Keith Thomas: Redlegs champion

 

Keith Thomas
(image with permission of Norwood Football Club)

 

 

Playing career

Norwood Football Club (1979-86, 1989-93): 304 games (306 goals)
South Australia: 5 games (5 goals)
Fitzroy Football Club (1987-88): 28 games (15 goals)

 

Honours

Norwood Football Club life member (1990)
Norwood Football Club Hall of Fame
Norwood Football Club Team of the Century
SANFL Hall of Fame (2008)
Norwood Football Club Premiership player 1982, 1984
Advertiser Team of the Year 1982, 1983, 1984
1980: Best 1st Year Player
1981: 3rd Best and Fairest
1982: 2nd Best and Fairest
1983: 2nd Best and Fairest
1984: 2nd Best and Fairest, Jack Oatey Medal
1985: Vice Captain, Club Champion
1986: 3rd Best and Fairest, leading goalkicker, EA Johnson Service Award
1991: Vice Captain, 3rd Best and Fairest
1992: Vice Captain

 

Keith Thomas – unique, special, incredible work ethic and the only person who is a Life Member of both Norwood and Port Adelaide Football Clubs! A remarkable football journey which must be in two parts: the footballer and then becoming an esteemed football administrator.

 

Back to the beginning 

 

Keith is the son of Val and Laurie, with sisters Julie and Denise. Keith was a shy and reserved kid who was reluctant to play sport. He was eventually coerced into basketball, playing for Luhrs Rd Uniting Church and loved the sport. Even then in his early life the work ethic which he has followed stringently was apparent – be the best you could be!

 

Keith was a nerdy kid who grew up as a Port supporter due to his dad originally being from down the Port. KT went as far as barracking for everything black and white – Collingwood, Swan Districts etc. (Sigh from me.)

 

Keith went to Campbelltown Primary School and admits he took to basketball and picked up its nuances quicker than he did footy. He struggled to start with at football and was never the star junior. Keith is appreciative of Keith Couch who was his first coach. KT didn’t play any under-age State footy but improved gradually.

 

He wasn’t even a consistent selection at club level and generally played Under 16Bs at Athelstone where his dad was a trainer. However, he must have been doing something right and was noticed by Norwood recruiter Keith Martyn and invited out to Norwood. It was here that Keith had his first ever major disagreement with his father, Laurie, who didn’t think he was ready to go out to Norwood. Keith thought it would be rude to knock back the offer so he had to get two buses and get himself to the Parade the whole season. While he didn’t get a game, Keith thinks the training helped his development. Who knows, if KT had knocked it back he mightn’t have received an invitation the following year.

 

Norwood Football Club

 

 

pastedGraphic_1.png
(image with permission of Norwood Football Club)

 

Keith started in the Under 17s in 1978 and then progressed quickly in 1979 playing Under 19s, Reserves and making his League debut against Glenelg at the Bay. Bizarrely, in a game in which Norwood were soundly beaten, Keith sat on the bench for the whole game. Personally, I wonder if the coach Bob Hammond was outvoted at selection.

 

Keith was dropped after this game – no complaints from KT as Michael Aish returned from injury. He did play against Sturt at the Parade later in the year, coming on at the start of the last quarter and contributed to the Legs’ 10 goal win.

 

At the end of the 1979 season, Keith was intending to relocate to Tasmania. Laurie had secured a job for him in a garden nursery with the long-term aim to take over and run the business. KT went to see legendary ‘Legs administrator Wally Miller who quickly informed Keith, “No, you won’t be doing that – I will organise you a job.” True to his word, Wally quickly had Metro Meats onboard through gun junior coach and fantastic Norwood man Malcolm Smith. KT admits it was bloody hard work and a real life education.

 

Neil Balme arrived at Norwood in 1980 and was exactly what Keith needed – a coach to give youth a chance and believe in them. Keith had a consistent season and a good finals series where Norwood came from fifth and went close to causing a major boilover, just falling down at the last hurdle against a very good Port Adelaide side by 18 points.

 

Keith had a consistent 1981 season, coming third in the Best and Fairest (bloody wind changing in the Preliminary Final against Glenelg ruined the game, grrr!). In 1982 he was again a major contributor, coming second in the Best and Fairest. As always across his career, his work rate and link play were a highlight. And, of course, he was a member of the Norwood 1982 premiership team. (Steve Wood driving to the game said, “I’ve got the music organised” – Eye of the Tiger on constant repeat. Well, we were going Tiger hunting).

 

In 1983, Keith signed to play for Melbourne but felt he had underachieved personally as well as the club in the finals. Keith felt he owed Norwood so he decided to stay. Melbourne were far from happy, threatening to sue. Again Wally Miller stepped in and sorted it out. It meant Keith signed for three more years for the ‘Legs and, geez, didn’t KT deliver in 1984.

 

Not only did he come second in the Best and Fairest but he also delivered the virtuoso performance of his career, dominating the Grand Final, winning the Jack Oatey Medal and taking that famous mark running against the flow in the third quarter:

 

 

I think the goal in the last quarter – the run from Michael Aish, then the handball from Greg Thomas, KT taking possession somehow behind him, one step under enormous pressure and, on an angle, goaling (ohh, what bliss!) is massively underrated:

 

 

 

Norwood coming from fifth place to win the flag by nine points in an epic Grand Final was the highlight of Keith’s career.

 

Keith was Club Champion in 1985 and, in 1986, came third in the Best and Fairest and was the leading goal kicker with 40 goals. He had both Fitzroy and Collingwood keen for his services but was won over by the Roys’ coach David Parkin after Fitzroy finished third in 1986 and appeared to be on the cusp of success.

 

Keith had a good, consistent year with Fitzroy in 1987 playing 17 games and finishing in the top 10 in the Best and Fairest. In 1988 he played 11 games but had two serious injuries: a bad ankle and a calcified corked thigh.

 

Keith made the decision to return to the Parade to chase finals success which he considered highly unlikely at Fitzroy. He was bitterly disappointed about Parkin’s sacking and, as a result, considered finals success was far more likely at the Parade. It was a challenge for Keith mentally as he felt he had failed in Victoria, certainly a first in his footy. Personally, he was just unlucky with the club he went to and with the injuries he sustained.

 

Keith came back in 1989 and the Redlegs had another frustrating Preliminary Final loss to North Adelaide. In 1990, Norwood finished the minor round in fourth position but were convincingly beaten by South Adelaide in the Elimination Final which resulted in the end of Neil Balme’s 11-year tenure as the ‘Legs coach.

 

Along with premierships in 1982 and 1984, Keith had probably his most consistent year in 1991 since his return to Norwood, coming third in the Best and Fairest, but the ‘Legs came seventh in Neil Craig’s first year. It was the same result in 1992.

 

The Crows’ arrival diminished the standard of the SANFL to some degree and Keith, while he understood the publicity, was frustrated, like a lot of us, that they were treated like rock stars. The glory days of standing Bradley, the Jarmans, McDermott, Naley, Motley etc. were over. Ohh, what days they were!

 

 

In his own words

 

Keith recalls going to watch Centrals against Sturt in Round 1, 1993: “We had the bye and Craigy got us all to go to Elizabeth Oval to watch them because we were playing one of them the following week.” Keith stood under the gum tree behind the southern goals on his own and just knew it was time. On the way home he rang Neil who understood completely and didn’t try and talk KT out of it. I suspect there were memories still fresh in Neil’s mind of his own retirement in 1990.

 

Keith acknowledges the fantastic job Neil and the club did in making the 1993 Grand Final, but his time was up.

 

Biggest influences on Keith’s career?

 

“If you listen well, every coach teaches you something:

 

Dad taught me to kick both feet;

 

My first coach in primary school, Keith Couch, drilled in the importance of skills;

 

John Turnbull – toughness;

 

Ross Dillon always believed in me;

 

Bob Hammond made me earn it but gave me my first shot at 17. He also picked me for my first State game against Victoria in 1983. What a day standing the late Robbie Flower and a comfortable Croweaters win (26.16 172 to 17.14 116):

 

David Parkin and Neil Craig showed me that there is always another level to reach for;

 

But it was with Neil Balme and Wally Miller that all the truly wonderful things happened in my football career. I enjoyed and responded well to Neil’s calm, direct, no nonsense approach to footy…and his genuine enthusiasm for the game and our club. And Wally’s wisdom astounds me to this day.”

 

 

Did we underachieve?

 

“A little, I think. I played in three Grand Finals in my first five years…but lost three Prelims in my time at the club. We also lost Prelims in the two years I was in Melbourne as well. I think we would all say that we believe there was another flag or two in there that we didn’t take. But they are not easy to win…we should never forget that!!”

 

Summing up

 

“I will be eternally grateful for the opportunities playing at Norwood has provided. Lifelong friends. Meaningful achievements and learnings that I have carried with me my entire adult life. I feel very privileged!”

 

 

My own thoughts

 

Keith proudly holding his copy of The Definitive Rulebook
(image courtesy of Malcolm Ashwood)

 

KT, even though he made the Norwood Team of the Century (in itself an incredible achievement), was underrated as a player. A consistent, hard, relentless runner in particular. Very skilled by foot, the pinnacle of his career being the 1984 Grand Final – a unanimous Jack Oatey Medallist – thanks KT!

 

Another favourite memory of KT: there was a tennis and indoor cricket tournament at Woodlands Sports Centre at Blair Athol in the early 1980s. Keith and Michael Aish made it through to the final in tennis against Kym Dillon and David McKay of West Torrens.

 

Keith’s childhood sweetheart, and now wife, Pat, who is certainly the more gregarious and outgoing of the partnership, all of a sudden yells “Foot fault!” with McKay serving and West Torrens in front. The umpire (no, it wasn’t me) watched McKay’s next serve more closely and actually calls “Foot fault!”

 

All of a sudden, a social tennis match, which at that stage had been “ohh, too good lovely shot”, became more competitive than a Wimbledon final. The Redlegs came from behind to win – well done, Pat! (KT did shake his head in disbelief remembering the night).

 

Michael Aish adds:

 

“Keith Thomas is a champion of the Norwood Football Club. He was well and truly underrated by many outside of the club. He prepared himself mentally and physically to get the absolute best out of himself. He had and has an enormous work ethic no matter what he puts his hand to. He gets pretty dirty when he doesn’t perform (particularly in tennis these days). But that goes for all champions. He has faced some fair trials over the journey and has overcome these through pure determination. None more than lifting the Power off the canvas. I have had the pleasure of knowing Keith for 40 years. Our partnership on the football field (as changing followers) started back in 1980 and continued for 12 years. We share many fond memories of those playing days. Our families since then have always been close.”

 

Neil Balme:

 

“Malcolm, all I can say about KT is that he was a joy to coach. Always prepared well, always gave his all and was very brave. Certainly, a very important member of our team. Saw the game well, played extremely well and had a very strong positive influence over his teammates. Who will ever forget that mark running full pace with the flight of the ball in the 1984 Grand Final?”

 

Keith with Neil Balme, Wally Miller and James Fantasia at Coopers Corner
(image courtesy of Malcolm Ashwood)

 

More stories from Rulebook can be read Here

 

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Comments

  1. Dan Hansen says

    Enjoyable read.

  2. Charlie Brown says

    Another good read thanks RB. As an opposition supporter I don’t mind sharing that Keith Thomas was one of my favourite footballers to watch. I will always remember the 84 GF (still one of the best SANFL GFs ever) and “that mark”” by Keith Thomas.

  3. Good on ya Book.
    Yep, as Port supporter, I have enormous Respect for KT – his Deeds ON and OFF the Field will endure.
    P. (aka Arson Garson)

  4. Neil Balme says

    Thanks Malcolm, A really good read. Reminds me of why I still love the game so much.

  5. Loved reading this Malcolm and yes, Keith Thomas will always be remembered by me for his wonderful playing time at Norwood. Well done Malcolm you’ve done KT proud.

  6. keith thomas says

    You’re very generous Malcolm, and I appreciate the kind words and reflections.
    Notwithstanding your own challenging circumstances of late, your commitment to get this piece right has been remarkable. Thank you.

  7. Campbell says

    Great article again Malcolm, a fantastic read!
    Cheers

  8. Tim Wedding says

    The sort of footballer that we are lacking in today’s game, what a star. That mark in ‘84 I could watch over and over for hours, and the roar of the crowd is superb. Great read, incredible list of achievements

  9. Peter Myers says

    Excellent article again Malcolm. I still look back, after all these years, on that 1984 GF as one of the most enjoyable footy days of my life, the first time I got to see the Legs win a GF in the flesh. For various reasons I couldn’t make it to the previous three. I was at Footy Park in 1980, when, with an ounce of lunch we could have been “History Makers” four years ahead of schedule! Keith’s mark was breathtaking, David Payne was in a great position to tell everyone how good it was! And you’re right about the goal too. Skill under pressure, made all the more so by a less than ideal handball from G. Thomas! What a team effort it was that day!

  10. Peter Myers says

    *an ounce of lunch, LOL, meant to be “an ounce of luck”!

  11. Shane Reid says

    Really enjoyed this Rulebook, thank you

  12. Harry Butler says

    Good to have you back Rule book.
    Great Norwood player, always clean with skills, lovely kick.

  13. Daryl Schramm says

    Certainly brings back a lot of memories for me Ernest. Enjoyed the read.

  14. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Bloody hell Rulebook, you’ve once again reminded me that there was a time when the world didn’t revolve around Centrals.

    Coincidentally, under a southern end gum tree was and is my preferred spot at the Ponderosa, but I did more swearing than career reflections there.

    Welcome back.

  15. Rick Sarre says

    Great column, great champion.

  16. KT did well as a player for Norwood and sadly I am not old enough to have been able to have seen him or other SANFL legends of that era play. He also did a great job turning Port Adelaide around and put them into a better position than what they were in 10 years ago.

  17. Rulebook says

    Danny thank you,Charlie certainly one of the all time great marks,Arson Garson definitely.Balmey greatly appreciated.Fisho thank you.KT thank you yes the year can only get better look forward to catching up again thank you.Campbell thank you.Tim likewise re that mark yes I am sure both of us have watched it numerous times thank you.Peter glad you finally got to see a flag and what a game it was I was made to go on a school camp in 78 grrrrrr and yes 80 ohh so close.Shane thank you.Harry KT elite by foot no question.Darryl thank you.Swish thank you my trip to the ponderosa for a 3.05 start and the lights not turned on re dogs v legs was comical at least.Bizz thank you.Cameron he was a gut running elite user of the footy and v much so thanks folks

  18. Matt Zurbo says

    A great read! Of course! Fantastic to see you back!

  19. Great read Rulebook. What a cracking mark that was. “Always another level to reach for.” The courage of that mark was next level!

  20. Tod Barabas says

    First met Keith at league preseason when Balmey first came over. Even then you could tell he was going to be a great player. What struck me was his work rate and his desire to improve. He became a great player with all the attributes you wanted in a footballer. Skill, smarts, courage and a fantastic work ethic.
    One of Norwood’s best.

  21. Luke Reynolds says

    That’s an incredible career very well summed up Rulebook. Interesting how some careers have their premiership success early in a long stint. I wasn’t aware much of KT’s playing career so thanks for enlightening me.

  22. Simon Trenorden says

    I think Keith Thomas is still a seriously underrated footballer. Not that I followed Norwood but he hardly ever seemed to play a bad game.

    Very skilful and very courageous he just kept clocking up stats week in and week out. The mark in the 84 grand final would have to go down as one of the gutsiest marks of all time. Talk about putting his life on the line.

    He never seemed fussed or aggro but just went about doing his job with skill and ease and was an incredibly vital cog for the successful Norwood team of the 80’s.

  23. Ray Higginbottom says

    Malcolm,i lament that football at the top level has lost a connection to the supporter base but your stories take me back to when footy was simple,the player’s just as skilful and us fans loved that.

  24. Tony Cove says

    Keith Thomas proves that you don’t have to be the biggest, strongest, fastest or the highest leaper to be a great player. He played 300+ games for Norwood when SA footy was at its strongest and also chalked up 5 games for SA when state footy really meant something. I must admit that I had forgotten about his connection to the sadly departed Fitzroy FC. My own club Sturt had a similar player to Keith in Jade Sheedy – both Keith & Jade had an incredible ability to find the footy, handle it cleanly and bring other players into the game. Both were great on-field leaders, premiership players and scrupulously fair players. Keith obviously played in an era when SA footy’s depth of talent was astounding – you only have to look at footage of SANFL Grand Finals in the ’80s to see that.
    Keith, of course, then went one better and, following retirement from playing, went on to become a highly respected football administrator. An ornament to the game, giving far more than he received. (Always wish he could have ended up at the Crows in some capacity!)

  25. Martin Rumsby says

    A great story of persistence, courage and determination. Thanks Malcolm.

  26. Well done Book. Apart from Keith Thomas the only other person I can think of that played footy for Norwood and became an extremely successful administrator was Big Bob McLean! You know of any others?

  27. to clarify, I meant played at Norwood & administration at Port Adelaide…..

  28. Tim Hoile says

    Brilliant effort, Malcolm. Keith was inspirational with his dedication on and off the field.
    He did a lot of extra work in the gym before Work in the days when players really had 2 jobs. If he was a bit down on form he seemed to work even harder on the area he was concerned with. He highlights John Turnbull’s coaching for his toughness which I’m sure most would agree.

  29. River Boy says

    A very enjoyable read Mal, I admit to not knowing a lot about KT, seems white line fever exists regardless of the sport, great times I’m sure. Thanks for enlightening us.

  30. Schmaaly says

    Great article again Malcolm, I remember a couple of young lads turning up at Metro Meats and Smithy sending them out to our new sheep loading yards to paint creosote on the timber running rails for protection,KT showed then he was up for any challenge presented to him . Great man I don’t think was underestimated by the opposition because of his professionalism PS the other lad was Robert Sporn from Menzel Country.

  31. Mick Emmett says

    When you are under 10 you don’t have an appreciation of how good he actually was as it was all Aish and Macca as a kid. Thanks for including the video links. He did well to retire pre Lycra.
    Another great read

  32. Good to have you back, RB.

    An informative and enjoyable read as always, mate.

  33. Phil Smith says

    I remember Keith out at Metro Meat working for Dad. Was always up for a kick and a catch at lunch with the boys (a number of who were also Norwood players – like Schmaaly !). A genuinely nice guy who to this day always has the time to stop for a chat.

  34. Ross Dillon says

    Thanks Malcolm . Another excellent review .
    My first sight of Keith Thomas at Norwood was 1979 in the Reserves as a young Winger .
    Never going to stay in the Twos ,
    I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Journey of the kid with quality Personal and
    Sporting talent .
    I would have thoroughly enjoyed watching a Tennis match between Keith / Michael v
    Frank Stemper / Rocket Pope with Umpires Macca / 28 / Craigy / Tommy / Turbs /
    Neil and Craig Balme . Watch Keith and Michael chase down the ungettable .
    With these umpires , the rules of course ,would be strictly adhered to .
    Keith is one of Norwoods’ finest who always makes us proud we know him .
    Ross Dillon

  35. Gold as always Book and I loved the shameless plug of your book!

  36. Great memories Malcolm. Cpuld be a whole other article on what he then did off field

  37. Nice work again, Rulebook. Very thorough.
    KT is a Norwood legend. That footage from the 1984 GF, along with the dying minutes of the ’78 GF would be the most played on Youtube by Redlegs supporters by a long space. Inspirational stuff!

  38. Rulebook says

    Old dog thank you.Raf it certainly is 1 of the all time great marks – courage and degree of difficulty both extremely high.Tod v well said.Luke thank you.Simon Spot on.Tony well said couldn’t agree more.Martin v much so and thank you.Jags yes the only two that I know of to that extent,Bob Kingston a bit I reckon.Tim dedication and commitment certainly,KT strength ahead of his time recovery wise as well think he watched a lot of videos too.River boy thank you.Schmaaly enlightening for,KT having a crack his strength also.
    Mick definitely and thank you.Smokie thank you.Phil KT truly gets it.Rossco I along with many others would have loved watching that tennis match and agree in general totally.TC thank you and as you know I’m not shy in general.Raj thank you and definitely.Chris thank you and likewise may have watched once or twice ok many more thanks folks

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