“I had some real special memories there, it holds a special place in my heart.”
That is how Lawrence Thomas looks back on his time at the Melbourne Victory. And who can blame him? 144 appearances at one of Australia’s biggest clubs, two championships and a Joe Marston Medal for literally putting his body on the line would clearly leave a special relationship between player, club, and fans.
The Western Sydney Wanderers custodian spoke exclusively to Kick360 ahead of his sides trip to AAMI Park to face the Victory, and he admits that the experience of facing his former side will be a strange one.
“It feels a bit weird to be honest going there for an away game. It’ll be interesting, but will be quite special as well.”
Having joined the Victory in 2011, Thomas spent nine seasons at the club, though he would have to bide his time to become undisputed number one. He only made 21 appearances in his first five seasons at the club as he was predominantly the back-up keeper for the likes of Ante Covic, Nathan Coe and Danny Vukovic.
This time wasn’t without personal success for Thomas; an injury to Coe at the back end of the 2014-15 season meant that he made seven appearances, including in the victorious Grand Final as Melbourne completed the double.
However, the signing of Vukovic meant he was shunted back to the deputy position, and Thomas admits that this time was mentally challenging.
“I came in and we ended up winning the final that year, and the following season they bought Vukovic in. That was a big one for me after winning the league and then next season being back on the bench.
“But at that time there was no thought of me moving, I just wanted to get my spot back. That was probably one of the toughest times, especially after the high of winning the league”
His decision was vindicated. Vukovic departed in 2016 and this time Thomas was finally given the opportunity to be number one, it was an opportunity that he did not let slip up.
The next four seasons would see Thomas become one of the best keepers in the league, with his high point coming in the 2018 Grand Final, where his herculean and selfless performance helped his team to a 1-0 win and garnered him the Joe Marston medal.
For much of this time, Melbourne Victory under Kevin Muscat remained one of the league’s heavyweight sides. However after missing the finals in the COVID-impacted 2019-20 season, Thomas felt that he needed to explore opportunities overseas. That opportunity came at SønderjyskE, a club in the Danish Superliga.
“In my whole career, I follow what I felt was right in my gut all the time, and the decision to go to Denmark at first was ‘I was at the Victory for quite a number of years’ and I just felt like it was time for a new new challenge, new scenery, and opportunity came up.”
He feels that his time in Denmark was challenging, but also helped develop him as a player.
“It was challenging. Different teams, different environments, different weather conditions, wasn’t used to playing rainy windy games at one, two degrees, feeling hands getting numb, different styles football. It was a massive learning curve.”
He enjoyed a positive first season, playing in every game and starting a cup final as the team finished comfortably in mid-table. The second season was much tougher, as he was eventually dropped from the team in the final matches of a season where SønderjyskE.
Then Marko Rudan gave him a call about returning home to Western Sydney, and for the boy from Toongabbie, his gut was once again telling him to take the plunge.
“I received this phone call when I was in Denmark you could hear in his [Rudan’s] voice the directness, honesty that we wanted for the area, from the team, what the team represents.
“It’s quite easy to stay say stuff over the phone, but I’ve been really impressed from the first day I walked into the club, the facilities here are unbelievable. Lots of small things around the training ground, the way the gym is set up. Each player comes in the morning, got your iPad to fill out all your wellness and weight and so on. Just the small details.”
Another goal for Thomas and the side is to foster the regrowth of the famous Wanderers atmosphere from seasons gone-by. He remembers vividly travelling to the cauldron of noise at the old stadium.
“I remember coming to the old Parramatta stadium with the Victory and the atmosphere was unbelievable, it was crazy. It was packed all sides, the RBB filled up the whole part behind the goal, they were chanting to each stand.
“We have the support and the numbers here that love their football, so I think as a team if we bring results on the pitch, a big aim of mine is to get the atmosphere back at CommBank.”
They got off to a positive start with a 1-0 win over Perth Glory in a game that Thomas admits the side struggled at times going forward. He feels this is an aspect that needs improving if they are to get a result in a difficult away match.
“I think on the ball we need to be a little bit cleaner. In the first half we got into some good areas, and even in the second half on the edge of Perth’s box. Probably want to combine a bit more around the edge of the box and not just whip that ball in too early, because we’re very solid.
Also starting well as well. They’re going to come out firing at their first home game of the season after a big result away. I think starting the game will be massive.”
Whilst Thomas is sure to get a positive reception from the home fans, he is hoping that the small pocket of Red and Black fans will be singing into the night, and those in Navy Blue will trudge home in disappointment.
Image credit: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images