Thomas debt of gratitude to Howe
Albion new-boy Jerome Thomas has prepared for his home debut by revealing his debt of gratitude to a Baggies hero.
The winger believes boyhood mentor Don Howe was responsible for putting his career on track and now hopes to thrill the same stadium that once acclaimed the famous full-back.
Thomas, who could start against Ipswich at the Hawthorns, learned his trade at Arsenal with Howe - the former Gunners youth team supremo - at the heart of his education.
The player said: "The whole Arsenal experience is something you can't put a price on. That coaching made me the player I am today.
"Don Howe was the best manager I ever worked with. We won the FA Youth Cup two years in a row, he was the manager and the most influential managerial figure I've had.
"The older age group had Jay Bothroyd, Graham Stack, John Halls, Liam Chilvers and David Noble, then some of the younger players filtered into their age group
"There was myself and people like Steve Sidwell, Jermaine Pennant, Rohan Ricketts, Jeremie Aliadiere, Moritz Volz and Justin Hoyte, so we had a good team."
Thomas believes Howe, who led Arsenal to FA Youth Cup success in 2000 and 2001, was a central figure in his development.
Wolverhampton-born Howe, now aged 73, played 379 times for the Baggies between 1952 and 1964, before a less successful four-year spell as manager in the 1970s.
Thomas said: "You come across people in every job and he was one who stuck out. He encouraged me to play my game and gave me the confidence to attack players, create and score goals.
"He wasn't worried about the other side of my game, he encouraged me to focus on my good points. He was a very honest man as well."
The wide man will take to the field tomorrow wearing his 'lucky' number 14, a shirt number he has requested whenever possible since learning from another mentor, Thierry Henry, at Arsenal.
Henry wore the number throughout his career at Highbury and the Emirates Stadium and Thomas reckons his occasional meetings with the Frenchman at the training ground taught him vital lessons.
Thomas said: "He was very influential. You go to Arsenal as a child, so you can only learn from the players around you and the staff.
"Thierry Henry was one of the players I used to look up to. He used to talk to me and, even when I went there with Charlton, we sat down after the game and had a talk.
"He was so helpful. That's why I went for the number 14. Everyone spoke to each other, but at Arsenal it was very separated between the first-team and the kids.
"We couldn't use the same entrance and we couldn't eat with them so, if we brushed shoulders with one of the first-teamers in training or beforehand, it was nice to talk with them and get advice."
Thomas also believes he learned lessons from watching Henry on the field during his celebrated Gunners career.
He said: "The way he adapted was impressive. When he first signed for Arsenal he couldn't score at all. He missed a hell of a lot of chances.
"They were playing him on the left wing and he used to cut in from the left, using his right foot as I do.
"He was missing so many chances and people didn't think he would become what he became.
"But Arsene Wenger believed in him and he learned a lot from Arsene, who saw potential in him and he grew as a player."
Tomorrow's match will give Thomas his first taste of the Hawthorns roar as a Baggies player.
The former Charlton and Portsmouth man will relish the occasion having sampled the stadium as an opposition player. He reckons the home side will enter the match brimming with confidence, after back-to-back away wins at Nottingham Forest and Peterborough.
He said: "We go into the game confident. We've got two away wins under our belt, we'll be up in front of our home fans, so we'll be wanting a win for them.
"It's been a great experience. It's one of those stadiums where the fans stick in your mind.
"Portsmouth was very much like it as well and it's like a 12th player on the pitch, so I'm looking forward to it."
Thomas could replace Marek Cech on the left of the Albion midfield, if head coach Roberto Di Matteo takes the attacking option.
Graham Dorrans is suspended after his red card at Peterborough, so Robert Koren is likely to partner Youssouf Mulumbu in central midfield.
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