Controversial and talented, few Welshman have made an impact like Mickey Thomas
Part 3 of our ongoing series in which we profile the cult heroes of Welsh football.
Aplayer who was a great hero at Wrexham in two spells at the club was Michael Reginald Thomas, or as he was commonly known, Mickey Thomas.
The player was small in size, but was huge in terms of his footballing ability, playing at the very highest levels of British football. A career spanning 12 professional football clubs over a 21 year period, creating many memorable footballing moments. This piece looks at the player and also some of the controversies the man was involved in off the pitch. I think it is fair to say life has never been dull for this Welsh footballing star.
Mickey Thomas was born in 1954 in Mochdre, North Wales. From an early stage, his talent was known within the area, Mickey mainly played on the left wing, as he did mainly throughout his career, and at the age of 15 years of age, both he and another Welsh great, Joey Jones, were spotted by Wrexham and taken on as youth team players, doing basic youth player duties as of that time, such as cleaning first team player boots, odd jobs around the stadium etc.
Aged just 17 in 1971, Mickey made his debut for Wrexham, and that season, Mickey made 20 league appearances in The Third Division of the Football League, scoring 3 goals in the process. Wrexham manager in this period was John Neal, and under his management and some talented footballers, with Mickey having a major impact, Wrexham started to build a very decent side. In 1974, Wrexham reached the quarter- finals of the FA Cup, beating Shrewsbury, Rotherham, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough, before eventually succumbing to Burnley. In 1976, reached the quarter- finals of the European Cup Winners Cup, losing to Belgian side and eventual winners, Anderlecht, a competition they reached by winning the Welsh Cup which in days past was a way of gaining European club competition. In 1978, Wrexham won the Third Division, the team and players through the high profile victories over the last number of years were very much known, and Mickey Thomas, in particular, was catching the eye, and a number of clubs wanted him to move to a higher level of football.
In 1978, Mickey made the big move from Wrexham to join Manchester United at the top level of British football, two years prior to this, Mickey had made his debut for Wales whilst still a Third Division player. His footballing ability shone through, though, a player with an outstanding footballing brain, a mazy dribbler, but also knew when to pass and when to take an opposing player on. He remained at Manchester United until 1981, playing one hundred and ten appearances, scoring fifteen goals in all competitions. It seemed to the football fan, that Mickey looked completely at ease at this level, but behind the scenes, this was not the case at all.
Mickey from a young age had a lot of self-doubts in himself and lacked confidence. He was born in a rough and tumble council estate with little money, and also Mickey in his teens, still, could not spell, he admitted himself years later at that time, that he could not even spell his own name. At Wrexham even though Mickey looked ultra-confident with a football at his feet during a game, off the pitch, Mickey would not walk the streets in case he was recognised. At Manchester United in 1980, Mickey asked to leave the club as he felt he could not handle the pressure. His inner demons continued many years into his footballing career.
In 1980, Mickey scored in a famous Welsh victory over England at The Racecourse, Wrexham. A scoreline of 4–1, that will remain in Welsh fans for many many years in the future. Mickey and others tormented England on that day… One fabulous day.
In the summer of 1981, Mickey joined Everton. The relationship did not last long at all. Mickey made ten appearances, but as the story goes, Howard Kendall the Everton manager, asked Mickey to turn out for the reserves, which Mickey refused to do so. He was moved onto Brighton Hove Albion, but his wife struggled to settle, and after 20 appearances and less than a season, was looking for another move to a new club, that club turned out to be Stoke City, where Mickey settled for 2 years, playing very well, and winning player of the year in his first year at the club, Mickey left after a change in management and a change in playing style which became more direct, not suiting Mickey’s style at all.
What followed was Mickey bouncing to and from a number of clubs, he went to Chelsea, joining up again with his former Wrexham manager John Neal, then in order, West Brom, Derby County, Wichita Wings in the American indoor league, Shrewsbury, Leeds, Stoke and then back to where it all began, Wrexham. Mickey was still a very talented footballer, when at Stoke when thirty-six years old, he played 44 league appearances in the Second Division, again, winning player of the year for the club. In 1992 when at Wrexham, Mickey was in the spotlight again, during an FA Cup tie against Arsenal, Mickey scoring directly from a free- kick, with a fantastic strike with his hugely talented left foot. The ball flew past John Lukic and set up a huge upset which resulted in Wrexham defeating a very talented Arsenal side.
In 1993, Mickey was caught up in a counterfeit currency scam, whereby he laundered money through Wrexham trainees, he was arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Once released Mickey continued to play, but not at a professional level, turning out for Porthmadog, and Amlwch Town, finally retiring in 1995, aged 41. In total, he had played in 727 appearances in all professional domestic matches, scoring 92 goals. He represented Wales 51 times, scoring 4 goals.