News of the recent passing of Chris Thompson, at the tragically early age of 52, was a real shock and his death puts recent events at Ewood Park into true perspective. We may all believe that relegation is the end of the world, admittedly I have felt the same, but next to the passing of one so young it really doesn’t seem all that important at all. Life at Ewood Park will go on, in one form or another, and as long as it does those who were privileged to see Chris play will cherish the memory of a player who always gave 100 per cent to the cause of whichever club he represented.
I was tempted to use the term “journeyman” to describe Chris, but in recent years the term has become almost derogatory in its meaning. However, looking at its exact definition I find the words “one who works” and nobody worked harder than Chris Thompson when they were on a football pitch. He was, in many ways, “a player’s player”. He was a footballer who truly embraced the work ethic and none of his employers could ever have felt short-changed by the commitment he gave for those ninety minutes on the pitch.
Although born in Walsall, Chris was a product of North-West football having been groomed at Burnden Park before leaving the Wanderers to sample the delights of the Rovers, Wigan Athletic and finally Blackpool.
A former England youth international, Chris served his apprenticeship with Bolton Wanderers before making his senior debut against Peterborough United in a third round Football League Cup tie in October 1977. A certain Sam Allardyce was amongst Bolton’s scorers in a 3–1 win. That was the season that the Wanderers won promotion to the First Division and boasted a quite formidable outfit with the likes of Tony Dunne, Big Sam, Willie Morgan, Peter Reid and Frank Worthington amongst their ranks. As a result, it wasn’t until the 1979–80 campaign that Chris finally started to feature on a regular basis, but it wasn’t until the 1981–82 season, when the Wanderers were back in the Second Division, that Chris became an automatic choice for one of the starting positions.
He notched a dozen goals in 34 League starts, plus two substitute outings, that season in a team that only just avoided relegation to the Third Division by a couple of points. The Wanderers side that had been so strong in the late 1970s was breaking up and, as a result, Chris found himself plunged into a struggling side and this impacted on his own game.
By the latter stages of the 1982–83 campaign, Chris had lost his place in the Wanderers team and was loaned to Lincoln City in March 1983. The Sincil Bank club were chasing promotion from the Third Division and Chris was signed to provide short-term cover for the injured Glenn Cockerill, Lincoln’s star midfielder. Success might well have brought a permanent move to Lincolnshire for Chris, but a sixth-place finish meant the end of any possible transfer and Chris returned to Burnden Park.
Chris left Bolton to join the Rovers in the summer of 1983 and was on the bench for the opening day fixture against Huddersfield Town at Ewood Park. Norman Bell, who was partnering Simon Garner in attack, was unfortunate to suffer an injury that not only necessitated him being taken from the pitch but forced him into premature retirement. Chris immediately took his opportunity and scored one of the goals that gave the Rovers an opening day 2–2 draw. With Bell sidelined, Chris formed a twin spearhead with Garner and the two worked well together in tandem. Chris was used as an old-fashioned centre-forward who put defenders under physical pressure with his non-stop running. He harried and pressurised defenders into making mistakes, never giving them a moment’s rest. Good in the air, Chris also had good control of the ball on the ground and was a steady finisher. He was the perfect foil for a goal poacher like Garner and helped to create many of the goals that Simon scored.
Although never challenging for promotion, the Rovers ended the 1983–84 campaign in a very respectable sixth place with big spenders like Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and Manchester City ahead of them. Chris ended the season with eight league goals, second only to Garner who had scored 19 goals in the league.
With money extremely limited at Ewood Park, the arrival of Jimmy Quinn in the summer of 1984 suggested that Chris might well find himself relegated to the bench. The Rovers had spent in the region of £32,000 for Quinn, while Chris had arrived on a free, but Bob Saxton opted to start the season with the partnership which had done so well the previous campaign. It proved to be a wise decision as Chris ended the season as the club’s top scorer with 15 League goals while Garner ended with 12 goals and Quinn notched 10 league goals.
Although Quinn offered moments of brilliance, it was the willingness of Chris to chase lost causes and his selfless running which endeared him to the fans and clearly found favour with a manager who put great store in the work ethic. Simon Garner certainly benefited from the presence of Chris as he readily admitted in his autobiography. Chris took defenders away from Simon with his clever running off the ball and it was his willingness to bear a heavy workload that made him such a valuable component in the team.
Having climbed to the top of the table by Christmas, the Rovers fell away badly and ended the season in fifth place. Perhaps because of the increased expectations which the Ewood faithful now had, the manager felt inclined to shake things up a little. Perhaps the fact that he had invested a substantial amount of money in bringing Quinn to Ewood Park necessitated change. Whatever the reason, the result was that Chris started the 1985–86 campaign on the bench while Quinn was asked to form a new strike partnership with Simon Garner.
The team which had taken the division by storm twelve months earlier suddenly began to stutter and struggle for form. Having missed out on promotion, the Rovers found themselves hurtling towards the exit door at the wrong end of the table. Chris, like so many of his teammates, found his form had deserted him and for long spells found himself consigned to the bench or the Reserves. He was recalled for the last seven league games, which produced eight points and ensured the Rovers survived by the skin of their teeth.
Chris, whose season had been blighted by injury and loss of form, found himself surplus to requirements in the summer of 1986 but was quickly snapped up by Ray Mathias at Wigan Athletic. The man who would become the assistant to Paul Ince at Ewood Park clearly recognised the attributes that Chris could bring to the Third Division side. In only his fourth game for the club he netted a hat-trick in a 5–1 win over Walsall and helped steer the Latics to within a couple of points of promotion. Wigan also reached the sixth round of the FA Cup that season with Chris netting three goals in his six cup outings.
Sadly, injuries undermined his second season at Springfield Park and the summer of 1988 brought another move with Blackpool being his destination. Initially used as a substitute, Chris eventually won a place in midfield and ended the 1988–89 season with eight goals from 25 league starts and 11 substitute appearances.
Injuries had clearly had an impact on Chris and after a mere handful of appearances in 1989–90, he was released by Blackpool and allowed to join Cardiff City in March 1990. Attempts to resurrect his career with Walsall came to nothing and Chris called a halt to his first-class career.
Outside of Bolton, Blackburn, Wigan and Blackpool, the name of Chris Thompson is unlikely to ring any bells in the memory bank. However, for those who saw him play for their club, there is the memory of a hardworking professional who never gave less than his best. A “player’s player” in every sense of the term, Chris Thompson was not only a genuine professional but, as many of his former teammates have emphasised since his passing, Chris was also a genuinely nice guy. Ultimately there can be no more fitting tribute than to have won the affection and respect of your colleagues, the guys who played alongside you and knew just how important you were to the team dynamic.
Chris was not the most talented player ever to wear the “Blue & White” and, like all players, he had his fair share of disappointing games. However, Chris never hid on the field, his work ethic was second to none and he always gave 100 per cent to the cause. Whatever he lacked in technique, he more than made up for with his sheer energy. Whilst Chris might not have fulfilled his true potential, the fact remains that he was never short of employers as his attributes far outweighed his shortcomings. He was, perhaps, the archetypal “journeyman” footballer, a solid pro who was valued and respected by both teammates and supporters alike.
Chris Thompson Career Statistics
|Bolton Wanderers, July 1977–|
|Football League||66 + 7 appearances||18 goals|
|FA Cup||3 + 1 appearances||1 goal|
|Football League Cup||3 + 1 appearances||1 goal|
|Total||72 + 9 appearances||20 goals|
|Lincoln City on loan, March 1983–|
|Football League||5 + 1 appearances||0 goals|
|Total||5 + 1 appearances||0 goals|
|Blackburn Rovers, August 1983–|
|Football League||81 + 4 appearances||24 goals|
|FA Cup||10 + 0 appearances||2 goals|
|Football League Cup||5 + 0 appearances||0 goals|
|Total||96 + 4 appearances||26 goals|
|Wigan Athletic, July 1986–|
|Football League||67 + 7 appearances||14 goals|
|FA Cup||7 + 0 appearances||3 goals|
|Football League Cup||4 + 0 appearances||1 goal|
|Freight Rover Trophy||4 + 0 appearances||1 goal|
|Total||82 + 7 appearances||19 goals|
|Blackpool, July 1988–|
|Football League||27 + 12 appearances||8 goals|
|FA Cup||1 + 0 appearance||0 goals|
|Football League Cup||1 + 4 appearances||0 goals|
|Sherpa Van Trophy||3 + 2 appearances||1 goal|
|Total||32 + 18 appearances||9 goals|
|Cardiff City, March 1990–|
|Football League||1 + 1 appearances||0 goals|
|Total||1 + 1 appearances||0 goals|
|Walsall, February 1991–|
|Football League||3 + 0 appearances||0 goals|
|Total||3 + 0 appearances||0 goals|