Craig Priest writes...
Upon reading the headline “Thompson Announces Retirement” this morning, I couldn’t help but feel a cold shudder of sadness, despite knowing deep down the news would come sooner rather than later.
The 31 year old defender has endured a torrid time at his third Nottinghamshire club since arriving in the summer of 2011 and has, upon numerous advice from medical staff, family and friends, decided to hang up his boots and retire from professional football – a big loss not only for Mansfield Town Football Club, but for the game itself.
There was a huge buzz around the place when Paul Cox secured the signature of Thompson after a friendly with Notts County last summer, with many saying the former County captain could be the ideal man to skipper Stags to success.
He arrived with a big expectation on the back of a fairly successful career, as well as success with County John captained Nottingham Forest’s academy side to Premier League glory before breaking through to the senior side and also had the honour of skippering his country, Republic of Ireland, at under 21 level before again, breaking through to the senior side.
What happened with this promising and successful defender was nothing short of tragic and horrific, there is no place in football for incidents like this and still, over two years on – the debate continues over the action taken with perpetrator Gary Ricketts.
For those that are unaware of what happened, the incident which proved career ending, took place during a pre-season “friendly” with Ilkeston on Wednesday 3rd August 2011. It was a fairly entertaining game with Stags looking sharp and Thompson, making his third appearance at centre-half, was settling in well showing the promise we all expected.
Ilkeston front man Ricketts had already injured right back Ritchie Sutton during the first half and, with Stags leading 4-2 at half-time, injured a second player in Martin Riley shortly after the break – Thompson’s centre half partner needed at least six stitches. Being a friendly no card had been shown by the referee nor had he asked the Ilkeston bench to substitute Ricketts, who would go on and injury a third player with a needless challenge on 68 minutes.
A long ball forward sparked the clash on the half way line, the pair jumped for the ball but with Thompson on the cusp of winning the tussle, Rickets shoved the defender mid-air to attempt to win the ball and in doing so, saw Thompson go crashing into the corner of the dugout and then, at speed, collide with the pure concrete pitch side barrier.
I was fortunate to have my view blocked of the incident by the TV scaffolding which is next to the press box at the New Manor Ground however others got a full view of it and we’re sickened by it for a long time.
Thompson was rushed to A&E and required 60+ stitches to his face, this along with a broken nose, dislocated finger and damaged shoulder would have been enough for anyone to call it a day there and then, but not Thompson, who fought desperately to recover and eventually made his Stags debut against AFC Telford in mid-November.
The popular defender helped keep Stags’ first clean sheet in 13 matches and enjoyed a mini-run in the side before suffering a relapse which kept him out until the season’s final day at Kidderminster, where he returned as Cox rested players ahead of the play-offs.
Another injury kept Thompson out of the early pre-season matches before an eventual return against Hucknall, where he skippered the side. For whatever reason, another prolonged absence saw Thompson out of the side until November where he enjoyed another mini-run in the side, which included a start against Liverpool in the FA Cup.
I’ve been lucky enough to watch Thompson play for the reserves of late and have seen glimpses of what could be, however a closer look at the defender tells you that the spark he had upon arrival, has gone and there’s a reason – scars that a physical can disappear, but scars that are mental, are more difficult to fade away.
Taken from the clubs official website, Thompson speaks about his torrid time with words that bring a lump to your throat.
Thompson says “When I eventually got back playing after overcoming most of the physical issues, I soon realised I was doing things which I wouldn’t normally do on the pitch. Panic attacks were common and I would not be able to sleep before games. My confidence on and off the pitch had been severely knocked.”
The former Notts County and Notts Forest defender continues to speak openly about his desire to return, stating “I have done everything I can, even seeing a psychologist at my own expense. My recovery is still ongoing.”
It’s a sad and sorry tale that a player who has enjoyed such a prestigious career has had to call a halt to it with his everyday life affected by the one incident whilst another player, the one who inflicted such damage, continues playing.
This however is not about hatred or even right or wrong, it’s about celebrating the career of an excellent footballer. The success John has had, for club and indeed country, will be no consolation to having to walk away from the game he so dearly loves, however John leaves behind a legacy in a way and a message.
Life throws curve balls and sometimes, dodging them is impossible. If you want something badly enough then mentally you will do all you can to have another shot at it, no matter the circumstances. Winning & being a success is not defined by medals, but by looking back and saying “I gave it my all”
John Thompson can walk away with his head held high able to say those words, I wish a genuinely down to earth and level headed guy all the best for the future, safe in the knowledge that whatever path his career takes now, he will be a success.
Thank-you for playing your part in our title winning season John, all the very best for the future.
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