Football is full of stories of how a forward scored the winner in the dying seconds of a game to secure three essential points, or passage through to the next round of the Cup. If you care to ask anyone about who their favourite all-time player might be, I bet a pound to a penny it’s a striker or an attacking midfielder. I’m not alone in this train of thought – my favourite all-time player being former West Bromwich Albion, Coventry City and Aston Villa forward Cyrille Regis (obviously from his time at Highfield Road). However, I do appreciate and enjoy to watch defenders employing their craft too, nullifying an attack and absorbing pressure in a manner that is not destructive to open play, if anything enhances it. This may sound rich coming from a Sky Blues supporter, who over the years watched his side piss more goals in (sometimes in deluge proportions) than the amount of rain that has fallen in South West England this winter. Coventry have had on their books over the years some very fine full backs and centre halves – Stuart Pearce, Terry Yorath, Sam Allardyce, Gary Gillespie, Peter Atherton, Richard Keogh, Phil Babb, and one particular favourite of mine, Trevor Peake.
Back in 1979, the then Coventry City manager Gordon Milne introduced into the Sky Blues first team an eighteen year old right back straight from the club’s youth team, who played with a maturity, confidence and assurance well beyond his real age. Danny Thomas went onto to become a first team regular at Highfield Road, and for the England Under 21 side too, for the next four years. As Milne retired ‘upstairs’ at Highfield Road, his position was taken by former Chelsea and Manchester United boss, Dave Sexton. Sexton was also the head coach of the England Under 21’s, so Thomas had the best tuition on how to get the most out of himself, and as much ‘inside’ knowledge as he could ask for. Thomas went on to become the only English player to date to have won the UEFA Under 21’s tournament twice. Many were already taking note of the Sky Blues’ immensely talented defender, already seeing him as the direct replacement for Liverpool’s Phil Neal in the full international side, in a few years’ time – even those without Sky Blue glasses on. Sexton left the Sky Blues in the summer of 1983, with many of the senior Coventry first team players following suit. Thomas himself transferred to Tottenham Hotspur, quickly establishing himself in their side – all of this at the by the age of 21! He went onto becoming an essential member of their victorious UEFA Cup campaign in 1984, despite missing a penalty in the final against Belgian side Anderlecht. This just appeared to endear him to the Spurs faithful even more! However in early 1987, Thomas suffered a severe injury during Tottenham’s home fixture with Queen’s Park Rangers. A late challenge that was over zealous left Thomas writhing in agony on the White Hart Lane turf, with his knee ligaments damaged beyond repair. His team-mates pledged to go on and win that season’s F.A Cup for him, but ironically that honour fell to Thomas’ former club Coventry City, who beat Spurs in one of the classic Cup Finals of all time. After a year of rehabilitation, the promising defender who would have most likely been included in England’s 1988 European Championships squad, had to retire from the game as a player for good, at the young age of twenty-six. Refusing to turn his back on football totally, he retrained as a physiotherapist, becoming West Bromwich Albion’s club physio for a while. Thomas now operates his own sports physiotherapy practice, based in Coventry.