A leader from the back for over a decade, Carol Thomas was the second ever captain of England Women – and the first to lead the Lionesses to a European final.
Hull born and bred, Carol started out as a winger at works team British Oil and Cocoa Mills (BOCM), before moving on to Reckitts Ladies, working under influential WFA official and coach Flo Bilton. Her performances for rival side Hull Brewery Ladies caught the eye, earning Carol recognition at local, regional and, ultimately, national level.
Carol earned her first England cap in 1974 at the age of just nineteen. Within two years, she had established herself as first-choice right-back, and manager Tommy Tranter had handed her the armband for the national side.
At the start of Thomas’ remarkable nine-year stint as skipper, England won the 1976 Pony Home Internationals, and featured at the 1981 Portopia Festival in Japan – the first time an official England Women’s side had played outside of Europe. Though the trip to East Asia came at some personal expense to the players, and England only managed a third-place finish, the seeds had been sown for future success.
Martin Reagan’s appointment as manager in 1979 had ushered in a new era for the women’s side, though Thomas’ dedication, assured nature and ability to read the game meant that she retained not only her starting place, but the armband, too.
Just as she had in Japan, Thomas led the side out at the 1984 European Competition for Women’s Football. The full-back was part of the England side that maintained a 100% record in qualifying, then saw off the Danes over two legs in the semi-final.
The 29-year-old played in both legs of the final; a defeat in Gothenburg, where her goal-line clearance kept the deficit to just one goal, and a 1-0 victory at Kenilworth Road that necessitated a penalty shootout. Carol was not one of the five called upon from twelve yards; England lost the shootout 4-3, finishing as runners-up.
Carol and her teammates put that disappointment behind them one year later in Italy. They opened with a narrow loss to Denmark, but a 3-1 triumph over the USA guaranteed a final berth for Thomas’ side.
Thanks to goals from fellow Hall of Famers Marieanne Spacey and Brenda Sempare, Thomas would belatedly get her hands on European silverware, as England defeated the Italian hosts 3-2 in Caorle. In doing so, Carol Thomas became the first Englishwoman to lift a European trophy on behalf of her national side.
Having become the first woman to win fifty caps for England, and having skippered the side in seven consecutive tournaments, Thomas retired to give birth to her son. She would return to the game in 1993, playing locally and coaching both children and adults. She even turned out for East Riding County FA’s representative side at the age of 40, and continued playing up to the age of 54.
As both an astute defender and resolute leader, Carol Thomas was an integral part of the England Women setup for twelve years, as well as having a significant impact on the game at a local level in West Yorkshire. She was the longest-serving England captain until 2011, when her record was broken by fellow Hall of Fame inductee Faye White.
Principal clubs: BOCM, Reckitts Ladies, Hull Brewery Ladies, CP Doncaster Ladies
Honours: 1 Mundialito, 1 UEFA Women's Championship runner-up