Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughProfile Feature Story: David Thomas - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Profile Feature Story: David Thomas - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Profile Feature Story: David Thomas

The on strike batsman pats the ground with his bat taking guard as a tall slender figure holding a deliciously red new ball in his left hand, prepares to charge in.

As his approach to the crease quickens the fielders walk in patrolling the lush green outfield but they were not to be needed, as this ball pitches on the perfect line and length and crashes into the top of off stump.

As the bowler celebrates his wicket, Allan Lamb one of England’s most famous batsmen despondently trudges off back to the pavilion, “it was an absolute beauty of a ball” is how the man who bowled it recalls.

A Gloucestershire player at the time David Thomas says that was his finest ball of the 21,447 he bowled in his first class career.

A career which spanned 11 years, took him to several different countries, through two marriages and which dealt him a cruel end which puts professional sport into context with the vulnerability of life.

At 51 years old he tells me the tale of his cricketing and personal life as he sits in the electric wheelchair to which he is bound, no longer able to walk after suffering from multiple sclerosis since retiring from cricket.

Born in Warwickshire in 1959 he moved to High Wycombe in his teens with his family, and it was here that his cricketing ability first came to prominence.

He was given his first break when Pat Pocock spotted him and invited him along to Beaconsfield cricket club, he was offered a one year contract “it was on a trial basis but they soon decided they wanted me on a three year contract and so I was a full time employee of the club”.

In 1977 after two years playing for Beaconsfield he gained the recognition of a major county in the form of Surrey who offered him a one year deal.

He spent his first season in the second team and impressed enough to be offered a three year contract with the club.

International recognition was quick to follow in his second season as he was selected to face the West Indies in a youth Test match “it was a great honour and great to be involved with the England setup, you got to work with some of the senior coaches so it helped my development”.

The first match of the series took place on 23rd July 1978 in Scarborough, the visitors won the toss and elected to bat first. Thomas opened the bowling and produced a brilliant spell taking four wickets en route to a crushing England victory by eight wickets.

The next two matches ended in draws with the medium pacer picking up three more wickets along the way as England claimed the series he described as a great experience “it was very, very enjoyable, extremely hard but to develop you have to be competing with these guys”.

Strangely though that test series and a single one day international match were his only forays into the international arena, and that is the biggest regret of his career “I wanted to play for England, although I got a good enough record I didn’t get the record I wanted, I didn’t do well enough”

He went onto say “I can’t grumble I’m still well liked by all the players when I see them and I had a good career” to all those players he was known as ‘Teddy’ a nickname given to him by the players at Surrey “I used to laugh like Ted Heath the old Conservative politician and it just stuck with me”.

He is still fondly thought of by many in the game with numerous signed pictures of former players nailed to the wall of his office, one picture in particular catches my eye. It is a signed picture of Sir Ian Botham exuberantly celebrating taking a wicket for England, the scribbled note reads:


I don’t think I ever called you that before when we played,

Must catch up maybe drag Keevy out for a beer next summer,

See you soon Teddy, Beefy.

During his time on the county circuit he bowled and batted against many of the greats of the game, Ian Botham, Graham Gooch, Malcolm Marshall and Viv Richards to name a few. But it’s his recollection of playing against Richards which offers the best insight into what it was like “He used to take the piss out of you a little bit, you could bowl an over to him, bowl two half volleys and he’d just pat them back as if they were good balls and you’d think hang on he’s taking the piss here, then you’d run up and bowl a good ball and he’d hit you for four, he was that good”.

Going to play in countries such as Australia and South Africa in the winters he describes how life away from home was tough but rewarding and good grounding for such a young player

His playing career took him abroad in 1980 when he joined the South African team Northern Transvaal who he joined as a 20 year old, he felt the strain of being away from home “Your away for six to eight months and you miss home, but it was enjoyable and all of a sudden you were asked to go to different places so you developed a strong mentality”.

That strain of long winters away from home would be increased when at the age of 21 he married. In the same year he celebrated the birth of his first child, a boy named Chris. With the demands of his cricket dictating where he went he was away from his young son for long periods “It was very tough, you have low points but it’s a sacrifice you had to make back then”.

He was back the following winter and it was the county season that followed (1983) which was to be the best season of his career.

This was the season he became seen as an all rounder after a hugely productive summer with the bat. He notched up 937 runs at an average of 36 which included two hundreds and four fifties. They were the only hundreds he ever scored in county cricket “getting the first hundred of my career is one my best memories it was against Notts and I smacked them round the park” his expert wielding of willow resulted in a score of 119 but it wasn’t just with the bat with which he excelled that season. He followed up his brash batting displays with 57 wickets his best figures being a return of 4-22 against Northamptonshire.

In the winter of 1983/84 and after the birth of his second child, another boy named Hugh he finished his contract with Transvaal and joined Natal another South African team.

When asked which team he enjoyed playing for more he smiled and said “Natal because they understood English”, his experiences abroad clearly gave him a tough mentality and a good sense of humour which he would later need to deal with his personal tragedy.

His glittering season of 1983 had raised expectations for the lefty who was now a mainstay of the Surrey team and a valued part of their batting line up.

However he struggled to reach the highs of the season before, with the bat at least. He scored less than half the runs he accumulated in the previous year and didn’t manage to score a single fifty. This was though his best season for his accurate medium pace as he took 60 wickets with best figures of 6-36 also taking ten wickets in a match for the first time.

He spent three more seasons with Surrey taking his stay to the ten year mark. Despite this though the club wanted him to prove his performance once again and offered him a one year contract as opposed to the three he had wanted “I pulled back on that and I went to Gloucester they had good players and I had a good time there”

The season in which he took his most prized wicket of Allan Lamb was 1988, his first at Gloucestershire little did he know then that it would also be his last season as a professional cricketer.

He played just seven games for his new side before at the age of just 28 he was forced to retire after he suffered a career ending injury in training “I split my pubic bone and I couldn’t come back….it was too painful”.

Retiring from professional cricket had a profound effect on his life “It was so difficult to know you can’t do what you want to do, playing cricket was the only time I felt at home” ending your career is hard enough for most players but his mental resolve would be tested further by the ensuing events.

His injury not only ended his playing career but also his marriage “I was very down for a while after my injury and it lead to our divorce it was a hard time” despite his life seemingly crumbling he roused the drive and motivation to go into business.

He started a business called Thomas Pace but after failing to get off the ground, they went bust another setback in a difficult period of his life, on top of everything that had happened there was yet more strife to come.

The cruel twist his life had taken since injury forced him out of sport took another heart wrenching turn. In 1994 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis an illness which would change the way he lived for the rest of his life “it was difficult when the MS came on board you’re not able to do what your brain wants you to do” he was in a wheelchair soon after being given the shocking news and it has slowly taken over his body to the extent where he needs to be hand fed.

Incredibly not even the latest blow could stop this remarkable man from getting on with his life and going back into business once again.

Surrey who still had a lot of contact with teddy handed him an opportunity to get involved with the hospitality side of cricket, an opportunity which coincided with an upturn in his fortunes. It was through hospitality that he met his second wife, Louise.

Together they started a business called Sporting Certainty which specialises in providing great match day hospitality across a wide range of sporting arenas, a venture which has proved a successful one for him.

As well as running his business alongside his wife, he was a member of the board at Surrey a position he held for six years before relinquishing his role due to deteriorating health only recently.

This year represents the fifteenth of his second marriage, a marriage which has provided two more children. Joseph and Connor are both budding young cricketers just like their father was, both currently playing for Buckinghamshire and with aspirations of following in their dad’s footsteps of playing professionally.

The success of his second marriage he believes can be attributed to the failure of his first marriage “It helped me move on in my second marriage, it made you perform better because you only had one chance to get things right”.

‘Teddy’ turns 52 in June, 18 of those years have been spent in a wheelchair and many a human would be bitter or spiteful about the events which fate dealt him to leave him being transported around in his motorised chair, but not Teddy.

“I had a good career, met some great people, visited some brilliant places…I can’t complain” words spoken by a truly inspirational character who has defied illness amongst other setbacks to make more of his life than many able bodied people have.

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