A top flight debut for 16-year-old Thomas
The 1966/67 season was coming to a close with a home game against Everton but things weren’t all they should be at Turf Moor. In the few weeks preceding the game no fewer than three players had been suspended by the club and all for off field matters.
They were Gordon Harris, John Murray and club captain Alex Elder. Harris had reportedly been involved in a physical altercation with coach Jimmy Adamson and it was a clash with the same coach that had seen Elder disciplined.
There had been rumours that Elder was seeking a move but when asked about that, chairman Bob Lord, who just a week earlier had said Elder was not for sale, replied: “I can’t comment one way or another on Elder’s position. It is sub judice.”
Elder had been with Burnley since signing from Glentoran in January 1959 and by May 1967 we had not brought a player in from another club other than Rodney Jones who had joined on a free transfer from Rotherham.
Things looked as though they were about to change though with indications that Burnley might be ready to splash out on a new player in the close season, so much so that neither manager Harry Potts nor coach Joe Brown attended the Everton game.
Brown had travelled to Carlisle to watch their game with Bolton while Potts was at Millmoor to catch Rotherham’s home game with Bury. The club were giving nothing away but speculation was that the players we were looking at were Rotherham’s Frank Casper and Francis Lee of Bolton although, as it turned out, Brown returned more impressed with George McVitie the Carlisle striker.
Adamson, meanwhile, said he had no intention of leaving the club although he was coming under fire from supporters and said himself that some would like to see him go. There had been heavy criticism of the tactics for which Adamson was blamed and he said: “I must take the blame. I deserve to be criticised, but that still doesn’t mean I want to leave.”
Last December former Claret Dave Thomas revealed he is to get a guide dog to help him as his sight fails due to severe glaucoma. He’s been registered blind since 2008 and said of the dog: “It’s the best Christmas present I could possibly have.”
On 13th May 1967, the young Thomas, was named in the Burnley team for the first time and became the youngest player ever to play top flight football for the club at the age of 16 years and 220 days old.
Reporting on the game for the Burnley Express, Keith McNee wrote: “Despite some critics who would like to see more Lancastrians on the staff, Burnley’s post war policy of recruitment from the North East corner of England has been a terrific success.
“The list of players who have come to Turf Moor from the fertile soccer nurseries of Northumberland and County Durham and made good is mightily impressive; star performers such as Jimmy Adamson, Tommy Cummings, Ray Pointer, John Angus, Brian O’Neil and Ralph Coates, to mention only a few, have all followed the same route to fame and international recognition.
“During the chequered season that has just come to a close, 24 players have appeared for the club in the First Division and more than half are Geordies. Four of them have had senior baptism this term; the latest could well turn out to be the best of the lot.
“His name is David Thomas. He is a former captain of Barnard Castle Modern School and last season he was in the England Schools XI. On Saturday, while still five months short of his 17th birthday, he made the most remarkable First Division debut I have ever seen.”
Murray and both Ray and Stan Ternent were the other three Geordies referred to who made their First Division bows that season. Stan Ternent had made his debut in the previous game, a 7-0 hammering at Sheffield Wednesday.
Thomas came into the side when Coates failed a fitness test but no one would have guessed this was such a young player in his first game. He was confident and composed, he was crafty. His ball control, together with his progressive attitude made him a very real asset to the side.
Although Thomas was born in Nottinghamshire, he’d been brought up in the North East and his mum and dad were there to see him in his first game. His granddad, also David and nicknamed Ticer, had been revered sixty years earlier as part of the West Auckland team that won the World Cup and the new Thomas became only the second 16-year-old to play in the Burnley first team; the other being Tommy Lawton who, although younger, debuted in the Second Division in 1936.
It wasn’t a good match for the youngster to be thrown in but he was a shining light in a first half which proved to be a bruising, bad tempered affair that became so bad that it was a surprise not to see at least one or two players sent off.
Johnny Morrissey, who had broken Willie Irvine’s leg in the cup tie in January, was heavily involved as was Burnley’s Gordon Harris and eventually referee Mr Carr from Sheffield did take the names of Willie Morgan and future Burnley assistant manager Colin Harvey who were involved in a bust up.
As the whistle blew to end a goalless first half, Burnley’s centre forward Colin Blant was laid out and it was at least two minutes before he was able to get to the dressing room. Soon after the start of the second half he was the victim of a shocking elbow from Jimmy Gabriel that went unpunished other than a free kick.
Morrissey was then belatedly booked but that seemed to signal a calming down in the game which allowed some very good football to be played although defences were, in the main, on top.
Thomas, who made great use of the ball, set up Blant with a brilliant cross that he just couldn’t quite turn in but it was BLANT who gave Burnley the lead after the ball had been headed across to him by Harris. He’d scored the goal but otherwise he’d had a poor outing.
Everton pushed for a leveller and they got it with seven minutes to go. Jimmy Husband, who had such a good game for Everton, collected and controlled the ball. His craft worked a shooting position and he fired past the advancing Harry Thomson.
Fred Smith, racing back, leapt across with both hands to keep the ball out and there was no argument when a penalty was awarded. Thomson, who had made his debut over two years earlier, had saved all five penalties he’d faced, but this time was beaten by Alan BALL who earned the Toffees a point in a 1-1 draw.
As for Thomas, his debut was hailed as one of the best seen for Burnley by many judges and a bright career was predicted for the player who went on to make 179 league and cup appearances for the Clarets before moving on to play for QPR, Everton, Wolves, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth. He also won eight England caps during his time at QPR.
The teams on the day of his debut were;
Burnley: Harry Thomson, Fred Smith, Alex Elder, Sammy Todd, John Angus, Les Latcham, Willie Morgan, Andy Lochhead (Brian O’Neil 67), Colin Blant, Gordon Harris, Dave Thomas.
Everton: Gordon West, Tommy Wright, Ray Wilson, John Hurst, Brian Labone, Colin Harvey, Alan Ball, Jimmy Husband, Fred Pickering, Jimmy Gabriel, Johnny Morrissey. Sub not used: Sandy Brown.
Referee: Mr J. E. Carr (Sheffield).
Attendance: 11,634.Share this page :