‘He was one of life’s nice guys who simply loved his football’

Doug Thomas
Doug Thomas

By Ken McEwan

Doug Thomas, one of Eastbourne’s most respected sportsmen, has died at the age of 87.

Doug was a member of Eastbourne United’s coaching team when the late Gerry Boon was manager during the halcyon days of the 1970s and early 80s. United was then the town’s senior club.

He was later a regular reporter of local soccer matches for the Eastbourne Gazette & Herald.

Born in Croydon, Doug was evacuated in the war, ending up in Rottingdean before moving in later life to Hailsham and finally Willingdon.

Roy Young, who combined coaching with physiotherapy when Dave Sargent was in charge at the Oval, told Herald Sport, “Doug was one of life’s nice guys. He was a smashing bloke who simply loved his football.

“He was somebody you always needed to be there, whether it was laying out the cones prior to training sessions or working individually with a player.”

Doug was himself a fine footballer, a classy wing-half who earned trials with Crystal Palace as well as attracting the interest of several other clubs. But during the early 1950s, a footballer’s lot was a far cry from that of the stars of today with no pay during the summer months. A seven-year apprenticeship as a printer was a far better option than a professional football career. Prior to joining United, Doug coached youngsters at Hawks Farm School where his wife was a teacher’s assistant and he also helped out at his son David’s club, Magham Down.

He raised a substantial amount of money for charity by taking part in local marathons and half-marathons right into his early 60s before heart surgery forced him into a less strenuous way of life. His one regret was failing to gain an entry into the London Marathon. On a personal note, I can recall struggling along the seafront towards the end of Eastbourne ’s annual 10-mile fun run when a fit-as-a-fiddle Doug Thomas glided effortlessly past. Huffing and puffing, I tried to keep up with him, but to no avail.

Doug turned to sports reporting, earning praise for his impartiality and accuracy. Whether it was Langney Sports, Eastbourne United, Eastbourne Town, Hailsham or Seaford, their supporters knew there would be a fair report to read in the Gazette or Herald with Doug’s exceptional technical footballing knowledge never questioned.

He is survived by his widow Olive, to whom he was married for 65 years, and son David. Olive said, “When I married Doug I married into sport. We were always very close and never had a real row. Doug was just not the rowing sort.” David added, “He was a great dad. If you needed any help, he was always there for you. He would do whatever he could. He loved his football which was a big part of his life on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturdays.”

The funeral is at Eastbourne Crematorium on Friday, December 8th at 2.30pm. The family have requested donations to the British Heart Foundation rather than flowers.