Everton, providing both goals and the ammunition for others from the wings had prompted Wolves boss John Barnwell to make his move.

“Burnley were a fantastic club for young players at that time,” he recalls.

“I left home in the North East to join them at 15, and it was their policy back then to bring in young players, teach them the game and then sell them on to balance the books.

“It’s a lovely club and I had six great years there.”

Thomas made his first team debut, against Everton, at the age of 16 years and 220 days – becoming the club’s youngest ever top-flight player – and, in the 1967/68 season, was part of the only Burnley team to win the FA Youth Cup, alongside a certain Steve Kindon.

He left Burnley for QPR during the 1972/73 campaign, and as the Clarets won the second division title, Rangers finished runners-up, landing Thomas a unique pair of medals having represented both.

The best was yet to come at Loftus Road however, as, during the 1975/76 season, they missed out on the top-flight title by just a solitary point, to Liverpool.

Ironically, as events would later transpire, the Reds sealed the championship at Molineux in their final game of the season, needing a point to clinch the honours as Wolves searched for a win to avoid relegation.

For 75 minutes it was going the way of Wolves, thanks to an early Kindon goal, but late strikes from Kevin Keegan, John Toshack and Ray Kennedy sent the hosts down and denied QPR the title.

Thomas’s main memory, however, remains on the only defeat of their last 15 matches, a 3-2 reverse at Norwich when a win would ultimately have seen them claim the title.

“There was controversy in that game as a lad called Phil Boyer scored for Norwich which was miles offside,” Thomas recalls, before adding: “Imagine if we’d had VAR back then!

“That’s life, I guess.”

Within a year that QPR team had broken up with boss Dave Sexton moving on to Manchester United, many players leaving and Thomas himself joining Everton. 

He did so having made some memorable memories both on and off the pitch, having married wife Brenda not long after joining the club and both his daughters Helen and Polly arriving during his time there.

“What a time it was at QPR,” he confirms.

“In a funny way I grew up really quickly, going from a smaller community club like Burnley to the bright lights of London, but team-mates like Terry Venables and Stan Bowles were fantastic in helping me settle.

“I had two great managers there too, Gordon Jago – who also had a very good assistant in Bobby Campbell, and Dave Sexton, who took it to another level with his coaching and how he wanted to make every player better.

“I have so many wonderful memories from that football club.”

More of those memories came via his international action with England, stepping up from having reached Under-23 level whilst at Burnley to securing eight full caps under Don Revie, chipping in with several assists.

It is perhaps something of a surprise that he wasn’t called upon during his time at Goodison, especially as he linked up so well with striker Bob Latchford, who was representing the Three Lions at the time.

“I know it’s talked about a lot these days when players get picked for England who aren’t playing for their club, but I couldn’t understand it back in the day,” says Thomas.

“When I was at Everton I was playing just as well as I was at QPR, and had a great link-up with ‘Latch’, but while it might have been worth trying it at international level, I never got a chance.

“Myself and Latch really complimented each other’s games – he reminds me of (Erling) Haaland now because of the way he come alive inside the penalty area.

“He scored over 30 goals the one season and we finished 3rd and 4th across two good seasons.

“I was really happy at Everton and eventually it was only down to a contract dispute that I left.”

In the days long before agents, Thomas was looking after his own affairs and was looking for an improved deal to reflect his overall impact and influence.

He was even picking up advice from Liverpool managerial legend Bill Shankley, who would watch Everton train as he lived just around the corner from the Bellefield training ground, and told the player what he thought he deserved.

Unfortunately, no deal could be reached, but given Thomas’s career trajectory to that point, it wasn’t surprising that there was plenty of interest.

Travelling for talks with Barnwell with Latchford, the striker ultimately stayed with Everton but Thomas gave his word to the Wolves boss, as a result later turning down an approach from Manchester United, who had also agreed a fee.

Sadly, however, suggesting the £420,000 move didn’t work out is an understatement.

A personality clash with Wolves assistant Richie Barker made for a volatile environment, and stemmed, bizarrely, from Thomas’s attire.

Throughout his career he had patrolled the wings with his socks rolled down and wearing moulded studs.  It was his trademark but, perhaps most importantly, he felt comfortable.

And that led to problems.

“I’d been happy at Everton, but John Barnwell got wind of the contract dispute and I had the chance to move to Wolves,” he recalls.

“I got a phone call at half-past eleven one night to say that Manchester United had also come in but I’m a man of my word and, to be honest, Wolves were a better side at that time.

“But it was the biggest turning point of my career, and I ended up hating the place.

“I’d always worn rubber studs, and no shin pads, but Richie Barker didn’t like that, and it ended up being a real stumbling block to me playing for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

“I couldn’t really understand it, as it was an approach that had served me well, and got me playing for England.

“Presumably they wanted to sign me because of how I had played, and I certainly wasn’t going to change.

“Richie was very sarcastic about it all, particularly in front of other people, and John Barnwell had to back his assistant.

“Thing is, the more they made it harder for me, the more I would not back down, and I never missed a training session, even though I had checked myself out of the hotel and was travelling down from my house in Lancashire.

“The one time, when I was playing for the reserves, I was made to travel down to Wolverhampton to get the team bus back up to Liverpool, which was about half an hour from my home.

“So no, it didn’t go well, I felt they treated me badly, and while I didn’t get on with Richie, I am sure the feeling was mutual from him too – it happens!

“I had a few games but wasn’t producing my best and got a few niggly hamstring injuries as well, and the whole thing just turned into an absolute disaster.”

Wolves’ fans love their wingers.  Always have done.  Always will.

At the risk of dipping into personal indulgence, as a young fan sitting on the ‘redgra’, pitchside in the Family Enclosure, players such as Thomas, Paul Butler, Tony Towner – even if their spells at Wolves weren’t ultimately successful – they were often the exciting ones for me to watch.  The pace, the precision, taking players on, putting in crosses.

That is what Thomas wanted to do, especially as Wolves had Andy Gray as their spearhead number nine. That 1979/80 season remains the most successful of Molineux’s recent history, a sixth placed finish alongside the most recent major trophy, the League Cup.

But Thomas didn’t even go to the League Cup Final.  Brenda had even bought a new dress for the occasion, but another flare-up saw him decide to stay at home.

He had played in four games enroute to Wembley, but after his mistake led to conceding a goal in an FA Cup tie against Norwich, he threw his shirt at Barker, didn’t come out for the second half, and didn’t play again that season.

There was one further appearance, his 16th, when Wolves were down to the bare bones and he was made Man of Match in the UEFA Cup defeat at PSV Eindhoven, but his time was up.

“It just wasn’t going to work, and my career just fell away after that,” Thomas admits.

He opted to go Stateside, to Vancouver Whitecaps, which also didn’t go swimmingly but back on British soil there were further spells with Middlesbrough and Portsmouth before hanging up his boots.

With Pompey he then landed a job as the youth team coach, which he enjoyed, at least until manager Alan Ball told him the role was no longer required, before bringing in a new appointment several weeks later.  Which was, unsurprisingly, tough to take.

Former Everton team-mate Bruce Rioch then offered him a route back in with a coaching position with Middlesbrough with a view to building his experience to become a manager, but, by this point, Thomas had had enough.

Scarred perhaps by his experiences, he was ready to head into a world away from football and some of the baggage associated with it, and went on spend 20 extremely happy years as a PE teacher at the Bishop Luffa School in Chichester, along with lecturing at University.

“After what had happened at Portsmouth, when Bruce offered me the position at Middlesbrough, I thanked him very much but had already decided that was it – football wasn’t for me anymore,” Thomas reflects.

“I decided to go into teaching, which I absolutely loved, mainly because I was working with genuine people.

“Of course, football gave me a great career, and I enjoyed most of it, but I think you sometimes have to be a certain kind of person to be involved in the game because there is so much skulduggery going on.

“Things like people often trying to knife you in the back or bring you down, and while that goes on in most walks of life, in football it probably gets more publicised.

“One I had finished playing and then had that little spell in coaching, I decided I could manage without football in the future.”

Thomas’s greatest challenge, however, was still to come.

After turning 50, his sight started to fail him, and he was diagnosed with glaucoma, a condition his father had also suffered with, which damages the eye’s optic nerve and destroys peripheral vision.

For a while he could continue working, but, as his vision continued to deteriorate, he lost his driving licence and was registered blind.  

He became completely reliant on Brenda to transport him around, and retirement became very different to what he might have anticipated.

But then, into his life seven years ago, came Hannah the golden labrador, his guide dog.

In an instant, he felt like he had regained a degree of freedom and independence.

“Hannah has changed my life,” says Thomas.

“I have had her now for seven years, and have got another two years of her working with me.

“I feel very fortunate to have her, because when you can’t drive, and I was reliant on Brenda taking me everywhere, now I have some freedom back.

“With Hannah, I can go on the bus, on the train, I’ve even been on an aeroplane with her as well.

“These dogs are incredible, and life has become so much easier for me as a result.”

Thomas’s response to this gradual but life-changing event has been inspirational.

He still counts himself fortunate to have retained a small amount of central vision – although for how long he doesn’t know – but he has also channelled his efforts into a fundraising campaign which has raised over £100,000 for the Guide Dogs charity, helping so many more puppies undergo training and go on to become trusted companions of others encountering similar challenges. Of giving people their lives back.

This incredible sum has included profits from his book – Guiding Me Home And Away – published in 2019, while perhaps just as significant has been his desire to remain positive.

Living in a quiet village not too far from Barnard’s Castle – “where Dominic Cummings has put us on the map” – he can still play golf, still plays the piano and retains a keen passion for gardening, a business he initially went into after finishing playing.

“People have been so generous with the fundraising, but it makes such a difference, as these dogs really do change people’s lives, just as they have mine,” Thomas confirms.

“I have to stay positive, and I do – there is no point having any regrets, I just get on with it.

“Every day I count my blessings that I have my dog, because where I can go, and the things I can still do, are amazing.”

Dave Thomas.  Of, amongst others, Wolves, Everton, Burnley, QPR and England.

But perhaps more significant than any of that, an inspiration to others in how he has responded to adversity, and is continuing to make a difference.