Former England winger Dave Thomas: Guide dog has given me my independence back
Former QPR, Everton and Burnley winger Dave Thomas has spoken of how his life changed the day he received a letter from the DVLA informing him he was no longer eligible to drive.
This was no self-inflicted punishment due to misdemeanours on the road; Thomas had become the first registered blind former England international.
The year was 2008, 24 years after he had hung up his boots and at a time of his life when the then 58-year-old should have been looking to make the most of his retirement.
A progressive loss of sight due to glaucoma led to a huge readjustment for the man whose vision and pin-point crosses had benefited some of the best strikers of his generation.
But his life changed for the better in early 2016 when he received his first guide dog, with Hannah giving him his independence back.
Now Thomas is back doing what he did best in his peak years, providing for others, having donated his royalties from his autobiography ‘Guiding Me Home and Away’ to the charity Guide Dogs.
“When the letter came through the post from the DVLA saying I couldn’t drive again, that was a life-changer,” he told the PA news agency.
“You have two options, you either sink or swim. You either feel sorry for yourself or say, ‘OK, there are people worse off than me’.
“As a professional footballer you have lots of highs and lows: you have loss of form, you play well, you have injuries.
“My positivity has really helped me battle through it until I got my dog. You can’t feel sorry for yourself.
“There will be people all over the country who go to a doctor today who says, ‘I’m terribly sorry, we can’t do any more for you’.
“I’ve got a problem but it’s not life-threatening and that is what you have to keep telling yourself.
“This is what life throws at you and you have to cope.”
The eight-cap England international played more than 450 league matches for Burnley, QPR, Everton, Wolves, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth.
He missed out on winning the title by one point to Liverpool in 1976 while with QPR, before providing a large number of assists to help Bob Latchford win £10,000 for scoring 30 league goals two years later during his time at Everton.
On the back of that career he has tales to tell about the likes of Sir Alf Ramsey, Don Revie and Bill Shankly but the tale he most fondly talks about is his relationship with Hannah.
“She is the most amazing dog and an incredible asset to me,” added Thomas, who has raised £75,000 for the charity so far, including one £10,000 donation from a grateful QPR fan.
“I’ve got my independence back, I don’t have to rely on my wife to take me anywhere, I can just get on public transport.
“If you’d said to me five or six years ago I’d be a guide dog owner, I wouldn’t have believed you, I’d have said, ‘I can manage’ but you soon realise I can’t manage without her.
“My biggest fear before I had her was walking in crowded areas where I felt I was going to walk into people.
“Now I’ve got her it’s a bit like Moses – the parting of the water. People get out of your way!”
:: ‘Guiding Me Home and Away’ by Dave Thomas published by Hornet Books is out now in hardback, RRP £20.