Today marks the 87th birthday of Chesterfield FC’s youngest-ever league debutant, Denis Thompson, who is the only surviving player from the club’s Second Division days.
Paul Kellett recently caught up with Denis at his home in Clowne, near Chesterfield.
Despite having had a hip and knee replacement and arthritis in his ankle, Denis is generally still in good health and only gave up crown green bowling three years ago.
He still has an excellent memory and told Paul that he met a 12-year-old Bobby Charlton, when his uncle George Milburn brought him to Saltergate during the school holidays. Denis is now the last of ten siblings.
Reproduced below is an article penned by Paul Kellett for the Chesterfield match programme back in 2003.
DENIS THOMPSON – CHESTERFIELD FC RECORD HOLDER
Denis Thompson earned a place in the record books of Chesterfield Football Club on Christmas day 1950 when he made his first team debut against Notts County at the tender age of 16 years 159 days, to become Chesterfield’s youngest known Football League debutant.
Chesterfield were at the time in the old Second Division and managed by Bob Marshall who had been impressed by Denis’s displays that season in the reserves. Denis learned he was being thrust into the first-team a couple of days before Christmas, although history could have been different as Chesterfield was subject to heavy snow and the match was in some doubt.
Today Denis has little recollection of the actual game, but the Derbyshire Times report states “Young Danny* Thompson made his debut on the right wing and put over some grand centres. He and Dale were well supplied with ground passes from the Chesterfield schemers-in-chief Donaldson and Harrison”. Included in the Notts County team was a certain Tommy Lawton the England international centre forward.
*Strangely Denis was referred to as Danny throughout his football career as the Chesterfield trainer Ollie Thompson called him Danny and this seemed to stick, even at school he was know as Danny.
Born in Shuttlewood on the 19th July 1934 Denis attended his local school and excelled at both cricket and running, even passing up the opportunity to join the Derby Harriers running club. Denis’s football career took off with the school team when aged 12 – playing against boys two years older than himself, he then played for Doe Lea Valley alongside Gerry Sears and Peter Neale (who both went on to play for Chesterfield), from there Denis was selected for Derbyshire Schoolboys and won the curiously named Gobin cup held at Rushden.
Denis left school aged fifteen and signed amateur forms with Chesterfield, shortly afterwards Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leeds United expressed interest but he was happy to have signed for his local club.
Denis worked his way through the playing ranks at Saltergate; the Colts, A team, reserve team and was also selected for Derbyshire in the Counties Youth Cup against Manchester United in February 1951. Prior to signing professional terms with Chesterfield aged seventeen Denis was a member of the groundstaff and after morning training with the first-team his duties included bath/football boot cleaning duties.
As with most players of Denis’ age two years of National Service between 1952 and 1954 interrupted his professional career. Denis was a member of the medical core and was initially stationed at Chester military hospital. However, he continued his football career with the Western Command team and after being posted to Japan went on a ten-day football tour of Korea.
After being demobbed Denis returned to Chesterfield Football club, by which time Teddy Davison had taken over as manager and Denis was confined to reserve team action and was ultimately released in 1955. He then joined Scunthorpe United on part-time terms for one season – which involved a two-hour bus journey, before linking up with his ex playing colleague Chris Marron at Shirebrook Miners Welfare, until an ankle injury forced him to give up football a year later.
By this time Denis was already a miner and spent over 32 years working at Oxcroft, Markham Collieries and Duckmanton workshops before retiring in 1987.
Denis has been married to Kathleen for over 50 years and they have three sons, he and Kathleen are nowadays both fully devoted to Crown Green bowling, spending a lot of their time playing for Clowne Miners Welfare bowling team.
Debut game details:
25.12.50 v Notts County, Saltergate 0-0 att. 20,848.
Ray Middleton, Stan Milburn, Fred Capel, Walter Harrison, Dave Blakey, Jim Donaldson, Denis Thompson, Jack Marsh, Chris Marron, Jackie Hudson, Gordon Dale.
Chesterfield: September 1949 (amateur), July 1951 (pro)
1950/51 2 apps
1951/52 9 apps
1952/53 13 apps
Scunthorpe United: July 1955 (part-time).
1955/56 3 apps
Shirebrook Miners Welfare: July 1956.