Review: Carol Thomas interview with BBC Radio Humberside, 14 November 2016

Ex-England skipper breaks cover for local radio chat

On a cold Monday night in November BBC Radio Humberside pulled off a significant coup, securing Carol Thomas as the guest in their 6pm nightly phone-in ‘Sports Talk’. In trying her hand at punditry Thomas proved herself an eloquent standard bearer for women’s football and sport in Hull. The episode link was here, but sadly is no longer available.

Local Matters

The programme began with a doleful air, as we learned England’s rugby league lads had been roughed up and thrashed by Australia the day before.

Although a tedious minority sport performed by inflated muscle men, rugby league still enjoys plenty of traction in its traditional heartland of the M62 Corridor.

Host Mike White softened studio guest Thomas up by underarming a nice gentle opener(!): “Why do England’s sports teams always fail and how can we change it?”

It came couched in a five-minute ramble, culminating in a closed question. Of course, poor Thomas could only reply: “Dunno”.

C’mon Mike, if she knew that, she’d be a Sir Clive Woodward-style guru. She’d be strutting about in rimless glasses, babbling business-speak and banking exorbitant consultancy fees.

The next segment contained an interview with Paddy Madden, an amiable Dubliner who – we were told – had been among the goals for Scunthorpe United.

There followed some toe-curling banter between host White and Madden, the latter in his lilting Irish brogue. Typical fayre, perhaps, for a lower-league footballer and local radio sports presenter.

Thomas was brought in for a snap verdict on the facile premise that teams do better when they have good team spirit. They do, she quickly agreed.

Next up was Mr Emma Byrne himself, Marcus Bignot, who cut his management teeth with Birmingham City Ladies but has now popped up in charge of Grimsby Town.

An ebullient Brummie, Bignot was on sparkling form. He sung the praises of Omar Bogle – The Mariners’ free scoring forward and former Celtic youth player.

Hull City Heartbreak

With casual listeners’ interest sagging at this point (33:30), the spotlight finally moved to Thomas with an extended interview of ten minutes or so.

We learned that she went to her first Hull City game with her dad in 1966 and had remained a passionate and loyal fan ever since – that is, UNTIL this summer.

All through the tough times the McCune/Thomas clan had been there. They must have stood at a crumbling Boothferry Park, in tiny crowds marred by a stubborn infestation of far-right terrace thugs.

Then there was a decrepit Mark Hateley thundering about up front while ‘managing’ a team of no-hopers to the foot of the basement division. Dark days indeed.

With foreign investment, a shiny new ground, Wembley Cup finals and Premier League football, Hull’s recent renaissance should have fans walking on air.

But – Thomas explained – a contentious season ticket policy has many Hull City die-hards taking the painful decision to turn their backs on the club they love.

It sounded like a sort of football ticketing poll tax: the better off better off, but no discounts for those who can’t pay full whack. Legions of kids and OAPs have been priced out.

“Simpler and fairer” according to the owners’ PR doggerel. But like many thousands of others Thomas isn’t swallowing that and won’t be back until the hated policy is gone.

Thomas spoke well on an inflammatory subject, getting her point across in measured terms. She eschewed hyperbole in favour of diplomatic understatement.

That must be part of the reason England bosses Tommy Tranter and Martin Reagan saw her as captaincy material all those years ago.

Memories of a Lifetime in Football

While interviewer White lacked women’s football knowledge he accorded Thomas due respect throughout. He came across as a dedicated pro with an ear to the ground of his local beat.

The name Gail Borman was thrown into the mix – she’d been a pal of a pal at his school in Hull.

Donny Belles legend Borman must have been a tough player, ventured White. “A tough player to defend against,” said Thomas.

Thomas then recalled her spell across the Pennines with Preston Rangers and that she turned out for the Belles’ hometown rivals CP Doncaster.

As the pre-eminent northern club, Donny Belles were conspicuously absent from her CV. This mirrors Clare Taylor, who famously snubbed the Belles in a personal quest to knock them off their perch.

Thomas worked in the offices of Northern Dairies (who became Northern Foods) and turned out for teams including Reckitts, and Rowntrees (of York), who like CP Doncaster were factory teams.

Kindly Hull City youth team boss Pete Sissons let Thomas do her fitness training at Boothferry Park alongside the boys in his charge.

She spoke about going on a tour to Switzerland with Spurs, explaining that the WFA would allow two ‘guest players’ to go away on member clubs’ foreign jollies.

Although the date of the tour wasn’t mentioned the Spurs link may have come from the England goalie Terry Wiseman, or Vicki Johnson who was Thomas’s national team understudy at right-back.

She spoke of her pride at captaining her country and of bowing out to have sons Andrew (1986) and Mark (1988). Unable to shake off the football bug she was soon charging about at grassroots level.

White contrasted Thomas’s era with the much-improved lot of today’s top female players. He plucked from somewhere a fanciful FA funding figure of £17m.

“Oh that we had £17m back then!” said Thomas, casting her mind back to the days of the potless WFA.

National Hall of Fame

There was a hint of behind-the-scenes moves to induct Thomas – belatedly – into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.

Clearly this year’s entrants, Rachels Unitt and Brown-Finnis, are in on merit. In Unitt’s case Thomas herself would appreciate a full-back with such consistency and tactical discipline.

Questions continue to be asked about the Hall of Fame’s opaque selection policy, though, and the continuing absence of pioneering greats like Thomas…

Come on, whoever you are, enough’s enough – make it happen! Get Carol Thomas in there!

A Carol Thomas Wikipedia page has recently materialised, which lays out her credentials in more detail.

Martin Reagan: women’s football boss was D-Day hero

Martin Reagan, manager of the England women’s football team between October 1979 and December 1990, is a World War Two hero.  Tyneside-born Reagan turned 90 last month and has led a life straight from the pages of Boy’s Own. While today’s feckless teens spend their time sniffing “meow meow” or filming “happy slappings” on their mobile telephones, Reagan showed the stuff to be made a Tank Commander at age 19. The date 20 October 1944 will be forever etched in his soul:  at a farm outside Ijzendijke, The Netherlands, a massive explosion killed more than 40 British and Canadian men.

Twenty-years-old and newly qualified as a Tank Commander in the Royal Engineers, future England manager Martin Reagan took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy.

When the Allies battled their way up into Holland, Lance Sergeant Reagan was pulled aside and given a deadly mission.

His Churchill tank would be modified to shoot a rocket-propelled hose across a field, fill the hose with nitroglycerine and then blow it up.

Code-named  “Conger” (after the eel) the modified tank’s exploding hose would blast a pathway across the field, clearing any lurking landmines from the Allied advance.

It sounds like an accident waiting to happen.

And so it proved: the unstable nitroglycerine never made it that far – its container lorry exploding in the tinderbox farmhouse where it was being stored.

41 British and Canadian soldiers died at the scene. Chillingly, many were simply pronounced “missing”.

Missing, presumed vaporised.

Reagan’s tank should have been parked next to the lorry.

Miraculously, he cheated death with a series of lucky breaks which kept him away from the farmhouse fireball.

First he was kept behind by having to fix his tank’s UV lights, after removing them for a stealth mission back in Calais.

Then he took a wrong turn and trundled into the town – relief was palpable when his tank met Canadians not Germans.

Then the road to the farm collapsed where it went over a dyke and there was a backlog of other vehicles being hauled across.

At about 1:00PM Reagan was sat on his jerrycan, scoffing lunch when the explosion ripped through the farmhouse a few hundred yards away.

Reagan’s driver pal “Ginger” Hall  cried out in agony, his leg shredded by white-hot shrapnel.

After instinctively hitting the deck, Reagan opened his eyes to a great smoking hole in the jerrycan where he’d been sat.

After giving Ginger the once over, lionheart Reagan sprinted TOWARDS the farmhouse – still loaded with other combustibles.

Amidst chaotic scenes survivors were pulled from the burning wreckage.

Reagan’s hare-brained mission was scrapped and the barmy practice of using nitroglycerine consigned to the history books.

A hastily held Court of Enquiry the following day had hushed up the affair, and Reagan never got the official answers he wanted.

In the following months his unit doggedly battled their way across the Rhine and swept into Germany.

More on Reagan’s wartime exploits here:

Strong and fit from his army training, Reagan found fame in the Football League, turning out as a nippy winger for clubs including Hull, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth and Norwich. He later threw himself into the role as England women’s boss, revamping the entire structure and telling everyone exactly what modest work needed to be done to stop England falling behind. Sadly no one with the clout to make it happen lifted a finger. He was cack-handedly sacked by a dysfunctional Women’s Football Association (WFA) in December 1990. Reagan never forgot the events of 1944 and returned to the scene exactly 50 years later with his three proud sons. In 1997 the Dutch town unveiled a memorial to his comrades who never made it back.