Mickey Thomas faces the biggest battle of his life – but he will do it with the full backing of the Chelsea faithful, with whom he shared a unique relationship during his brief stint at the Bridge.
Former Blues ace Thomas was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer, for which he is now receiving treatment, and the whole footballing community has got behind one of the game’s great characters to show him their support.
‘I’ve had messages from all around the world, I have never seen anything like it,’ said Thomas earlier this week. ‘I didn’t know I was that well liked.’
While he is still a regular at the home of our next FA Cup opponents, Manchester United, where works on their in-house TV station, Thomas also has a very special relationship with Blues fans of a certain vintage, after hitting it off with them immediately after joining the club in 1984.
‘The fans here are incredible,’ said the former Wales international in an interview with the club’s magazine a few years back. ‘I scored two goals and setup the other on my home debut against Sheffield Wednesday – you don’t get off to a much better start than that.
‘I remember Joey Jones telling me to go to Gate 13 if I scored and I think that endeared me to the Chelsea fans. I went in there with a gold chain on and came out without it!’
That was part of a lengthy unbeaten start to his time in west London, as he was the final piece in John Neal’s jigsaw puzzle to help secure our return to the top flight as champions of the Second Division.
Much of that team was well loved by the supporters, having helped turn around the fortunes of a club which had previously been languishing in the second tier, but Thomas was certainly among those to have the most adulation bestowed upon them.
‘I think fans love players who give everything and I think I typified that at most teams I played at,’ he explains. ‘If you’re not doing well but you’re still giving 110 per cent, the fans will stick with you.
‘I remember my first game against Chelsea after joining West Brom. The fans sung my name from beginning to end and the manager, Nobby Stiles, said to me, “I don’t know what you did at Chelsea, but you must have been some player. I’ve won the World Cup and European Cup and I’ve never seen a player get a reception like that before in my life”.
‘I had it again when I played them while I was at Shrewsbury Town and the fans were singing for me to score a goal! I just didn’t want to play against Chelsea.’
It may have been short and sweet, but it seems that nothing will ever match his time as one of the Kings of the King’s Road.
‘It was great for me to join a team like Chelsea. I think it took me about five seconds to agree to the move.
‘There were so many characters there, too, and we had all the ingredients to be successful – everyone got on well. The team was there too. We had Dixon and Speedie up front, a no-nonsense midfielder like Johnny Bumstead. And Pat Nevin, of course, was a genius. I played the best football of my career at Chelsea, without a doubt.’
The last word on Thomas, however, goes to the late Scott Cheshire, a Chelsea historian who could capture the essence of a footballer like no other.
‘He captivated his new fans with enthusiasm, boundless energy and industry,’ wrote Cheshire in his book “The Legends of Chelsea”, which is essential reading for any Blues fan. ‘No one ran throughout the 90 minutes of a game so apparently unceasingly, cajoling his team-mates to emulate his example – his indomitable fighting spirit was infectious.
‘At times his refusal to come out of any tackle, or situation, second-best brought him into conflict with opponents or referees, but under the surface there was always a lurking sense of fun.’
One of those oft-referred to great characters who are apparently missing from the modern game – there’s only one Mickey Thomas and everyone at Chelsea Football Club is behind you.