26th May, 1989. Brian Moore relays the story as the League Championship reaches a barely believable climax.
“Arsenal come streaming forward now in surely what will be their last attack. A good ball by Dixon, finding Smith, for Thomas, charging through the midfield. Thomas, it’s up for grabs now… THOMAS! Right at the end. An unbelievable climax to the league season.”
In such a dramatic fashion did Michael Lauriston Thomas write his name large in Arsenal’s history. The title deciding goal in the final minute of a season at the home of the favourites and potential double winners. A heck of a way to crown his first season as a box to box midfielder in the First Division.
Signed as a schoolboy in 1982, Michael turned professional two years later. The versatile Thomas, captain of England at schoolboy, youth, and under-21 levels, would make his breakthrough in the 1986-87 season as George Graham set about blooding a string of exciting youngsters at the club. After a brief loan spell at Portsmouth Michael would make his first team bow in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final against the neighbours, replacing the injured Viv Anderson at right back.
His first medal was secured when he made a cameo appearance as a substitute in the 2-1 defeat of Liverpool at Wembley. The following season Anderson was one of the senior players jettisoned to make way for the young Guns. Michael found himself the preferred right-back. Positionally it was not his best role, but he used his attacking instincts to good effect, racking up eleven goals in forty-six league and cup appearances.
Graham signed Lee Dixon in 1988 and this enabled Michael to join his schoolboy pal, David Rocastle, in the Gunners midfield at the start of the 1988/89 season. Michael featured in 37 of the 38 matches that culminated in that incredible night on Merseyside, scoring seven goals. It is probably fair to comment that he owed such a contribution to the nine match ban that Paul Davis picked up for breaking Glen Cockerill’s jaw and his subsequent falling out with Graham. Having said that Bobby Robson gave Michael a full England debut in a 1-1 draw in Saudi Arabia.
The following season Arsenal slipped to fourth place, but Michael’s consistency improved and among the eight goals he scored was a hat-trick in a League Cup tie at Plymouth. A deserved second cap for England came in December in a 2-1 defeat of a good Yugoslavian side. Personally it remains a mystery that he did not get further international recognition.
Michael collected a second champions medal in 1990/91, but it was a bittersweet end of season for him. First choice in the number four shirt through to a 1-1 home draw with Nottingham Forest in March, Michael fell foul of his manager, as had Davis two years earlier. Michael, in the form of his life, played in just one of the final ten league matches as the title was secured with two matches to spare despite a two points deduction by the FA for a bit of handbags at Old Trafford.
At the start of the following season he found himself rotated with David Hillier and his old friend Davis. Graham was toying with the side and the arrival of Ian Wright meant a change of tactics for the team. Michael scored his thirtieth, and last, goal for the club as a substitute in a 4-1 win at Crystal Palace, and although we didn’t know it, the last of his 208 appearances for the club in a single goal defeat at West Ham. Michael would depart in December bemoaning Arsenal’s increasing reliance on the long ball game and by-passing the midfield.
Graeme Souness paid £1.5 million to take Michael to Liverpool, of all clubs. The opposition against whom he had won his first two medals. Despite that Michael soon endeared himself to the Anfield faithful and ended the season scoring at Wembley in a 2-0 FA Cup Final win against Sunderland. He picked up a League Cup winners medal too, although only an unused substitute against Bolton in 1995.
The curtain came down on Michael’s career after a brief loan spell at Middlesbrough, and a season each at Benfica and Wimbledon. He remains, unsurprisingly, hugely popular with Arsenal and Liverpool supporters alike. Michael enjoyed some success at Liverpool as Arsenal, despite the cup successes of 1993 and 1994, were plunged into a more spartan era style wise.
When I’m down though I know I can always break open the dvd of that incredible night at Anfield and step back in time.
“Thomas, it’s up for grabs now… THOMAS!”
A Campo Retro Shirt Still Up For Grabs
To celebrate the run up to the match against Liverpool the good people at Campo Retro have come up with a wonderful prize for one lucky ‘holic. You can choose one of a wide range of Arsenal shirts which can be found by clicking here. Both of my favourites are included in the Campo Retro collection.
To win the shirt of your choice just answer the following question. Who scored the winning goal in the 1971 FA Cup Final against Liverpool?
a) George Graham b) Eddie Kelly or c) Charlie George
Please send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org along with a contact email and phone number plus your Twitter handle if you have one. The winner selected after the competition closes at mid-day UK time on Thursday, 2nd April, will receive the shirt of their choice. There is no cash alternative.
Get 20% Off Your Campo Retro Favourite This Week
If you want to take advantage of Campo Retro’s special Easter offer to snap up your favourite shirt then place an order on their site and when checking out enter the promo code EGG to receive a 20% discount, even off the 1971 long sleeve shirt, the price of which has already been cut by 20%. Some deal that.
That’s it. Get your entries in (just one per person please), and good luck to you.