Carol Thomas

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Today, Carol Thomas still remains the forgotten and overlooked captain of the England Women’s team by the footballing establishment, yet she still remains the most successful and second longest serving captain to date. Her achievements, which would be remarkable even by today’s professional standards, in an era of little funding and scant recognition, can only be described as truly extraordinary. Her willingness to return to the grass roots of the game for over 16 years, under the radar of women’s footballs high level administrators, following a glittering international career and after the birth of her two sons, highlights a true football devotee.

’66 AND ALL THAT

Carol was inspired by the World Cup heroes of ‘66, playing her first competitive football game for local side, BOCM. The shy 11 year old youngster had a boundless appetite for the game. Her talent was soon recognised and she was quickly snapped up by local clubs before joining Hull Brewery and it was there her career took off. She played in a variety of positions, which only served to enhance her all round knowledge and understanding of the game. Overtime, it quickly became evident that those early days had seen her unwittingly assimilate the necessary skills to later become a world class full back, internationally respected throughout the women’s game.

AN ABILITY RECOGNISED

She was soon rewarded with representative honours gaining a regular place in the Hull District representative side and the North of England squad whilst still being a teenager, quickly securing the right back position as her own in both squads.

In August 1974, still only 19, she was invited to Lilleshall to take part in the first coaching course for women run by the England manager. This has to be put into context. Women footballers were still usually met with derision and scepticism, but the thought of a woman football coach was not only uncharted territory but sheer heresy. Coaching was viewed as sacrosanct, being considered fairly and squarely the sole preserve of men. Carol gained her FA Preliminary Badge, one of only three

who passed, thereby becoming one of the first qualified women coaches in England. During the course, the England manager recognised a like-minded footballing brain, with natural ball skills and a deep understanding of the game. It was little surprise that following a successful Regional Trials campaign, she was invited to join the next England squad to play France that November at Wimbledon. Carol made her first appearance coming on as a second half substitute at right back. A second substitute appearance against Switzerland followed, before the right back position was secured. In 1976, just 18 months and 6 caps into her international career, Carol was surprisingly named England captain.

On 31st October 1978, Carol became the first England captain to lead out a side to play on a Football League First Division ground at the Dell, Southampton FC. She introduced her England team to the England manager, Ron Greenwood. A record crowd of 5,471, then saw England beat Belgium 3-0. In 1981 she became the first captain to lead an England women’s team outside of Europe, when they took part in that year’s Mundialito tournament in Japan. At the height of her career Carol turned down offers of full time professional playing contracts in Italy and full time player/coach roles in New Zealand in order to maintain her true amateur status and thereby ensuring a long international career.

In her 11 year England career, Carol became at integral part and then leader of some truly great England squads which in tournament terms has an outstanding record to this day. Maintaining one of the meanest defences in the world, during Carol’s time as captain, in 7 international tournaments over 29 ties, they lost only 5 games (2 of those on penalty shoot outs) and conceded less than a goal a game. The respect that carol had gained is reflected in the fact that she was retained as captain by 4 successive managers, including Martin Reagan (former Hull City winger) and in the process captaining many Hall of Fame inductees.

Described as anything from an uncompromising fullback to cultured defender and everything in between, the truth is she was all of the above and more. Those who watched and coached her knew that she was a true football thinker and intellectual in possession of that perfectly timed and fearless bone shuddering tackle. In an 11 year period Carol only missed one international due to the logistical and financial constraints that the WFA had to operate under! She became the first ever English woman to reach the 50 caps, her 50th being presented by the late Sir Tom Finney, finally playing in 56 of England’s first ever 63 internationals.

HOME BIRD!

At club level, Carol had to follow where the footballing competition was the strongest, yet within a realistic travelling distances from her home town. These were the days of true amateurism, holding down a full time job during the week, training as many times as possible on weekday nights and playing on a weekend, paying all their own expenses!

She was fortunate to be allowed to train with the Hull City Minors (men’s under 18 level) alongside future professionals such as Andy Flounders and others, attaining a very high level of fitness for the then women’s game. She made occasional guest appearances for Tottenham Hotspur Ladies, and for a season played for Preston Ladies, making the trans Pennine journey on the M62 every Friday night and returning late Sunday evening after the game. Also, CP Doncaster Ladies for a number of seasons before finishing her representative career at Rowntree’s Ladies.

INTERNATIONAL RECORD

Carol started her reign as captain in fine style. In the 1976 Pony Home Internationals, England ran out as comfortable winners in a three sided affair against Wales and Scotland. This set a standard for the next 9 years of her captaincy. By 1985, Carol was at the pinnacle of her footballing career. After 2 unsuccessful Mundialito campaigns, and the disappointment of the 1984 European Championship final defeat, she led her England charges to Italy and ultimate victory in that years Mundialito tournament. The creation, development and establishment of the English women’s game was well and truly cemented. A side formed from a ‘disparate band of sisters’, brought together in 1972, to winners of the ultimate world trophy of its day and international recognition, in just over 12 years. Carol had been there for 11 of those years, leading the side for 9 of them.

In all, Carol captained the England side in 7 consecutive tournaments, including three ‘Mundialito’s’ (1981, 1984 and 1985 as winners), three European Championships (1979 as semi-finalists, 1982-84 as runners and 1985-87 before retiring in September 1985) and the 1976 Pony Home Championship (as winners).

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND ACCOLADES ……..

By the 1980’s her achievements were finally beginning to be acknowledged, both inside and outside the game. In 1980 she was took part in the BBC’s popular sports show, Superstars. As an ambassador for the women’s game, in 1983 she received the Vaux Breweries North Sportswoman of the Year Silver Star Award.

She was frequently in the local, and national and international media. In 1984 she became the first woman player to be interviewed on national television appearing opposite Frank Bough and Selina Scott on breakfast TV following the 1984 European Championship Final. In 1985 she was awarded the Sports Council Sports Award in recognition of her achievements in women’s football.

Post retirement her achievements were still being recognised. In 1986 she became the first woman footballer to have an entry in the Guinness Book of Records having become the first English woman to gain 50 caps, with entries to follow in subsequent years.

RETIREMENT ? OR CORINTHIAN ?

In 1985, having successfully led her England team to three straight victories in the 1985-87 UEFA Cup, at the age of 30 and 11 years of international football, Carol finally retired from the football scene to have her first child. However, for this football fanatic, it was never going to be for long. In 1993, 5 years after the birth of her 2nd child, she was persuaded out of ‘retirement’ to help local side AFC Preston. The ‘Corinthian’ arrangement was quickly dropped as the football bug once again bit. On becoming a regular player, she helped with coaching and team selection and was always heard encouraging and developing those around her. Meanwhile she set up a soccer club for youngsters aged 5 to 10 years old in her village for the local children of the surrounding area.

Her ability and reading of the game had not been lost and was soon to be recognised again when the East Riding County FA created its first women’s representative side in 1995. Although aged 40, she was a natural selection for the captaincy of the side. She remained playing at this level until 2002,

when a second retirement followed. In 2004 she was again asked to be involved in the building of a new side, Bransburton Ladies. In 2009, she finally hung up her boots aged 54!

In reality she has never really left the game she loves. Despite being an avid fellwalker and long distance trekker/mountaineer in many far off countries, Carol has made several more appearances at footballing events to promote the women’s game. She appeared alongside Mike White in Radio Humberside’s SportsTalk programme, the National Football Museums ‘Suffragettes of Football’ event sponsored by the BBC and last month at the FA’s Women’s Football Awards ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, presenting Jodie Taylor the major award of the night, the Vauxhall England Women’s Player of the Year 2017.

LASTING LEGACY ……

It is not difficult to put into words her footballing achievements. In pure domestic terms, trophies were confined locally, as the national competitions were dominated by the footballing powerhouses based in the north-west and south of England. This reflects the deep loyalty she possesses with regard to the local teams and individuals she respects and to those who have helped and stood by her throughout her career. It is safe to presume that top teams anywhere in the world would have welcomed her into their ranks.

Her international achievements need little elaboration as they speak for themselves. They surpass those of any of her predecessors and of her generation but equal many of those of the modern era. During her career at international level she became the second England captain at the age of 21, widely respected and accepted throughout the women’s game as one of the best defenders in the world, gaining a number of very significant firsts in the English women’s game over an11 year period.

It is also safe to say that many local youngsters got their first experience of organised football through her local club, whilst many women players and teenage boys benefited from her coaching and guidance both on the pitch and from the touchline.

However, it is the off field role that she perhaps had her greatest and unquantifiable impact for the women’s game, leaving a genuine but little acknowledged legacy. As captain, she was a central figure representing international and regional players (particularly the North) during the transition of the fledgling organisation created in 1972, the amateur based WFA (which was given scant respect or regard by the FA, a shoestring budget and run by a band of tireless, unpaid volunteers, administrators and unsung heroes) into the emerging, and now fully backed, properly financed, media savvy, professional organisation of the current day.

For nearly 10 years Carol was the public face of the women’s game. She promoted the game with pride, passion, dignity and no little skill through her many media and function appearances at local, national and international levels, which continue to this day. She led England with a quiet, steely determination to succeed whilst displaying tact and diplomacy in her role. With these qualities, it could be said that she provided the blueprint for every future England captain. However, above all else, she always ensured that her performances on the pitch were her most important asset, responsibility and gift to the women’s game.

Article kindly provided by “A Trusted Source”.

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