Former professional footballer Dai Thomas is given a custodial sentence in Cardiff v Leeds FA Cup fall-out, reports Paul Ashley-Jones

The aftermath of the Cardiff v Leeds FA Cup tie has seen the conviction of a number of Cardiff fans including one hooligan, David (Dai) Thomas, who received a custodial sen­tence for his part, which included throwing an advertising hoarding at Leeds supporters. What has made Dai Thomas the subject of media attention is that he was a former professional footballer with Cardiff City. It was also not his first offence.

Thomas began his playing career at Swan­sea City and broke into the first team under manager Jan Molby in 1996. A striker, he pro­ved him­self a hit with the fans, who unimaginatively nicknamed him “Pyscho” due to his aggressive, whole-heart­ed approach. Thomas was more than just a Third Div­ision target man how­ever. He showed good technical ab­ility in addition to scoring on a regular basis and was capped by Wales at Un­der-21 level. When Swansea lost in the play-off final in 1997, Gra­ham Taylor’s Wat­ford signed him for £110,000.

It was a classic exam­ple of a player mak- ing the wrong move at the wrong time. At The Vetch, Mol­by rec­og­nised that Thomas need­ed careful hand­ling, both mentally and physically. A strict training regime and plenty of fatherly advice was the order of the day. Even then, nothing would stop Thomas removing his shirt every time he scored, despite continually getting booked for it. At Watford, far from home and with money to burn, it proved difficult for him to remain focused – a club with a large squad and Premiership am­bitions prob­ably didn’t have the time or inclination to nurture his tal­ent and manage his personality. The move pre­dictably failed to work out, but Cardiff City were prepared to offer him another chance in 1998.

    Two years later, Thomas’s real prob-­lems began when he was filmed at Euro 2000 among a crowd of Eng­land fans involved in vio­lence before the game against Germany. Despite claims that he was not involved in the trouble itself, it was clearly a stupid pos­ition for a professional footballer to allow himself to get into. Arrested and deport­ed, Thomas’s career with Cardiff was effectively over and he slipped right down into Welsh non-league foot­ball, ev­en­tually wind­ing up at Llan­brad­ach in the South Wales Am­ateur League at the time of the Cardiff v Leeds game.

Many play­ers don’t make the grade but they don’t often turn into football hooligans. While he was convicted as a Cardiff City hooligan, Tho­mas had displayed no such attachment to the club when scoring one of the goals that saw Swan­sea win 3-1 at Ninian Park in 1996. In­deed, his overzealous reaction to the goal help­ed cement his popularity with the Swans fans. And as a Welshman, his “support” for England in Euro 2000 also suggests he was more interested in what happened off the pitch than on it.

What dismayed many supporters about seeing Thom­as on television that summer was not just his actions but his appearance. Clearly overweight and un­fit, it was now obvious his professional car­eer was over. Following his release by Cardiff he was un­able to get a con­tract at any club of a reasonable standard. His skill and power would have seen him become an instant hit in the League of Wales and this might have proved a platform to relaunch his Football League career (as it did for Tony Bird, who had replaced Thomas at Swansea). Tho­mas’s rep­utation, however, went before him and there were to be no further chances.

With his recent conviction Thomas has brought a formal end to his career as he is now banned from all football grounds in England and Wales for the next six years. His lawyer painted a pathetic picture of him both during and after the trial. Unemployed and on benefit, he had saved nothing from his football career. Those of us who enjoyed Dai Thomas’s talent and shared his goal celebrations will hope he can learn from the experience, but it is hope more than expectation.

From WSC 182 April 2002. What was happening this month

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