Royalties from footballer’s book helps guide dogs
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
A VISUALLY impaired former England footballer is to use the royalties from his autobiography to help train more guide dogs.
Dave Thomas’s life changed dramatically when he was diagnosed with glaucoma 19 years ago. Now the fascinating story of the Lartington resident’s career as a professional footballer and how he dealt with diminishing eyesight is being told in his book Guiding Me Home and Away.
It also tells of the incredible bond he has with his guide dog, Hannah.
The book was official released last week – only days before was he due to go for an eye operation.
Mr Thomas said: “There has been quite a deterioration in my eye. Glaucoma has to do with pressure and the pressures have been quite good lately but this white bleb has reappeared – it is like a white blister under my eyelid – so I have to go for an op on Monday.
“My father had it [glaucoma] – in the last couple of years of his life he was completely blind. I am like a horse with blinkers on – it is so frustrating. But I have my dog and she is a lifesaver.”
Mr Thomas, who turned 69 this week, was diagnosed with the condition at age 50 while working as a PE teacher at Bishop Luffa School, and described the loss of his driver's licence as a crucial moment for him.
He said: “I couldn’t drive the school mini-bus. I couldn’t take the kids to the football matches.”
In the book he describes how sport helped him mentally as he began to lose more and more of his vision.
He added: “I have always been a very positive person. My wife, Brenda, has been my rock really. She has taken me here, she has taken me there. I relied on Brenda until Hannah came along and now I am off on my own. Hannah has given me independence.”
Just how important his guide dog is hit home recently when Hannah spent several days at a vet’s surgery having an abscess tended to. At the time Mr Thomas had a speaking engagement at Barnard Castle Cricket Club and, without the dog’s support, he was overcome by the tightly packed-crowd. He described having to go into the changing rooms to gather himself for a few minutes before being able to ask for help to get through the crowd.
He said: “It was absolutely awful. That is when it hit me – If she had been with me it would have been calm. You can’t explain to people until you have that problem.”
Along with delving into the challenges he faces because of his disability, the book also covers his football career which saw him earn eight caps for England – the most memorable being his debut in a European Cup qualifier against Czechoslovakia in 1974.
Manager Don Revie brought him and Trevor Brooking onto the field in the 62nd minute of the match, with the game poised at 0-0. Almost immediately Mr Thomas created the first goal when his cross was headed in by Mike Channon.
He said: “It all clicked and we beat them 3-0 at Wembley. I really enjoyed my career.”
Over the years Mr Thomas played for a number of professional sides including Burnley, Queens Park Rangers, Everton and Wolverhampton.
He said: “When I look back at the transfers I had, I never had an eye test. If you think about it that should be the first thing to check. No wonder I played so cr*p in the last years of my career.”
The book also contains a number of photographs throughout his life, including one of him as a three-year-old with his grandfather David Reece Thomas, who captained West Auckland when they won the very first World Cup – the Sir Thomas Lipton World Football Trophy.
Despite being registered blind, Mr Thomas continues to lead an active life enjoying his passions of golf, playing the piano and gardening, and can frequently be seen in Barnard Castle with Hannah by his side.
The ex-footballer credited four people involved with guide dogs – Dave Waterfall-Brown, Clare Tansley, Rachael Manders and Linda Oliver – with changing his life and he continues to be astounded by the way the dogs are trained to be so focussed on their job, giving independence to the blind.
He said: “That is why I want to raise the funds for guide dogs. I think I have raised £75,000 in two or three years, and I want to make that £100,000.”
Guiding Me Home and Away is available at most bookshops or write to email@example.com