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George Thomson Interview – From FC to the EFL

George Thomson Interview – From FC to the EFLGeorge Thomson joined FC on a month’s loan and was a sensation, in 72 games he scored 32 times from midfield, before earning a full time contract at Harrogate, for whom he blasted into the League with the first goal of the playoff final. We caught up with him as he looks forward to league football and look back at his time with FC.

Congratulations on promotion to the League, does this count as a dream come true?

Definitely, it’s something that I’ve worked towards for a long time, playing football in the EFL is something that I’ve always wanted to try to achieve, and so I’m delighted to finally get there, and when you look at the way we’ve done it by playing at Wembley means it’s been an unbelievable few weeks in a tough, tough period. From all that has happened with the pandemic and the lockdown, then how that has affected football with everyone thinking that it’s all going to be null and void, it was an emotional rollercoaster over those fifteen weeks, just look at FC’s league where it was made null and void, personally I’m not in favour of null and voiding a season when you’ve played thirty-odd games, but those decisions were made and we’re just lucky enough that the decision was made in our league to have the play-offs, and so we were absolutely buzzing that it was the case from a selfish point of view.

Then to come back and play those games of football and win in the way we did, the performances we put in as a team after several months without playing any competitive football was unbelievable. When you think we had the opportunity in the build up to play a friendly against Celtic and the gaffer turned it down, purely because we operate with quite a small squad in comparison to other National League teams, and we only had four defenders as we’d let a few go thinking the season was at an end, so the gaffer didn’t want to take that risk and potentially get a defender injured in a friendly leaving us with just three for the playoffs, so we went into the playoffs without any game time, and I don’t know if impressive is the right word to use but it was a risk and one that paid off in the end.

Looking back at your career, you started at Nottingham Forest, then joined the Glen Hoddle Academy, before moving to Hinckley United, then Histon, Kings Lynn, then Chester and FC United, before going full time with Harrogate, does promotion to the league feel especially sweet in the sense that you’ve earned it through graft and talent?

I’m really fortunate to be able to earn my living by going out the door in the morning and kicking a ball about, anyone who plays football full-time is, but it’s a lot of hard work, it’s cut-throat and there’s plenty of knockbacks along the way, along with other challenges, but when you’re enjoying your football there is nothing better.

If I can say this, I’m proud of myself and the journey I’ve been on, I was a scholar at Forest from 12 through to 18; then I went to the Glen Hoddle Academy after that which was unbelievable, I got to live in Spain for 18 months which was a big decision for me as a young lad to go and do, then I came back and never settled anywhere until I got to Kings Lynn, which is where I said to myself “you need to be playing games week in and week out and you should be enjoying it rather than being just here, there and everywhere”; so that was when I started playing consecutive matches and I think I played around 130 games for Kings Lynn and that was a real achievement for someone in their early 20’s, as you see a lot of lads going into non-league and it’s a completely different kettle of fish to academy football where the balls on the floor a lot, there’s no big challenges and you don’t have a 30-odd year old breathing down your neck as soon as you get the ball, it’s different so to play that many games was a real turning point for me and laid down the foundations for my future, if I was to have any kind of career in football I look back on that run of games as the critical point for me.

I was at Kings Lynn for around two years then signed for Chester and was back into full-time football but never really got the run of games there that I thought I deserved or got a proper chance to prove myself at that level, which is when I got the opportunity to go on loan for a month to FC, which I then extended and then it became permanent. I then played 72 games in a season and a half and then got the move to Harrogate which allowed me to become full-time again. It was hard to leave FC as I loved my football there so much, I loved everything about the club, the people, Margy, I worked with Tom Greaves as well as playing with him, so we’d spend a lot of time together travelling across in the car and it was a really happy changing room like a group of mates so it was a tough decision, but full-time football is something that I had a burning desire to get back into.

I was at a point where I’d had a brilliant season, scoring 20 goals from midfield and I believed that going full-time for me was the right thing, so when I spoke to the gaffer Simon Weaver at the end of the season and he told me the club was going full-time and they wanted to move up the leagues; to be honest the Football League wasn’t talked about, just that they wanted to progress as a club and when you meet someone who has the same ambition as you it draws you in. The big reason for me going was that they were going full-time for the right reasons, they wanted to get promoted which we obviously did in the first year of being full-time which was obviously a perfect scenario really.

The two years that followed though I don’t think that anyone could have predicted, I’ve been there three full seasons now and we’ve never finished outside the play-offs which is just crazy considering we’ve just gone up a level to the National League which is a very very tough league. I can’t say when I signed I envisaged us progressing this quickly but I knew they were ambitious.

Looking back though at my journey to the league I can safely say that nothing has been handed to me on a plate, I’ve had to fight for my chance nearly everywhere I’ve been and I’ve had to prove myself. I’ve had times out of the team at every club I’ve been at, like everyone does. This year has been one of the most up and down ones from a personal point of view because for the first nine weeks of the season I wasn’t even in the matchday squad, which when I’d played over 100 games in the first two seasons and so at that point gives you some uncertainty, should I go on loan, do I look at other options do I give in a little bit and think I’ve run my time, or do I try to prove myself again and show that I’ve still got something to offer.

When I got back into the team I played a game against Halifax and got an assist, then in the next game I scored then at two nil up, in the 93rd minute I literally made a 4 yard pass and tore my hip flexor, so I found out that I had a six centimetre tear in my hip flexor which after seeing a few specialists found out it’s not a common injury at all, it’s something they very rarely see, so I was then out injured and while I’m recuperating the lads were on another run of wins so then it’s a case of biding your time and waiting for my chance again and then taking it.

It’s been tough but it makes it sweeter knowing that I’ve worked for it and I’ve proved some people that didn’t believe in me or didn’t give me that chance that I was good enough.

How did it feel not only playing but scoring at Wembley?
The whole play-off campaign was just a whirlwind really, I think we came back in and had around five weeks training leading up to the Borehamwood semi-final, where we went in without any friendlies, and having not played since March, we deserved to win but I came off in that game with cramp in the 82nd minute I think and I’ve never been so nervous in my life as I was watching the final 8 minutes, and when that final whistle went, I can’t even describe the feeling to be honest, knowing you were going to Wembley; then the whole Wembley week was just….. I still struggle to put it into words as obviously everyone who plays football wants to go to, I’ve never been anywhere near it, not even to watch a game, I’ve only ever seen it from a long long way away so to actually be there to play was just incredible.

The Final was on the Sunday and we travelled down on the Saturday and stayed at the Hilton where you could open the curtains of your hotel room and see Wembley, so we trained at Watford’s ground on the way down so the whole build-up was just an incredible experience, and then on the Sunday when we drove into the underground car park and you arrive at the entrance, the changing rooms are absolutely massive and there’s four or five different rooms leading off it, then you walk out of the tunnel and you think ‘Wow – this place is some place’.

The fact that our fans couldn’t be there was a real shame as obviously it’s a great day out for everyone, but as players once you’re out on the pitch you’ve got a job to do and that was the only thing on our minds really. Once the final kicked off, I found myself just completely focussed on the game, when there is so much at stake you cannot afford to let yourself get distracted by what’s around you and you’ve got time after the game to take it all in - It was just about getting into the game and making sure we finished the job.

To score in a final after four minutes though was just ridiculous, it was perfect because it just settled us down, sometimes you can score too early in games and end up clinging on, but we got into our game and dominated the first half, it should have been 4 or 5 nil at half time and we should have been out of sight but it was a perfect day, just perfect.

Everyone likes to see non-league clubs progressing, what do you think it means to Harrogate as Town to have a league club now?

To have a new team in the Football League is fresh for everyone, I don’t think anyone really knows anything about Harrogate as they’ve never seen us this high so for us to be in the EFL is great, it’s ne and not the same old same old and there’s also Barrow who are back after 50+ years away too.

For Harrogate we did an open top bus parade last Saturday and it was incredible there were people everywhere, and it wasn’t just people for a day out it, they all had scarfs and shirts on and it was really overwhelming really. It’s not known as a footballing town and we’ve put football in the forefront of peoples minds as a club because it’s not like FC United where there’s a story behind it, rebelling against the Glazers for example, our success has been built up from having 200 fans to where we are now and we hope that as soon as fans are allowed back in we’re going to see the gates increase as more people will come.

The wider effect for the town will be huge too as you’re going to get away fans visiting in massive numbers who are going to be in and around the town for the weekend, so it’s going to be really positive even for people not directly associated to the football, obviously Harrogate is known as a tourist attraction in itself and the football will just increase it’s profile.

We knew at FC that you were a special player, and in your second season with FC you won the FC Uth Player of The Season and the Russell Delaney Fans Player of The Season Awards, what was it about FC as a setup that brought the best out of you?

As a footballer is always nice to play in front of as many people as you can, so when I walked out at Broadhurst Park you knew you were coming out to the chants, the stand behind the goal was going to be packed and it was just a place that you wanted to play football. When I arrived, the ground was already built and it had the amazing fans and facilities and it was just a perfect fit for me really. When I signed for FC for the second season I actually had many offers on the table, but having gone on loan there it was where I wanted to play. The transfer was a little bit difficult but I was adamant I wanted to go there and Margy was absolutely brilliant with me, trying to get me there permanently.

The changing room was brilliant and there was a core group of mates who enjoyed being at training together, enjoyed travelling together, enjoyed being on the pitch for each other and would work hard on the pitch for each other, it was a great place to be.

You scored an average of 0.44 goals per game (12/27 and 20/45) in both seasons with FC, really impressive return for a striker never mind a midfielder, especially in a tough league like the National League North, is there one goal that stands out for you?

This is a tough one as there’s a few that stick in my mind, I think the equaliser I scored against Darlington at home and the noise, I still remember the noise and the celebrations and you could just tell it mean so much.
There’s also one against Kidderminster and we won 1-0 and I intercepted the ball inside our own half line and ran the whole way and put it away, I’m not usually that good at those when you’ve got so much time to think ha ha!
There was also a free kick away at Chorley and having bought into FC I picked up that there was some keen rivalry between the two sides, and I think that put us ahead though I think we ended up drawing.
There’s a few that stick out but I didn’t realise my goals to game ratio was so high.

Any other moments from your time with FC that stand out?

Probably the game against Harrogate ironically when we were 3-0 down and came back to win 4-3 was some game, I scored just before half time then Sam Sheridan, Greavesy and Sam Madeley got the winner, we scored four in the space of about 15 minutes so that really stands out, I’d say one of the best games I played in at FC 100%. From memory the positions were reversed the next season when FC were 3-1 up in the FA Cup then ended up conceding 2 in the last few minutes to force a replay.

Finally, anything you’d like to say to any players who want to kick on with their careers who might be looking at FC?

For my perspective as a player it’s not worth chasing an extra hundred quid here and there, it’s not worth it compared to playing somewhere where you’re going to enjoy your football and want to be at. For young players that should be at the forefront of their mind, where their mates can come and watch you play and think ‘Wow this is some place’ and having that environment around you as you develop your game.

When I moved to FC there were other options on the table for me, all of which had more money which for me wasn’t a thing, as someone who wanted to move on in my career, to play in front of all those fantastic fans and with all the attention it gets, if you do well you are in a shop window and you can earn that opportunity to move on.

I never wanted to chase money, it was never my priority, the biggest draw for me was that I wanted to play in a proper football environment, I wanted to enjoy football, walking out and playing at Broadhurst Park was like walking out in front of a league football club crowd in an environment that belied the relative league they played in.

First Posted ~ 19:29 Mon 17 Aug 2020
News ID ~ 8746
Last Updated ~ 17:00 Fri 19 Feb 2021