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The 'what if' tale of Geoff Thomas' Wolves career

Geoff Thomas’ story as a Wolves player is a tale of ‘what if?’.

Geoff Thomas
Geoff Thomas

Arriving in 1993 with plenty of promise and a £800,000 fee, Wolves had high hopes of promotion to the Premier League.

“I’d played my part at Palace, stayed loyal when people moved on, and I wanted a fresh start – something to really get me motivated again,” he told the Express & Star.

“Graham Turner’s passion sold it to me, and he wouldn’t leave me alone, he would call every other day. I was having talks with Sheffield Wednesday, Man City and I knew Newcastle were interested.

“I had one final chat with Graham, to be polite more than anything, but he then set up a meeting with the Hayward family and Billy Wright and I got caught up with the vision and dreams of the club.”

An impressive start to the season saw Thomas flourish as a goalscoring midfielder.

Against Sunderland in the September of that year, he went on an incredible solo run and scored a wonderful late goal to seal victory in the North East – but it was also the start of a gruelling injury return.

Thomas said: “Everything was going really well. I felt part of something.

“It was a fantastic start and we scored goals from every direction. It was bad luck that stopped the team from getting promotion at that time.

“I got injured more or less straight away from kick-off after my goal.

“They were hanging on at 1-0 and when I broke through and scored the sense in the crowd was that the game was over, but unfortunately it wasn’t.

“I won the ball in midfield and I saw Lee Howey coming at me and I couldn’t get out of the way. I had the ball at my feet but I saw him coming over the ball and I tried to get ready for the impact, but I couldn’t get my leg out of the way.

“I ended up with a really bad gash on my left shin, but I didn’t know at the same time I’d ruptured my cruciate. I didn’t find out until I played a reserve game and my knee collapsed beneath me.”

Thomas missed the rest of the 1993/94 season and an error with his initial operation meant he had to go under the knife a second time – pushing back his return even more.

“I really wanted to get back as quick as possible but it was so frustrated,” Thomas said.

“I found out the surgery I had wasn’t perfect. The physio was trying to bend my leg but my heel was getting nowhere near my backside, so we knew something was wrong.

“What should have been six to eight months out became much longer as I had to have the operation re-done. I had to have the graph taken out and a bone transplant from my hip to my knee to fill the holes where the screws had been. That was another six weeks waiting for that to heal.

“I went and had the operation again, which was a success, but that was another year. So it was more or less two years of my Wolves career that was wasted.

“I was really enjoying my football, scoring a couple goals and felt like I was in a side that would romp the league. It was once incident after the other, with other players getting injured, that stopped Wolves from getting to the promised land.

“It’s one of the most frustrating parts of my career. I was certain something was going to happen that was fantastic and it was hard to take when it was taken away, but that’s football.”

Geoff Thomas

Thomas returned the following season but continued to pick up small injuries in a stop-start period of his career.

He got himself back into contention for what turned out to be his final year at Wolves, at the end of a four-year contract, for the 1996/97 season.

His relationship with Mark McGhee was strained and a 4-3 defeat on aggregate to Crystal Palace in the play-off semi-finals was a heart-breaking end to his time at Molineux.

He said: “I was starting to find my feet at the back end of my last year, but when you’ve been out for a long time little niggles start to hinder you.

“I’d worked hard with the physios, it was the fittest I’d felt for a long while, and I had a decent run in the team and we got into the play-offs. I was feeling confident again.

“But it didn’t work out. We fell short against Crystal Palace and that was my Wolves career over.

“I’ll never forget the atmosphere at Molineux. We started so well and I played a part in the first goal. I felt we had that game in our hands but we fell short.

“Walking off the pitch I knew that was it and it was time for me to move on.”

Unfortunately, Thomas’ story does not end there. In 2003 he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia and given three years to live – and only a stem cell transplant means he is here to tell the story today.

Thomas added: “I look at my life now as two. One ended in 2003 and one began in 2005 when I was told I was in remission.

“I had an 18-month to two-year battle where I didn’t know which way it was going to go. Thankfully, to the skill of the medical professionals, I made it through. I was fortunate to have a match for a stem cell transplant.

“I had to pick myself up again – almost like coming back from a football injury – it was time to go again.

“But it was different, it was my chance to start a new life and focus on what is important. It’s a tough lesson to take but you realise your health and family is what is really important.

“I wanted to find a way to help others and that’s what I’ve done ever since - I’ve had a new lease of life.

“I look back on my whole career as a positive, even that bad tackle, it’s part of being a footballer. That was that chapter.

“I drew a line under it and wanted to make most of what time I had left. It makes you aware of your own mortality.”

Following his recovery, Thomas threw himself into painstaking challenges. He cycled the Tour de France route just 18 months after having the transplant and in the years to follow he has undergone countless arduous tasks and raised millions for charity.

“The challenges are just part of funding and highlighting the people that do the important thing, saving lives,” he said.

“I’m a little piece of the jigsaw. These guys in the science labs and wards up and down the country are fantastic. I got to know many of them as friends and know how important there work is.

“I’m beating the drum for others and the by-product is more people surviving this illness compared to when I was diagnosed. Things are improving, still not quick enough, but we’re getting there.”

In 2021, Thomas was also given an MBE for his fundraising efforts with Cure Leukaemia and the Geoff Thomas Foundation.

Thomas said.”When the letter turned up I thought it was a joke from a football colleague!

“I was very proud and quite emotional when it sunk in.

“But I also recognise that I couldn’t do anything by myself, there’s a massive team who have helped me raise money and awareness.

“It was a great honour to get that and even more so now with the passing of the Queen. To have something with her signature on means even more.”

Now, Thomas is telling his incredible story in even more detail with an event at the Cleveland Arms pub tomorrow night (Thursday).

Standard tickets (£15) are still available and can be bough by visiting the pub, visiting clevelandarms.com or calling 01902 451021.

He added: “I’m looking forward to catching up with Matt Murray and explaining in more detail my time at Wolves.

“I have great memories at Wolves. The fans saw what I was trying to do and appreciated the effort.

“Hopefully people enjoy it and have a good evening!”

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