Welshman Mickey Thomas is the latest of our former players to answer a selection of questions looking back on their Chelsea career, as well as picking out some highlights from his time at the club.
Our former winger was part of an exciting Chelsea team which won the Second Division title in 1983/84, and he recalls some standout moments from that particular season, as well as his bond with the Blues faithful…
Tell us about how you came to sign for Chelsea?
It was down to my connection with John Neal, Joey Jones and Eddie Niedzwiecki. John knew me inside out. He knew I could be a bit of a problem, but he also knew that once I was on the pitch I wasn’t a problem and that he would get 100 per cent out of me.
Chelsea was a good club so it wasn’t a hard decision. Joey and Eddie were there and I felt we could get promotion, and obviously the club was based in London as well so I just thought I should give it a go. The fact I knew those three was a pull, and it’s much easier to join a club when you know people there. Joey told me about the fans, he was really popular with them.
What were your immediate impressions of the club?
My first game was away from home, at Derby, and we won 2-1. The fans that day were great and Chelsea were well-known in those days for the quality of their support, especially away from home. I always felt when we played away it was like a home game because Chelsea had such a big following.
Winning on my debut gave me a great connection with the fans and then the next week we played Sheffield Wednesday, who were one of our rivals, at home. I scored two and made the third goal for Pat Nevin. I almost didn’t make that game, I woke up and I had a terrible migraine. They had me on the medical table and Norman Medhurst [the club physio at the time] really worked on me until the last minute before kick-off.
John Neal asked if I was able to play and I said yes, and then to get the goals was great. We went on to win the championship. When you get a connection with the fans it’s because you’re doing something that they want and giving everything, which is why I had such a good rapport with them.
What about Stamford Bridge itself?
I actually made my debut for Manchester United at Stamford Bridge and I always remember the size of the East Stand, but above anything else it was the fans which made it so special. That was a special era to play in because there was a real connection between the players and supporters which you don’t get today.
What do you remember about the backing the team received from the fans, both home and away, during your time at the club? Any particular games stand out in terms of atmosphere?
When we beat Leeds 5-0 to go up in 1984, I scored [pictured below] and four or five minutes before the end of the match it was stopped because the fans were all around the side of the pitch ready to pour on. The Leeds players knew what was about to happen so most of their team were over on the right-hand side, as close to the tunnel as possible. I’ve got some amazing pictures of that day, one of me running into the crowd and one of all the fans on the pitch.
I can’t forget my home debut either. You want to get a connection with the fans and win them over early on, and to get two goals and lay the third on for Pat , and to win the game against a team we were competing directly with, you don’t really get much better than that. At the end of the season we played Grimsby, we were already promoted but we wanted to finish as champions, Kerry Dixon scored the winner and that was another memorable day.
Of all the managers you worked under here, who had the biggest influence on you, your game or your career?
John Neal had a big influence on my whole life. After scoring on the first day of the season for Wrexham as a 17-year-old against Walsall I ran away and went missing for a few weeks, but he came after me because he had such belief in me.
I had a good engine and he used to say I had three lungs. I might have been a bit of a problem off the pitch but nobody could question my fitness. He knew how I operated and what he needed to do with me.
As a player, when you have that belief from a manager it gives you great confidence, he knew me inside out. Even though myself and Joey travelled up to London from Wales when at Chelsea, he knew it didn’t affect our performances so he let us do it. When John Hollins took over it became a problem for him, which it should never have done.
Tell us about some of the most memorable games you were involved in for Chelsea…
Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup quarter-final, the 4-4 game in 1985. I scored the equaliser [pictured below] after we’d been 3-0 down at half-time. The game itself was one of the most exciting I played in. At half-time, John Neal said: 'Right, you’re 3-0 down, you got yourselves in this situation, now go and get yourselves out of it,' and that was literally all he said.
Paul Canoville came on, we got a quick goal and the game turned. We were winning and then Doug Rougvie, my big mate, gave a penalty away which they scored to make it 4-4. In the replay I scored the winner in the last minute, we won 2-1, and that was another great night.
Which team-mates were you closest to during your time here? Are you still in touch with them now?
Joey and Eddie. Joey’s in Wales and Eddie’s in Southampton, where he works now, I try to see them when I can. I used to have a lot of time for John Bumstead and I really liked him as a player. He was no-nonsense but a top midfielder. He didn’t get the recognition he deserved but that team as a whole was so good.
We had Kerry up front, one of the club’s great goalscorers, with David Speedie alongside him and a genius in Pat on the right, with me on the left. Nigel Spackman and Bumstead in midfield had power, pace and a physical presence. Then in defence we had the likes of Joey, who would kick his own mother, Colin Pates and Joe McLaughlin, with Eddie in goal, it was such a great side.
Were there any opposition teams or players you particularly disliked facing and, if so, why?
Not at all. I was only small but I wasn’t afraid of anyone and I loved getting stuck in. I was an aggressive player. Games against teams like Tottenham and West Ham were always good to play in because they were the big rivals and the ones the fans looked forward to most, those type of games were fantastic.
What about opposition fans, what were the most intimidating stadiums to play at?
I used to get a lot of abuse at West Ham, they didn’t like me much, same with Tottenham. But that used to inspire me, it didn’t bother me at all. You know you must be doing something right if the opposition fans are getting on your back. I used to thrive on it.
How do you look back on your time at Chelsea overall? Is there anything you would change or do differently?
The fact I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye was disappointing, but I played against Chelsea for West Brom and Nobby Stiles was interim manager at the time. He called me into his office after the game and said he’d never seen a player get a reception as good as the one I got from the Chelsea fans that day. He couldn’t believe it.
The Chelsea fans, from beginning to end, kept singing my name and he said he’d never seen anything like it. He was asking me what I’d done at Chelsea to get that reception, but that was the connection I had with the fans. They knew I gave 110 per cent and that’s all you can ask for.
- Click to read the earlier edition of this feature if you missed it last week