Carol Thomas is England’s forgotten captain fantastic
Here’s a pub quiz question. Four people have led an England squad for a major football final: can you name them all?
Harry Kane and Bobby Moore – most people would get those two. Some would also guess Faye White, who led the Lionesses to the 2009 European Women’s Championship final.
Fourth is Carol Thomas, who led the England women to the 1984 European final – where they lost to Sweden on penalties – but never received the recognition she deserves.
Carol Thomas (above) pioneered the women’s game, but struggles to gain recognition
Kane, Moore and White have all been honored in one way or another. Moore and White are in the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame, and Kane is sure to be added when he retires. Moore was awarded an OBE, while White and Kane both have an MBE. But despite being the first woman to make 50 caps for England, Thomas was overlooked.
“It’s very disappointing,” Thomas told Sportsmail. “I am one of four people who have led England, male or female, to a final and I am the only one missing. The others are in the Hall of Fame, have BLEs and MBEs, but I’m just an old lady.
“My career and achievements speak for themselves, so it’s a bit flummoxing. I have no idea why I didn’t get anything.’
A versatile right-back and midfielder from Hull, Thomas made her England debut in 1974, three years after the FA lifted their 50-year ban on women’s football.
In total, there are 19 women in the Hall of Fame, including players from the same era as Thomas. Debbie Bampton, who made her debut in 1978, received an MBE in 1998 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
Thomas led the England women to the 1984 European final – where they lost to Sweden
Sheila Parker, whose captain Thomas took on in 1976, was added in 2013. Seven players, of which Thomas was the captain, are in the Hall of Fame and three of them have an MBE.
“I like to think that we were the real pioneers when the women’s game got going again after the ban was lifted,” Thomas says. “We’ve had to go through so much and pay money to play for our country and few of us have been recognized for that.
“We would do our 9-5 jobs, then do our extra training, train for our clubs and then play on the weekends. We have given a lot to women’s football.
“It’s just so disappointing that I’ve had so many firsts in the women’s game and nothing has been recognised.
‘In and around Hull I’m recognized, but higher up there’s nothing at all.’
Thomas became ‘obsessed’ with football after the 1966 World Cup, which England canceled when she was 11 years old. She started out playing for Reckitts in the local working league in Hull and then played for a number of other teams in the area.
Thomas made her England debut in 1974 after the FA lifted their ban on women’s football
The international selection came when England manager Tommy Tranter invited Thomas to trials after she attended one of his coaching courses at Lilleshall – where she and two others became the first female FA-qualified coaches.
Attitudes towards female soccer players were not favorable and Thomas and her teammates often faced a barrage of derogatory comments.
“It wasn’t good, it was rejected,” admits Thomas. “I noticed it more when I played with England. Men saw it as a man’s game and that women should not play football.’
But while the women’s game developed slowly in Britain, progress was rapid in other parts of Europe.
When Thomas led England to the 1984 European Championship final, there was unprecedented coverage in Sweden, the eventual winners.
“It was incredible, the television coverage, newspapers, we played (the first leg of the final) at the Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg. It was so much better organized. More was stabbed abroad than in England at the time.
Former Lionesses captain Faye White and England skipper Harry Kane both have MBEs
‘The fields abroad were in top condition and the organization or tournaments were better. In England we played on local fields.
“It took a long time before we played on a decent field here. We went to Wembley during the Home Internationals, but we weren’t allowed on the field. We went for a tour, but we never played there.
“One of the best tournaments we went to was in Japan in 1981. They provided all the equipment, we got boots, training gear. They tried to get the women’s game in Japan on track and they put a lot into it.’
Thomas captained England in seven tournaments, winning two of them, including the 1976 Home Internationals and 1985’s Mundialito Invitational, known as the Little World Cup. FIFA only started organizing official World Cups for women in 1991.
She was England captain for nine years – a record that was finally broken by White in 2011. She retired from international football in 1985 with 56 caps, but continued to play locally until 2009. There are compelling arguments for properly recognizing her achievements. “It’s up to others to decide,” said Thomas, who is now an ambassador for Hull City Ladies.
“There are many equally good players who are not there, but I know the bar has to be high.”
It’s fair to say that Thomas more than meets the criteria.