Henry Watson (Harry) Thomson 1940-2013
Blackpool FC historian Gerry Wolstenholme pays tribute to the popular former Blackpool FC goalkeeper who passed away on the 14th March. Henry Watson (Harry) Thomson 1940-2013Gerry Wolstenholme
Harry Thomson was born in Edinburgh on 25 August 1940 and had begun his football career with Shotts FC and then Bo’ness United before moving to Burnley in August 1959. He was at Turf Moor for 10 years in which time he shared the goalkeeping duties with Adam Blacklaw, from whom he took over when Blacklaw left. He played 117 League games, five FA Cup ties, 15 League Cup ties and four European games for Burnley and, when appearing in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in Naples, the Italian press dubbed him ‘God in a Green Jersey’. In addition he had toured with a Scottish international side on a World tour in the summer of 1967 and played for a Scottish XI four times, a 2-1 victory over Israel in Tel Aviv on 16 May, a 4-1 victory over Hong Kong on 25 May, a 1-0 victory over Australia in Sydney on 28 May and a 4-0 victory over an Auckland XI on 8 June.
Blackpool signed him in rather unusual fashion on 24 July 1969 for a fee of £5,000 (some reports quote £6,000) when he was considered ‘a shrewd investment’. The unusual nature of his signing came about after he had left Burnley, who had retained his League registration, and had signed for Lancashire Combination side Bacup Borough. He had not played a game for his new club when Blackpool stepped in and signed him after regular goalkeeper Alan Taylor was injured and new manager Les Shannon needed an experienced goalkeeper to replace him. Shannon commented, ‘I needed a goalkeeper quickly when Alan underwent his operation. It left me with only one ‘keeper with limited experience and an up-and-coming 18-year-old, David Johnson, with no experience whatsoever. Thomson is a man with a wealth of first Division experience.’ Thomson commented on his move, ‘I’m grateful to Blackpool for letting me get into League soccer again. The best way I can show my gratitude is on the field.’
He made his first appearance for Blackpool in a pre-season friendly game against Liverpool on 29 July 1969 when the view was ‘The experience of Harry Thomson could be a big asset in the promotion effort.’ He ‘kept goal extremely well, dealing confidently with the Liverpool shots which were on target and showing speed and rapid recovery powers’ and he ‘twice prevented goals by stopping blockbusters from former Blackpool star Emlyn Hughes’. The game was drawn 0-0. He also appeared in the 2-1 pre-season friendly victory over Dunfermline Athletic.
He made his League debut for Blackpool in the opening game of the 1969/70 season against Portsmouth on 9 August 1969 when Blackpool won 2-0. He very quickly became a favourite of the fans and earned himself the nickname ‘Sir Harry Thomson’ and it was no surprise to see him conducting the spectators who formed the Spion Kop choir as they chanted his name.
He played so well for the Seasiders that in September 1969 the original comment when he was signed was repeated as he was very definitely regarded as ‘a shrewd investment’ for the club, who were struggling for a top class goalkeeper with Alan Taylor injured and Kevin Thomas also missing out at the start of the season.
Thomson was considered the main reason why Blackpool won both points in the 3-2 victory over Swindon Town on 6 September 1969 when one critic wrote, ‘His timing was superb, his speed impressive and he was confident in the air. Two of the saves he made from the talented Don Rogers in the first half were in the brilliant category.’
With the promotion race hotting up and Blackpool right in there with a chance at the end of March 1970, manager Les Shannon explained about the pre-match tension. He said, ‘Some people think that players just get on a football strip and go our and play a game like a worker clocking into a factory every week. It’s not true. Some players take things calmly, or appear to do so. Others get excited. I’ve known players be physically sick with nervous tension before a match. When I was playing I couldn’t even eat a piece of toast before any home match in which I was playing. It’s pretty much the same with all clubs, I should think. The boys at Bloomfield Road are like any others. Some take it calmly beforehand, others are nervous until they get out on the field.’ As for the joker in the Blackpool pack, he commented, ‘Harry [Thomson] is an extrovert, quick-witted, humorous. I’m sure his patter takes the strain off some of the boys. Others like Tommy Hutchison and Alan Suddick are very quiet and calm, or at least they appear so, although you can’t tell what’s going on inside. Some of the lads like to get ready to go out early, others leave it so that they are just fixing their tie-ups when it’s time to go out. Dave Hatton is one of the early ones. Dave gets ready straight away. He likes to feel the strip on his back well before it’s time to go out.’
Thomson played 40 League games, three FA Cup ties, three League Cup ties and three friendly games for Blackpool in the 1969/70 season. He kept 16 clean sheets in the League campaign, was a shining star in the side and was instrumental in the club gaining promotion to the First Division as runners-up to Huddersfield Town.
He began Blackpool’s First Division season of 1970/71 in good form but the club could not string together any good results and quickly fell into the relegation zone. But he only missed one game, and that through injury, when his former Burnley team-mate Adam Blacklaw took over. However, after playing in 18 of the opening 19 games, caretaker manager Jimmy Meadows suspended him for 14 days for an alleged breach of club discipline in December 1970.
Of the incident Meadows said, ‘I can only tell you it was for a breach of club discipline. I am not saying any more about it. I know this is a vital time for us to get points but discipline has to be maintained at all times.’ A glum Thomson simply said, ‘I have absolutely no comment to make.’ While out of the first team he played one Central League game on 19 December, a 3-1 victory over Manchester United reserves, and later played a couple more games, against Manchester City reserves and Bury reserves in January 1971; both game were won 1-0.
When he was suspended, Alan Taylor took over in goal but after only one win in six games, Thomson returned to the team. However three successive defeats to Ipswich Town, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Coventry City, a 2-0 defeat on 13 February being his final game for the club, saw his first team spell end and by then Blackpool had signed a new goalkeeper in Neil Ramsbottom, who, after being blooded in the Central League side, moved up into the first team. It was a somewhat strange season for Blackpool on the goalkeeping front for they featured five different goalkeepers throughout the campaign, Thomson, Blacklaw, Taylor, Ramsbottom and finally the on-loan John Burridge.
In late March 1971 the club announced that Thomson would be given a free transfer at the end of the season and in the same month he turned down the opportunity to join Barrow. Then there were strong rumours that Durban City, the South African club, had made a bid for him in April 1971 but new manager Bob Stokoe denied that he knew anything about such overtures. He added, ‘Any club seeking Thomson’s services would have to approach us to secure his release and we have had no approach.’ Thomson was thinking of going to South Africa but eventually opted not to do so and he moved back to his native Scotland.
He had played 21 League games, two League Cup ties, three Central League games and five friendly games for Blackpool in the 1970/71 season and his registration was retained by Blackpool for the 1971/72 season. Overall his Blackpool career had encompassed 61 League games, three FA Cup ties, five League Cup ties, three Central League games and eight friendly games.
Barrow were still keen to sign him even after he had rejected the possibility of an earlier move to the club and he was eventually transferred to the club on 11 August 1971. As was his wont, he proved to be an instant success with the club and a fans’ favourite and he went on to play 66 League and Cup games for Barrow before another alleged breach of club discipline caused the club to terminate his contract.
Regarded as one of the best goalkeepers ever to play for Barrow, there was talk of a return to the club in 1976 when Ron Yeats was in charge but nothing materialised. However, he later played local league football for Barrow Supporters’ Club. And he retained his connection with Barrow for in October 2004 he retired there and was reportedly looking after local football pitches on which his grandchildren played.
He died on 14 March 2013 and is survived by his wife, son, daughter and four grandchildren.
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