It was the brilliant and often unerring accuracy of Dave Thomas’ crosses which led to Gordon Lee paying Queens Park Rangers £200,000 for his services on the eve of the 1977/78 season. Thomas replaced the more mercurial Ronnie Goodlass on the Everton wing as Lee formed the side that he hoped would push strongly for League Championship honours at the end of the season. The title never came, but Thomas’ contribution of crosses and assists to the Everton goal tally during his two years at Goodison is almost immeasurable.
Starting out as a sixteen year old, the dashing flanker originally made his name with Burnley, later winning England under-23 honours. Invariably he was sought by bigger clubs, with Everton, Leeds and Manchester United all seeking to acquire him in the early-1970s. Perhaps surprisingly, he joined Queens Park Rangers in October 1972 for £165,000. At Loftus Road he won promotion in 1972/73 and came agonisingly close to winning the League Championship in 1975/76. Don Revie, who had once tried to sign him for Leeds, awarded him the first of his eight England caps against Czechoslovakia in October 1974.
It was with Bob Latchford in mind that Gordon Lee made Thomas an Everton player. With his socks rolled around his ankles and without shin pads – a brave habit in an era of defensive hatchet men – Thomas cut a slight figure, but was nevertheless a formidable addition to the Everton team. Quick and skilful, he dodged a path down the Everton flank, lulling his opponents into challenges and, with a flick of his boot, skipping around them with the ball to deliver cross after cross. He was a teasing presence, lithe and brilliant. But it was his end product that brought him such great renown, for his crosses were supremely accurate. With him in the side, Latchford thrived, scoring 30 goals in Thomas’s debut season – many of which originated from the winger’s left boot.
Despite Latchford’s goals during the 1977/78 season, Everton fell short of the League Championship, finishing third. In 1978/79 they finished fourth, but were knocked out of the early stages of both the domestic cup competitions and the UEFA Cup. Still firmly in Liverpool’s shadow, the pressure was on Lee to bring success, and, as he sought to raise funds and refashion his team, Thomas, was a surprising departure – sold to Wolves in October 1979 for £420,000. That season, without such a regular supply from the Everton flanks, the strike force of Latchford and Brian Kidd could muster only sixteen goals between them. Indeed Latchford never hit such lofty heights again.
After only a short spell at Molineux, Thomas played out his career with Middlesbrough and Portsmouth via a spell in the NASL with Vancouver Whitecaps. Subsequently he left football and worked as a PE teacher in Sussex.