Earle Thomas

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Former All Whites captain Earle Thomas, watches on intently as Will Pepper surges forward in a recent league fixture for University Mt Wellington

Earle and Spurs
The English Premier League championship race is coming down to the wire between Leicester and Spurs.

As New Zealand football fans watch the glamour of the EPL from afar, it is hard to believe that it is almost 40 years to the day that Spurs played Auckland Football at Newmarket Park.

Playing a starring role for Auckland that day with two assists was Earle Thomas, Top Flight Football Academy coach.

The Super Seventies
Earle played in the golden age of domestic football in New Zealand.  During the 1960’s and 70’s, over 10,000 people would pack into Auckland’s Newmarket Park to watch national league derbies.  Mt Wellington taking on Eastern Suburbs or Blockhouse Bay were the big local clashes.

The national league was a vibrant competition that was unique in the New Zealand sporting landscape.

Not only did Kiwi football fans have the chance to watch meaningful local matches, they were fortunate enough to be able to support Auckland taking on the best clubs from the UK.

Manchester United, Glasgow Rangers, Wolves, Sunderland and Bournemouth were just some of the clubs that made the trek around the world to play in New Zealand.  But on May 3, 1976 Tottenham was in town.

At half-time the score was Auckland 3 Spurs 1.

“We couldn’t believe it,” recalls Earle.  “We thought we were going to knock those blokes over.”

Unfortunately Spurs stepped it up in the second half and ran out 5-3 winners following the introduction with 30 minutes to go of a then unknown 18 year old called Glenn Hoddle.

Steve Perryman who ultimately made a club record 854 appearances for Tottenham during a 17-year career with the club marked Earle through the match.

“He was a real gentleman and we became good friends,” remembers Earle. “I’m sure he will be very pleased to see how Spurs have gone this season.”

Much of Earle’s football development occurred through unstructured play, kicking a ball around with his younger brother and knocking it against a wall.

“Coaching has improved in New Zealand since the fifties and sixties but there is still some way to go.

I didn’t really get any proper coaching until I moved up to Hamilton to Fairview College in 1965 [from Wanganui].  I was a defender but the coach there was Arthur Leond, a New Zealand player, and he moved me to striker.

By the end of my last year at school I was in the Northern League with Hamilton and was selected for the New Zealand under-23 team.”

Earle would go on to represent and captain the All Whites, including the 1970 World Cup qualifiers in Israel.

His experiences as both a player and a coach have reinforced his views on the importance of coaching.

“Players need to get the right coaching from an early age.  If they want to make it overseas they need to have the right coaching, it is very important.

I remember traveling up to Huntly when I was young to attend a coaching academy with Ken Armstrong [former English championship winner with Chelsea] and learning from him.  He had all the skills and could do anything with the ball.  He was also very tough.”

 After scoring 99 national league goals for Mt Wellington Earle is pleased to see Top Flight Football Academy linking up with his old club.

“The academy does a good job.  With the right coaching these young boys could become excellent senior footballers.”

While Spurs may no longer come out to New Zealand to play, the opportunity is there for young Kiwi footballers to work hard and try to crack the top leagues in the world.

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