When Thompson first walked through the doors at Molineux in November 1986 the club was suffering a second successive season in the Fourth Division. He became a key figure in the team which Graham Turner took to two promotions. Yet when the Eighties gave way to the Nineties and Turner was finally given some money to spend, Thompson appeared to be one of those under threat.
The centre of defence and midfield had already been replaced and considerable fees were spent on the likes of Kevin Ashley, Neil Masters and Paul Edwards as Turner looked to make the final step to the top division. But Thompson saw them off. And he was still there when Wolves went so close under two subsequent managers, Graham Taylor and Mark McGhee.
Twenty-five years on from his final appearance in the Old Gold, Thompson is still a familiar face around Molineux as part of the Wolves TV commentary team on matchdays. On Thursday evening he was honoured by supporters at They Wore The Shirt’s tribute dinner, brilliantly organised by Wolves supporter and fundraiser Steve Plant.
Steve Bull, Andy Mutch, Robbie Dennison, Ally Robertson, Shane Westley, Jon Purdie, Micky Holmes and Kevin Ashley were among the team-mates who gathered at the Sir Jack Hayward suite to share their memories of a hugely popular member of the dressing room.
“He was terrific, it was a pleasure working with him,” said former manager Graham Turner, “When I was looking for a penalty taker his hand went straight up, he was fantastic. He was always an eight or nine out of ten. It was a measure of the man and his temperament. His contribution to the club should never be underestimated.”
There were great tributes from Mutch and Dennison too. Not to mention Steve Bull, who paid tribute to the man he has known for 36 years with the simple words, “He was a great footballer and is a great friend, I love you to bits.”
Thompson often gets bracketed as the other part of the deal which also brought Bull to Molineux but it would be grossly unfair to describe him as the makeweight in the deal. He played 451 times for Wolves, 11th in the list of all-time appearances here, and was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2017.
“Being an old professional, he was one of the best young kids coming through at West Brom,” said former captain Ally Robertson. “For us to do what we did was incredible. You could play him anywhere on the pitch and he would do a great job. It was great for me as a senior pro to see this. We were down in the Fourth Division with only a couple of thousand turning up when he arrived and by the time I left we were back with a full stadium. It was brilliant and Thommo played a huge part in that.”
Robertson hit the nail on the head. Wolves was a club in need of help and restoration when Thompson arrived. By the time he left, 11 years later, a once great institution was back on its feet. Many of those who stood on the terraces watching Thompson were there to pay tribute to a
footballer who did so much more than wear the shirt. He made it his business to give supporters something to hang on to. The perception of Wolves changed for the better in those years and players like Thompson ensured that there was no turning back.
By 1997 Wolves had twice missed out on promotion to the Premier League with heart-breaking play-off semi-final defeats. Thompson, despite the many millions spent by both Taylor and McGhee was part of both teams. I’ll never forget the despair at Burnden Park in 1995 when Wolves were so unjustly dumped out by Bolton Wanderers. Looking down on the pitch from the crumbling the terrace that night there were four players on the pitch who had been part of the great revival when it began back in the Fourth Division. Robbie Dennison, Mark Venus, Bull and Thompson. For those men alone, that night deserved a better outcome.
Thompson was 29 when he left Molineux but it felt like he had been around forever. In a way he is still is thanks to his media duties every matchday, and as a PE teacher for the last 16 years he continues to serve his community. None of his students were born when Thompson was living out that wonderful career with Wolves, and he is too modest to shout about those great days when the pride was put back in the club. But, make no mistake, on Thursday night the reception of fans and team-mates alike showed to everyone present just what a legend Thommo will always be in these parts.