Where are they now? James Thomas
26th OctoberWhere Are They Now?
Have you ever wondered what a former Swans player has been up to since hanging up his boots? In what is a new feature on swanseacity.net, we catch up with past players to give you the answers.
This week, former Swans striker James Thomas goes under the spotlight. Synonymous for that pivotal match against Hull City in 2003, Thomas played 57 league games for the Swans between 2002 and 2006, scoring 16 goals.
Now, he works an an emergency medical technician for the Welsh Ambulance Service.
James Thomas is synonymous with one of the most significant events in the history of Swansea City.
On May 3, 2003, the Swans hosted Hull City in the final Division Three match of the 2002-03 season, with their Football League status in the balance. Only a victory over the Tigers at the Vetch Field could guarantee the club its place in the division for the following campaign.
"I think the day before that game was when I was most nervous, with lots of 'what if's' going through my mind," recalls Thomas, who started for Bryan Flynn's side against Hull. "The day of the game was much easier though. Then you are just focused on doing your job and just waiting for the kick-off.
"We tried to treat it like any other game, but of course it wasn't. We knew all the potential implications of not winning. When we went 2-1 down, you could sense the tension around the ground."
Thomas' sixth-minute penalty had given Swansea the lead, only for Stuart Elliot and Martin Reeves to reply for Hull. Thomas struck a minute before the break to send the teams in all square at the interval. Early in the second half, Lenny Johnrose put the Swans in front and Thomas' lob on 57 minutes completed his hat-trick and sealed a 4-2 victory.
"It was when that fourth goal went in that we could all breathe a sigh of relief," smiles Thomas. "I think we knew then, we'd done it. Hull didn't have anything to play for and their mind would have been on their summer holidays towards the end of the game thankfully."
That remarkable win over Hull was one of 57 league matches Thomas played for his home city club between 2002 and 2006, during which time he scored 16 goals.
Having signed for Blackburn Rovers as a teenager, he made his senior debut while on loan with West Bromwich Albion at Stoke City in August 1997.
Thereafter, he made nine league appearances and scored twice on loan at Blackpool before finally making his Rovers debut in a 4-0 League Cup victory over Portsmouth on September 19, 2000. He was also on target on his league debut in a 1-1 draw against Bolton Wanderers four days later.
He made just four league appearances for Blackburn in total, with further loan spells coming at Sheffield United and Bristol Rovers, before he got the opportunity to sign for Swansea City in 2002 on a free transfer.
"There were a number of options on the table when I left Blackburn but the appeal of signing for my local club Swansea City was obvious," recalls Thomas on how his move to the Vetch Field came about.
"I came down for a trial game, in which I scored, and I got offered a contract after that. My Swansea debut was against Rushden & Diamonds (August 10, 2002) and I'll never forget that. I scored in a 2-2 draw and it was such a proud moment wearing that Swansea shirt for the first time."
Thomas had three operations in the space of 18 months towards the end of his professional career, as injuries restricted the number of games he could have played for the Swans.
"It got so frustrating trying to return to fitness and in the end I decided to take a step back from football in 2006 when I left Swansea," says Thomas. "I played for Llanelli for six months or so but my legs weren't doing the things my brain wanted them to do and that was the time to call it quits as far as football went.
On retiring from playing, Thomas briefly dabbled in buying and selling properties before a new career opportunity presented itself in 2011.
"My brother-in-law worked as a paramedic and he told me about some jobs that had come up and suggested giving it a go," Thomas recalls. "I went in blindly, having never given a career like that any thought before but I got through the interview and got the job. That was five years ago now and I've worked my way up the ladder so to speak.
"I am an emergency medical technician for the Welsh Ambulance Service now, based in Neath. My role is one level below a full paramedic.
"Similar to football, it's a job when you do get an adrenalin rush. The challenges of the job are obvious but so are the rewards. We respond to situations where we can save lives."