Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: A dream summer for Jamie Thomas
Jamie Thomas could be justified for thinking that things happen for a reason as the ink dries on his contract with Preston North End.
The Lilywhites’ latest recruit won’t forget July and early August in a hurry after an upturn in his fortunes on the football pitch.
A chain of events starting with a South Ribble monsoon were to lead to the attacking midfielder putting pen to paper on a one-year deal at PNE on Thursday teatime.
On July 10, Thomas was in Bamber Bridge’s starting XI to face North End at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium in the traditional pre-season meeting.
Before lunch that day it poured it down –and I mean poured it down.
A section of Brig’s pitch flooded and valiant attempts to sweep the puddles off proved in vain.
So the game was switched behind closed doors to North End’s Euxton training ground.
Different pitch, different setting, no crowd, a totally different environment to playing a 1,300 crowd at Irongate.
Thomas swept home two fine finishes in Brig’s 8-3 defeat to Frankie McAvoy’s lads and other aspects of his game caught PNE’s attention.
Had the game stayed at Bamber Bridge, would the action have panned out in the same way?
Would the ball have fallen Thomas’ way in the manner it did on the billiard-type pitch at Euxton?
We will never know but less than a month later he’s a fully signed-up member of Preston’s first-team squad.
His display was noted by North End, Thomas going on to score a hatful of goals in Brig’s first few pre-season friendlies.
When they learned he had gone to Oldham to train, an invitation was given to him to come on trial at PNE.
He agreed to it on the Friday evening before the game at Accrington Stanley, with Thomas appearing as ‘Trialist A’ on the team-sheet at the Wham Stadium.
It was only as the squad boarded the coach to travel to the game that he met the other Preston players.
We know what happened, Thomas came off the bench for the start of the second half and headed North End in front within seven minutes.
Three days later he was sat a few metres along the touchline from Pep Guardiola at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium, an unused sub that evening.
Thomas started last Friday night’s 3-2 defeat at Wigan, getting 73 minutes under his belt.
Speaking to McAvoy after the game, match fitness had been the only issue he had about Thomas – what he could do with a football had impressed the North End head coach.
The only way to get that sharpness, McAvoy reasoned, was to keep Thomas in the full-time environment, hence he did another few days’ training this week.
Thomas, 24, now has a one-year contract, PNE holding the option of a second year.
To debunk the thoughts of some that his signing ends North End’s search for a striker, it doesn’t.
He’s more an attacking midfielder, you could say he covers the vacancy left by Izzy Brown’s lengthy absence after Achilles tendon surgery.
The striker search goes on and could run until deadline day, who knows?
Thomas operated in the space behind the striker at both Accrington and Wigan, the ‘10’ role if you like.
Coming from non-league, eyebrows were raised that North End had dropped down to look at a player who had only recently joined Brig after being at AFC Blackpool.
Is that a touch of football snobbery? There is talent in non-league, it’s just about finding it.
Didn’t North End pass over the chance to sign Jamie Vardy from Halifax? Phil Brown wanted him but the chairman of the time didn’t.
Thomas has a full-time football background, in that he did two years as a scholar with Bolton Wanderers.
After being released he joined Burnley’s Under-23s development squad. During his time there, he was loaned out briefly to Ayr United in Scotland for experience.
Personal issues took him out of the professional game, with him signing for Squires Gate and later AFC Blackpool.
From there he went to Brig in the summer, then came to PNE’s attention.
The time he spent with AFC Blackpool appears to have played a big part in re igniting his passion for football.
In an interview when he signed for Brig, Thomas said: “I had a great little spell with AFC, it made me recognise my love for football which was lost for a while.”
No one has a crystal ball as to how things will work out for him at Deepdale but I hope he does well and takes a big stride forward in carving out a career for himself.
It wasn’t a signing which made many headlines outside this area, with the announcement coming just after Barcelona’s statement about Lionel Messi leaving the Camp Nou, and before Jack Grealish joined Manchester City for £100m.
If things work out for Thomas, it will be a nice football story. It seems he had a tough time for a while and it needed his spells in non-league to get him back on his football feet. He had a determination to get back into the full-time game, hence his trial with Oldham and then coming to PNE.
I wouldn’t expect to see him in the matchday squad quite yet, certainly in the Championship. Thomas will need time to reach the fitness levels needed.
Just to finish off, a mention for the Bamber Bridge Vets v PNE Legends game which was played last Sunday to support George Melling in his fight with MND and to raise funds and awareness of such a dreadful disease.
The standard of football was excellent, John Welsh playing the game as if it was the play-off final at Wembley.
David Buchanan and Ross Wallace were very good, and we didn’t need telling that Paul Gallagher still had it, did we? So much work went in behind the scenes for such a worthy cause. Well done.